Book reviews - fiction 5 to 11 (page 17)

The most recent reviews are at the top of the page, so these are generally the most recently published books.

Race the Atlantic Wind: The Flight of Alcock and Brown​ by Oisin McGann

Fact can be so much more exciting than fiction, and this narrative account of Alcock and Brown's transatlantic flight has all the ingredients needed to make an exciting story. Shortly after the end of the First World War, intrepid flyers gather on the North American island of Newfoundland. Can it be possible - a non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean? When we look today at the flimsy machines made mostly from wood, fabric and wire, we marvel at the courage of these aviators, and that courage is superbly evoked in this dramatic story. Bringing together stories of John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, seen as rank outsiders, and Maggie McRory, this shows the impact the flight had. It's a well-told story, full of drama and excitement. The book celebrates 100 years since this epic journey.

Rugby Academy by Tom Palmer

The boys of Borderlands First XV want the best school rugby team in the world; but in the wider world, bigger events preoccupy their parents. Everyone is worried as conflict grows in the Central Asian Republic. Torn between his love for the game, and his anxiety for his parents, Woody must decide where his priorities lie. Owen finds himself at the centre when conflict breaks out within the team. The dilemmas the characters face are well defined and the reader will be drawn into their decision-making in this pacy story with sport and loyalty at its heart.

And Then I Turned Into a Mermaid by Laura Kirkpatrick

This is the first hilarious story in a great new series for middle-grade readers. When she reaches the age of 13, Molly Seabrook’s dull seaside life is transformed. She discovers that she’s PART-MERMAID! While this does explain why her bonkers Mum is always skinny-dipping, Molly is not happy - she just wants to blend in with her friends but that's not easy when she has to dress as a haddock to promote the family fish ’n’ chip shop. Growing up is hard enough without sprouting a fish tail in Double Maths, or disguising your gills from the cute boy at the ice cream kiosk. Join Molly as she navigates the stormy sea of social awkwardness, best friend fallouts and the World's Most Embarrassing Family – all while attempting to hide her (Very Weird) new double identity. Will she sink or swim? A great start - I'm looking forward to seeing how things turn out for Molly, who is a lovely character.

Sam Wu is Not Afraid of Spiders by Katie and Kevin Tsang

Sam Wu is a great character, one with whom children can readily identify; he shares fears common to many and handles them magnificently. Of course, like children everywhere, he doesn't want to let anyone know. And so when Tulip, the school tarantula, disappears from her cage, Sam decides it's up to him and his friends to save the school from the eight-legged escapee . . . This excellent series, of which this is the fourth, handles common childhood fears in a hilarious, sensitive and accessible way, giving plenty of opportunities to open up discussions and share feelings.

Pages & Co.: Tilly and the Bookwanderers​ by Anna James

With a wonderful focus on the joy of reading, this is the story of eleven-year-old Tilly who, since the mysterious disappearance of her mother, has found comfort in stories at Pages & Co., her grandparents’ bookshop. One wonderful day, her favourite characters are Anne of Green Gables and Alice from Wonderland, appear in the shop, Tilly’s adventures become very real. Not only can she follow Anne and Alice into their thrilling worlds, she discovers she can bookwander into any story she chooses. Tilly’s new ability could even help her solve the mystery of what happened to her mother all those years ago. But danger may be lurking on the very next page... but she will need all her courage. This is a compellingly written exploration of the power of the imagination and a true celebration of reading.

Victorian Voyages: Where did we come from? (The Curious Science Quest)​ by Julia Golding

This excellent series is an engaging blend of of fact and fiction, which blends the two seamlessly to give really good reads. Darwin's pet tortoise, Harriet, and Schrodinger's cat, Milton, are on a quest to discover the links between science and religion. This time, they travel back to Victorian times, to the time when scientists, including, of course, Darwin, were searching for facts about the origin of life. Many famous scientists feature and the scientific facts are clearly explained. Activities draw children into the story and encourage them to think things through for themselves. Well written, an exciting adventure which explains science and shows children how enquiring minds can influence the way the world thinks.

