Book reviews: Human mechanics, hidden magic and the joys of rhyme

Take a close look at how our bodies work, set sail in a fantastic fantasy world, share some boyband antics and meet the maddest cat in the world in a sunshine collection of spring books for children.

Tuesday, 8th May 2018, 12:14 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th May 2018, 1:36 pm
Humanatomy: How the body works by Nicola Edwards, George Ermos and Jem Maybank
Humanatomy: How the body works by Nicola Edwards, George Ermos and Jem Maybank

Age 7 plus:

Humanatomy: How the body works by Nicola Edwards, George Ermos and Jem Maybank

Have you ever wondered just what goes on under the skin of the human body?

Well now you can go exploring with this super interactive, fully illustrated and informative book which lets youngsters examine each of the body’s organ systems with a pull-out booklet, and then find the answers to all those questions every child would like to ask. How does skin heal itself? What is blood made of? What happens to food when we eat it? How does memory work?

Inside the front cover of Humanatomy is an ingenious, complete reference guide to the human body with each of eight coloured tabs opening up to present one of the body’s major organ systems in the context of a whole human body, enabling children to take a closer look.

The human body, we learn, is an impressive piece of work. Our complex bodies grow from a single cell and there is a code in us which decides whether our eyes will be blue or brown. Our hearts keep on beating even when we are tired or asleep and our bodies know how to take in air around us and turn it into energy to keep us working, moving and living.

And the body is even more impressive when you know how it works… take the human eye which works like a camera but even the most expensive camera isn’t as clever or as quick to react to light.

Find out why we itch, why your hands go wrinkly in the bath, why we shiver when we are cold and why we sneeze, and learn how a broken bone heals, why children breathe more quickly than adults and what makes your heart beat.

And finally, dive down into the deepest part of the body to find something the scientists call DNA, the acid that is in every single cell in your body and is packed with important information about you.

Packed with clear, detailed and easy-to-understand illustrations by George Ermos and Jem Maybank, and written by Nicola Edwards, this fascinating book tells kids everything they need to know about how we work from the skin and muscular system to the skeletal, digestive, respiratory, circulatory and nervous systems.

So whoever you are, the way your body works is mind-blowingly amazing and this fascinating book lets you examine in detail one of the most incredible ‘machines’ on earth.

(360 Degrees, hardback, £14.99)

Age 9 plus:

Spirit by Sally Christie

Sally Christie gets to the heart of what friendship truly means in this beautifully conceived and imagined novel about the hidden magic of the world around us.

Spirit is an intriguing and worldly wise story about a boy who wants to blend in and a girl who wants to stand out… but it’s also a story about Shakespeare, football and fairies, and comes from an author who regrets the loss of our woods and hedgerows but is certain that the spirit of these lost places lives on.

Matt Barker is quiet, shy and truculent, and he is the new boy at school. Jazzy O’Hanlon, on the other hand, is outspoken, popular, confident, and loves Shakespeare because he makes you think. They would never normally be friends but things in their village of Burnham Stone aren’t normal.

Matt has seen something extraordinary up in Burnham Wood. He claims he saw a real live fairy and took it home in a bag, and Jazzy is the only one at school who believes him. With the help of Matt’s little dog Dash and Jazzy’s little sister Melissa, the two make surprising discoveries… and unleash such a powerful force that nothing can ever be the same again.

Christie has created a clever and illuminating story about growing up and being true to yourself, about the power of friendship, the continuing relevance of Shakespeare and his plays in the 21st century, and the awesome power of the natural world around us.

Multi-layered and with different narrative voices, Spirit will make you laugh, cry… and wonder whether magic really does exist.

(David Fickling Books, hardback, £10.99)

Age 9 plus:

Fighting Fantasy: The Gates of Death by Charlie Higson

The groundbreaking Fighting Fantasy role-playing gamebooks, which thrilled a generation of young adventure-seekers in the Eighties and Nineties, have been making a welcome comeback thanks to Scholastic Books.

Many of those readers from thirty or more years ago are now parents and enjoying introducing this iconic series to their own kids and watching a new generation become the superheroes of outrageous tales of monsters, demons and magical worlds.

The books – created by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone – are brimming with adventure, initiative and imagination and provide an original twist on traditional fiction by letting the reader take control of the story’s leading player and make choices that will affect the outcome of the story.