Modern Flights: Where next? (The Curious Science Quest) by Julia Golding

This book brings the time travelling duo's adventures up to date, as they look at radioactivity, evolution, space and other modern discoveries. Good use is made of lively line drawings, to explain facts further as well as to make the book visually appealing; these are a real feature of the book, really enhancing understanding. There are some nice touches of humour in both text and illustrations. Children are drawn into the subject through questions and engaging activities, such as extracting DNA from strawberries. An excellent series to stimulate children's scientific thinking and to encourage them to reason. Such a shame these are the last two books in the series.

The Jolley-Rogers and the Pirate Piper by Jonny Duddle

This is a wonderful series, and perfect for children making the move forward from picture books. Dull-on-Sea is far from dull in the capable hands of Jonny Duddle who brings us some of the most likeable pirates ever - the Jolley-Rogers. When the townsfolk of Dull-on-Sea find their town is overrun with rats, in desperation, they accept the offer of a nautical stranger who plays the pipe turns up and offers to get rid of the rodent problem - for a fee. But when the mayor refuses to pay up, the Pirate Piper plays an enchanted tune and leads the children away. Can Matilda, Jim and Nugget save their friends? Superbly illustrated, this is a really fun read, lively and engaging.

The Adventures of Harry Stevenson​ by Ali Pye

Harry Stevenson is far from being your average guinea pig, despite outward appearances. He lives in a flat with seven-year-old Billy and his mum and dad. With ginger fur, black eyes and a healthy for appetite for vegetables, he seems normal... but somehow, he always manages to find adventures. This book contains two chapter books, charmingly illustrated in black and white and neon orange by the author. In the first story, Harry gets left behind when the family moves; in the second, he finds himself flying high. These are delightful stories, based around a very normal and likeable family and their friends, and with hunorous exploits galore.


Jeanie is seven and three quarters and she has three grandmas; one of her Grandmas is bad... but she is also great fun. Sometimes she gets Jeanie involved in her mischievous schemes and then the fun really starts. The story is related by Jeanie and her character really comes through strongly as we enjoy the exploits. There's a serious element to the story too, but lightly handled, as it shows it's fine to be different. The story is highly illustrated throughout with vibrantly coloured spreads which make it really appealing to children. A hilarious start to a new series.

All the Fun of the Fair (Bad Nana, Book 2) by Sophy Henn

Seven year old Jeanie has three nanas; Bad Nana is the most fun, although, of course, she's not really bad... just rather naughty! Bad Nana definitely isn't your average granny - she overturns the stereotypes in a wonderful way. Always, though, she is caring and looks out for the underdog. This time, she's joining Jeanie on the annual family visit to the fair - and that offers some wonderful opportunities for fun. It's a riot of colour, with flourescent pink enlivening the entertaining black and white illustrations; perfect to entice even the more reluctant reader. And they will be well rewarded, with a lively story and wonderful characters to relish - every child will want their own bad nana!

King Coo - The Curse of the Mummy's Gold​ by Adam Stower

Where Ben Pole goes, trouble isn't far behind! This time, in his second story, he's faced with a band of burglars and an ancient mystical curse. There's a band of robbers targeting local museums - and Ben's mum works in one, so he must come to the rescue. Who will save the day and can they catch the Midnight Mob? Will Ben even survive breakfast? He needs a genius. He needs a fearless bearded girl. .. and that is, of course, King Coo. Funny and imaginative, this is just the sort of story to encourage children to enjoy reading independently. The high percentage of illustrations is bound to appeal to children - and they are a riot of fun. Fast-moving and full of humour - a great read.

The Bad Luck Lighthouse by Nicki Thornton

Seth Seppi solved the mystery of the Last Chance Hotel, and in doing so, he discovered a bewildering new world of magic. Swept up in the new MagiCon case investigating ghostly goings-on at the remote Snakesmouth Lighthouse, he is determined to prove himself. But when eccentric owner Mina Mintencress is murdered, Seth realizes danger lurks around every corner. With the help of his cat, Nightshade, Seth must put his new-found magic to the test. Can they unmask a sinister sorcerer ... before it's too late? Chicken HOuse tell us this story is Magical - Murder - Mystery and it will certainly keep its readers guessing as they join Seth in following the clues. A cleverly constructed combination of mystery and magic that delivers a compelling read.

Peril en Pointe (A Swan House Ballet School Mystery) by Helen Lipscombe

This exciting mystery brings a whole new dimension to the ballet story - a far cry from the traditions of Noel Streatfeild et al. Milly longs to dance like her ballerina mum but it all goes wrong when she messes up an inportant performance - and her mum disappears. Unexpectedly, Milly is invited to join the Swan House School of Ballet... but this is an extraordinary ballet school. it's a ballet school for spies. Maybe this is the opportunity she needs to find out where her mum went. An exciting story, pacily written and with some well portrayed characters who will appeal to readers. Take Chicken House's advice and read p42 to get a flavour of the book.

Spylark by Danny Rurlander

This is a book for those who like Action - Mystery - Adventure, and there's plenty of all three. It's an exciting story about a modern-day machine that fascinates many people, and gives us an insight into unexpected worlds - the drone. Tom is bullied at school; since his accident, he has struggled with his mobility but he has a secret escape. Skylark, his drone enables him to 'fly' above his Lake District home, exploring his world from a totally different perspective. But when he stumbles upon a terrorist plot, he knows no one will believe him. Maggie and Joel, a sister and brother on holiday in his aunt's cottage, are the only ones who can help ... but can they stop the plot in time? A gripping story that drew me in right from the start; an instantly likeable hero who doesn't let problems overwhelm him. Superbly written.

Misadventures of Max Crumbly 3: Masters of Mischief ​by Rachel Renee Russell

After successfully foiling the plans of three bumbling burglars, intrepid hero Max Crumbly sidekick, Erin, were hiding in the depths of a smelly, dangerous Dumpster of Doom,. Things continue to go astray as the two face yet more foes. Can the two friends avoid detection – and detention! – while keeping South Ridge Middle School safe from bullies and criminals? A witty and hilarious series from the much-loved author of Dork Diaries, which will entertain girls and boys equally with its pacy story and lively presentation in diary format.

Cinders and Sparks: Magic at Midnight by Lindsey Kelk

Best-selling adult author Lindsey Kelk, author of the popular I Heart series, turns her attention to children's stories with this unusual take on the classic Cinderella story. It's full of fun and silliness, fashion and adventure, talking dogs... and cake. Cinders' life has been boring until one day when her wishes start to come true and her dog Sparks talks. Of course, there's a Fairy Godmother involved -called Brian! It turns out that Brian is none too reliable and Cinders is no good at magic and soon life is utter chaos. Mums will love to introduce their daughters to this popular author and share the fun - a good excuse for them to read the book together!

Dawnblaze Saves Summer (Unicorn Magic) by Daisy Meadows

Perfect for young girls who are starting to read independently and who love gentle magic and fantasy in their reading. Aisha and her parents are moving to Enchanted Cottage, where spellbinding secrets are hidden in every corner. Soon Aisha and her new friend Emily are whisked to a magical, faraway realm, where they meet the unicorns of Enchanted Valley. But the unicorns are in trouble, and they need the girls' help... And for keen fans, Shimmerbreeze and the Sky Spell: Book 2 (Unicorn Magic)is also available. The evil unicorn Selena has stolen Shimmerbreeze the Sky Unicorn's special locket and the beautiful air of the kingdom is polluted! Can the girls help Shimmerbreeze find the locket and save the skies? Daisy Meadows is a hugely popular author and her books are perfect to encourage children embarking on their reading journey, and they enjoy the light-hearted feel-good stories about friendship. Plenty of illustrations aid the transition from picture books to chapter books.

Help! I Smell a Monster by Justin Davies

Perfect for children who like plenty of humour in their reading, this debut novel, engagingly illustrated by Kim Geyer, is great fun. Alice is visiting Uncle Magnus and soon realises that his job agency isn't quite ... normal. Little did Alice know that there are monsters everywhere - and Uncle Magnus' agency is there to find them jobs. There's even a Cyclops working in the castle as a pastry chef! But when he suddenly disappears, Alice smells something fishy. Can she and her uncle sniff out the missing monster before it's too late? Lively and very unusual.