With their striking new covers and atmospheric illustrations by Vlado Krizan, each title provides old-fashioned fantasy and heroics with a thrilling twist, and hours of fun and constructive thinking.

The Gates of Death is the latest book in the series and comes from the pen of Charlie Higson, bestselling author, creator of hugely successful TV comedy series The Fast Show, and a long-time fan of Fighting Fantasy.

In time-honoured style, the hero is the young reader who must respond to a call for help from the people of Allansia. The journey to the Temple of Miracles in the Invisible City will be challenging and dangerous, and what seems a simple mission will soon take a darker turn as the reader faces the legendary Gates Of Death.

On the other side waits the Queen of Darkness, Ulrakhaar. To stop her, and save Titan from destruction, our hero will have to venture further than ever before... to the Kingdom Of The Dead. May your stamina never fail!

Higson brings his own special brand of heart-stopping action, terrifying monsters and page-turning plotting to his first Fighting Fantasy adventure.

Expect the unexpected!

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Company of Eight by Harriet Whitehorn

Not content with her bestselling Violet series, creative author Harriet Whitehorn has let her imagination run riot for a sparkling new adventure set in a fantasy world that is sure to wow middle grade readers.

Starring a young girl who lives in a magical land and dreams of joining the circus as an acrobat, The Company of Eight conjures up a richly imagined and breathtaking other-world of ice-bound cities, turbulent seas and tropical islands, and a wonderful secret society that youngsters will be eager to join themselves.

Fourteen-year-old orphan Cass Malvino lives in the magical land of Minaris with Mrs Potts, her elderly guardian, who owns the Mansion of Fortune in which fortune tellers ply their trade. But Cass’s big dream and sole passion is to audition to be an acrobat on the wondrous Circus Boat, a travelling circus that tours the islands of the Longest World.

When her chance is snatched away by her guardian who has other plans for her, Cass comes up with a scheme of her own. The determined girl runs away and decides to wait out the year on the remote and mysterious Island of Women where no woman or child is denied sanctuary.

Soon Cass has secured a job on the Palace Boat which follows the Circus Boat around the islands. But Cass has been invited on the Palace Boat for a reason and it’s not long before she finds herself embroiled with thieves, sword fighters and a mysterious group of women called The Company of Eight.

Will Cass succeed in following her dream, or is her destiny something altogether different?

The Company of Eight is a super, swashbuckling adventure with a formidable cast of characters – including Amazonian, crime-fighting women skilled in sword fighting and hand-to-hand combat – espionage, thrills galore, nasty pirates and a fabulous, richly detailed fantasy world.

Inspirational, exciting and addictive, Cass’s incredible voyage of discovery will enchant and delight every young reader looking for their own ‘escape’ route!

(Stripes, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Boyband of the Apocalypse: Washed Up by Tom Nicoll and David O’Connell

It will be music to the ears of young readers to learn that Tom Nicoll and David O’Connell are back with more thrills and spills in the boyband world!

Band fandoms and celebrity survival TV shows meet comical Armageddon in another world-saving, madcap odyssey from the (self-confessed) very silly but highly imaginative author Tom Nicoll, and his partner in apocalypse fighting, illustrator David O’Connell.

Just when reluctant Apocalips band member Sam Miller thinks life has returned to normal, he is bundled into a black van by agents of the Apocalypse Intelligence Agency who send him off to the remote jungle island of Fin del Mundo where he is forced to appear on a celebrity reality TV game show.

One of Sam’s rival ‘celebrity’ contestants is none other than evil music mogul Nigel Cruul, whom the A.I.A. suspect is planning to bring back the Horsewomen of the Apocalypse… and Sam’s mission is to stop him.

Luckily his best friend Milo and kick-ass sister Lexi are starring in the show too. But they will have to survive everything from alligator-infested swamps to public vote-offs if they are to save the world once more.

Daring duo Nicoll and O’Connell have come up with a comical, band-themed masterpiece… the extraordinary, hilarious and outrageous adventures of an ordinary boy who is constantly called on to save the universe.

These fast-paced, exciting and fully-illustrated adventures are ideal for reluctant readers and boyband fans… and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud guffaws to make the story sing and the band go with a swing!

(Stripes, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Looshkin: The Adventures of the Maddest Cat in the World by Jamie Smart

Meet the wildest, craziest cat ever in a hilarious new comic-strip adventure that will have youngsters grinning and guffawing from first page to last!