Mr Dog and the Seal Deal by Ben Fogle

A famous name is always a good way to interest children in reading, and Ben Fogle's insight into animal lives makes this an excellent first novel. The book is co-written with best-selling children’s author Steve Cole, making for a really good pacy read, perfectly geared to children. Mr Dog loves travel and adventure - and helping other animals in trouble. Mr Dog is spending some time out at sea, riding the waves with the fishermen. But when a local seal goes missing, he has to spring into action – fast! The book is illustrated with lovely black and white illustrations by Nikolas Ilic which capture the personalities.


Rory Branagan is a detective - the best detective in town, or so he likes to think! He tells his own story about the huge crime committed at his school. Just who would want to kill the head dinner lady? It's up to Rory and his sidekick, Cassidy 'the Cat' Callaghan, to solve the crime. With drawings by Ralph Lazar on every page which are fundamental to the story, this book is perfect for children aged 8 and up who like a mystery to solve and a lively and hilarious read. The book makes a perfect transition from picture books and children who may be reluctant readers will definitely be encouraged to read it - often, I have seen children flick through books looking for high picture content and this definitely fits the bill. Children will be rewarded with a pacy funny story.

Barry Loser and the Trouble with Pets by Jim Smith

This is the eleventh book in the popular Barry Loser series and the standrad continues to be as high as ever, with children really looking out for the next in the series. Barry has always wanted a sausage dog - after all, they are two of his favourite things (dogs and sausages) squidged together! Who cares if they bark the whole time, do poos everywhere, need three walks every day and stop you going to the cinema with your friends? But Barry soon finds out that life with a sausage dog isn't quite what he expected... An easy and thoroughly enjoyable read, with plenty of illustrations to keep interest high.

Fing by David Walliams

Sometimes, celebrities publish books which succeed purely on the basis of their name - but David Walliams' talents lie far beyond that. He really does have a supreme talent for appealing to young readers and providing them with books they really want to read - and will thoroughly enjoy. Fing is no exception. How did such nice, ordinary parents produce a monstrosity such as Myrtle Meek? They will do anything to keep their little darling happy, but enough is never enough. So when she declares she wants a FING, they do all they can to get one Trouble is - what is a FING? To find out, they visit the spooky library vaults and the jungliest jungle ever. Superbly illustrated by the wonderful Tony Ross, this is a romp of a book which will generate huge amounts of laughter - but be warned, it probably appeals much more to children than to parents.

No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton

Far from the stereotypical ballet story book, this is a thought-provoking contemporary novel which homes in on a current situation and the heartbreak it can cause. 11 year old Aya is is a refugee, seeking asylum along with her mother and little brother. A dance teacher spots her exceptional talent and believes that Aya has the potential to earn a prestigious ballet scholarship... buy Aya needs to fight to remain in the country, let alone get a ballet scholarship. And the family must find Aya's missing father too. This is a real page turner, written with great empathy, a real understanding of the world of refugees and a fascinating insight into the world of ballet. .

 The Journey Continues by Avril Rowlands

The travels of Caravan Bear are an excellent way to familiarise children with the stories of the Bible, whilst providing an enjoyable read in the style of much-loved classics. As he travels with his friends, he retells stories from the Old Testament, including the Ten Commandments, David and Goliath and Daniel in the Lion's Den. The real events that happen to Rabbit and his friends are mirrored by the stories from the Bible. The discussions along the way with other travellers help to make the stories understandable, relevant and enjoyable. It's been well thought out and presented - a good way to learn Bible stories.

You've Got A Friend (Time After Time)​ by Judi Curtin

Friendship and families - themes that always make a good read. Molly thinks her dad is lonely, living on his own and not getting along with his brither. But what can Molly and her friend Beth do about it? THey think his problems stem from the past... so a time-travelling door to take them back to the 1970s could be just the answer! They find themselves in a very different world - a really well depicted world - but can they find their way to an answer? A feel-good story, well told and enjoyable to read.

Benny and Omar by Eoin Colfer

This was the debut novel from the author of the much-loved Artemis Fowl. It's a hilarious story of Benny Shaw, a young sporting fanatic, who is forced to leave his beloved Wexford, home of all his heroes, and move... all the way to Tunisia. When it all seems impossible, he makes friends with Omar, and a madcap friendship between the two boys leads to trouble, mad escapades, a unique way of communicating, and heartbreaking challenges. It's a facsinating story about life in a totally different culture, full of fun and mayhem.

Milton the Mighty by Emma Read

Milton is an unlikely hero... he is just a little spider. But he's been branded deadly on social media, along with all the other false widow spiders - and is targeted by pest-killers BugKILL. Alongside his BFFs, big hairy Ralph and spindly daddy-long-legs Audrey, he searches for a way to clear htheir name, but they need the help of Milton's house humans, a schoolgirl called Zoe - and her arachnophobic dad. Is he mighty enough to achieve the impossible? I have to say that, reading this spider's-eye account did make me view spiders in a slightly different light, as the story is so engagingly told and Milton is such a loveable character. It's cleverly written, full of gentle humour, and I think it will make people stop and think about the spiders who share our homes.


Here's a question - what would happen if the naughtiest child ever swapped places with the strictest head ever? Chaos, that's what would happen! Ryan has played so many tricks at Bracket Wood School that in the end the Head Teacher just walks out... but the new Head is so strict that even the teachers are scared of him. But in the most unexpected thing, Ryan and Mr Carter swap bodies. Now Ryan is Head Teacher – and his mortal enemy is one of his pupils. Is being Head Teacher all it's cracked up to be though? Find out in this hilarious story of chaos and mayhem that will have its readers in fits of laughter all the way through. David Baddiel know just how to tick the right boxes to appeal to children with just enough realism to have children thinking 'what if...?'. Fantastic fun from a very talented writer, complemented to perfection by Steven Lenton's brilliant illustrations.

The Missing Bookshop by Katie Clapham

Stripes' Colour Fiction series really does fill a niche in the market. It's easy to find highly illustrated books for children moving on from picture books, but finding colour illustrations with similar appeal to picture books is much more challenging. This series of hardback books is beautifully produced on shiny paper which makes the very best of the striking illustrations, really enticing children to read. Milly loves story time at her local bookshop with Mrs Minty who knows so much about books. But one day Milly arrives to find the shop gone. What has happened to Mrs Minty and her irreplaceable bookshop? With its focus on the importance of stories, this is a lovely theme for the latest book in the series. The lovely illustrations are by Kirsti Beautyman.

The Hideaway Deer by Holly Webb

Animal stories never cease to appeal to children and especially to those at the lower end of primary schools - they are a great way to encourage reading and build children's confidence. Shy Lola lacks self-confidence and when she moves to a new house, she worries about making friends at her new school. On the positive side, Lola loves her new home with its rambling garden and the deer that sometimes wander in through the broken fence. One day, she comes across a fawn who seems to be in trouble. Lola is determined to do everything she can to help the terrified little deer, but will she be able to do it on her own? A delightful story that will be reassuring for children facing new situations.

Little Dolphin Rescue by Rachel Delahaye

Animal-loving Fliss likes nothing better than helping animals in danger. What sets this book apart is that they are wild animals that she helps, so the book has an exciting turn when Fliss is magically whisked away to the Indian Ocean. There she finds a young dolphin in trouble and she knows she has to help. But she’s scared of deep water, and who knows what other animals there might be out there! Can Fliss face her fears and save her new friend? Fliss is a lovely lively character and readers will enjoy getting to know her and finding out more about different animals.

Moonlight Mischief (Star Friends) by Linda Chapman

Linda Chapman is a favourite with children; she has written many popular series and children do look out for her books, knowing they will find an enjoyable and not too challenging read. They are perfect for children starting to read confidently on their own and make ideal winding-down bedtime stories. Sita and her friends believe in magic and when they meet the Star Animals, a whole world of adventure unfolds. Westcombe has been entered for the Best Kept Village competition... but who has tidied the village up overnight? But it's not all good - pets and toys start to go missing and the Star Friends suspect that dark magic is involved. They're going to have to use all their skills to solve this latest mystery... The lively illustrations by Lucy Fleming are an appealing feature of the book.

Lily's Secret Audition (Shine!)​ by Holly Webb

A perfect series for stage-struck youngsters! Lily is sure she only got a place at The Shine School for the Performing Arts because of her famous actress mum so she feels she has a lot to prove. Could the TV adaptation of her favourite book, Little Women be her chance to prove herself? Readers will be rooting for Lily as she sets out to prove she is deserving of the lead role? It's a positive story about believing in yourself and developing confidence. An ideal read for newly confident readers.

The Flat Stanley Collection by Jeff Brown

This excellent value set will be a big hit with all fans of Flat Stanley - and it's a real treat for children who haven't yet encountered this marvellous character. The set of six includes Stanley's Christmas Adventure, Stanley and the Magic Lamp, Invisible Stanley, Stanley, Flat Again, Stanley in Space and, of course the original story, Flat Stanley. The books are superbly illustrated by Rob Biddulph. Stanley Lambchop was just an ordinary boy... until a noticeboard fell on him and he became as flat as a pancake. Surprisingly, you might think, being flat has all sorts of advantages, and these hilarious stories chronicle his adventures. These books contain a super varied collection of adventures as Stanley sets out to find the thieves, sets off into space, tries to save Christmas... in one story, he even becomes invisible! Perfect for children who are just starting to enjoy stories on their own.

Evie and the Animals by Matt Haig

Evie loves animals and she has a very unusual talent - she can hear the thoughts of animals. But her dad says this talent is dangerous. So when she frees the school rabbit from its tiny hutch, she vows to keep her talent a secret. But after a face-to-face encounter with a lion, things start to go very wrong. and everyone in town is in danger. Evie must use her talent to save them. At the same time, she must find the truth of her own past. But a mysterious man with a powerful talent stands in her way.Beautifully illustrated by Emily Gravett.

BOOT small robot, BIG adventure: Book 1​ by Shane Hegarty

Boot is a lovely character who will appeal immensely to children - and he is a robot! Boot is no usual robot though - it has emotions and thinks, unlike most other robots. So when Boot finds himself on a scrapheap, he knows something is wrong. Boot is scared but tries to be brave, which is hard when its screen keeps showing a wobbly, worried face. Luckily Boot meets Noke and Red - other 'advanced' robots who have learned to survive in secret. They set to find Beth, Boot's owner but verything Boot thought it knew about the world is changing and things aren't as simple as it remembers.

The Umbrella Mouse by Anna Fargher

Set in World War II in 1944, London is under attack. Young mouse Pip Hanway's world is turned upside down when her home, umbrella shop James Smith & Sons, is destroyed by a bomb. Orphaned and alone, she must begin a perilous quest to find a new home. But the only way to get there is by joining Noah’s Ark, a secret gang of animals fighting the resistance in France, operating beneath the feet of the human soldiers. Danger is everywhere and as the enemy closes in, Pip must risk everything to save her new friends. Beautifully illustrated by Sam Usher, Anna Fargher's debut novel takes you on an incredible journey through a war that reaches even the smallest of creatures.

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea! (Narwhal and Jelly 1)​ by Ben Clanton

I loved these characters right from the outset. Narwhal is a happy-go-lucky narwhal and Jelly is a no-nonsense jellyfish. It may seem that they don't have much in common, but they both love waffles, parties and adventures... and exploring the ocean together. This graphic novel includes three short stories, an ocean fact page and a joke page. In the first story, Jelly learns that Narwhal is a really good friend. Then Narwhal and Jelly form their own pod of awesomeness with their ocean friends. And finally, Narwhal and Jelly read the best book ever! Silly but great fun.

Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt (Narwhal and Jelly 2) by Ben Clanton

In the first story, Narwhal reveals his superhero alter-ego and enlists Jelly to help him figure out what his superpower is. Next, Narwhal uses his superpower to help a friend find his way back home. In the third story, Jelly is feeling blue and Narwhal comes to the rescue. The books make a good transition from picture books to early chapter books but I would much prefer to see a lower case font used for this age group, despite graphic novel convention. Imaginative stories, lovely characters, an engaging setting and lots of fun.

Accidental Trouble Magnet: Book 1 (Planet Omar)​ by Zanib Mian

The author tells us her reasons for writing this book - she wants to redress the negative and stereotyped views of Muslims and she has done this very successfully by using humour to show life in an ordinary Muslim family - Omar's family. He writes the story in his own voice, real and unselfconscious. His family have recently moved house so he also has to contend with a new school. So not only must he stay out of trouble at home, he must make new friends and keep out of the way of the class bully. A warm, funny and engagingly presented book which succeeds excellently in its aim.

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