Loopy Looshkin, the wonderfully accident-prone cat, comes from the mind of Jamie Smart, one of the shining stars of The Phoenix Presents series, published by David Fickling Books in partnership with The Phoenix comic.

The series is going from strength to strength and much of that success is due to the genius of the extraordinarily talented illustrator Smart whose vibrant comic-strip Bunny vs Monkey books have been causing giant waves of laughter. And now he’s back to entertain us all again with Looshkin, surely the maddest cat in the world!

You may think that your cat is mad, but it has got nothing on Looshkin. Leave him for just a moment and you’ll find that your house has flooded, a steam train has smashed into your living room and a portal to a hell dimension has opened in your loft. Now a miniature hot air balloon filled with intrepid explorers is making its way across your kitchen, everything is covered in bees and there are sirens. Looshkin, what HAVE you done?!

Hilariously comical and packed with Smart’s ingenious illustrations, this manic, high-energy story is a cat basket of laughs and ideal for fidgety readers who like their books to come with plenty of bold and busy pictures.

Cat-astrophic cat antics for action kids!

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £8.99)

Age 3 to adult:

Star Wars Block: Over 100 Words Every Fan Should Know by Lucasfilm Ltd Peskimo

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, an epic story began that has inspired generations young and old…

Every Star Wars fan – from every generation – will enjoy journeying through the pages of this blockbuster block book that celebrates the heroes and villains, creatures and droids, vehicles and distant planets of the eternally popular Star Wars saga.

Star Wars Block is the sixth title in Abrams’ brilliant Block Book Series and comes with the fantastic illustrations of Peskimo, a husband-and-wife illustration and design team from Bristol.

The world of Star Wars is rich with content, from its iconic characters to its stunning locations. This innovative book takes readers on a tour through the galaxy and features popular characters and moments from all the films, up to and including Rogue One.

The super chunky book includes cut-out shapes on every spread and the enchanting artwork of Peskimo. Each spread also features the important words every Star Wars fan – from the littlest Skywalker to the most seasoned Kenobi – should know.

And as a final flourish, a four-page fold-out reveals the cast of heroes who have brought hope where there was none in the battle to beat the enemies of the universe.

Simply out of this world!

(Abrams Appleseed, board book, £12.99)

Age 7 plus:

Yuck and Yum: A feast of funny food poems by Joshua Seigal and Neal Zetter

‘I’m the pickle in the burger

That is sitting on your plate

And I’m proud to be an item

Almost everybody hates…

No one likes me. I don’t care.’

Celebrated performance poets Joshua Seigal and Neal Zetter whisk together their poetic talents in one bumper collection as they roll out a tasty selection of funny, frantic food verse.

Yuck and Yum makes a marvellous reading feast as the dynamic duo dish up a super selection of delightfully dotty ditties about foods that youngsters might like… and some that they will love to hate!

Fancy a wozzlenut or maybe an eeeeeeel? Favourite subjects include food you might see at any meal time, food from around the world, snacks, sweets, weird food, and finally, poems about something you don’t even want to know about… gluttony.

From croissants to enchiladas, taking in pizzas, the ‘niciest, spiciest’ curries and the notoriously smelly durian fruit , Yuck and Yum is a treat of lip-smacking odes, taste bud-tickling poems, and a ‘roughy, toughy’ beast called Russell the Brussels Sprout.

So is your choice of food yum or just yuck? With hilarious illustrations by Scoular Anderson and 50 poems guaranteed to make you giggle, this is the perfect book for reading aloud, sharing in class or simply feasting on in a quiet corner of your own home.

(Troika Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 5 plus:

The Song of the Dodo Written and illustrated by Hilda Offen

‘So – your dad tells bad jokes

And your mum sings off-key.

What makes you suppose

That you’re worse off than me?’

Also from Troika Books comes a brand-new collection of original poems for young children from award-winning author, poet and illustrator Hilda Offen.

The enduring fascination of words, the fun of playful verse, and the joys of sharing rhythm and rhyme have become the hallmark of Offen’s work. Her first anthology, Blue Balloons and Rabbit Ears, was shortlisted for the prestigious CLPE award for children’s poetry in 2015.

This lively, magic-infused new collection celebrates the strange and wonderful world around us, from the joy of bouncing on a trampoline to the madcap fun of sharing a pizza with Attila the Hun and Robin Hood. In fact, youngsters will find that anything can happen in the mysteriously marvellous world created by Offen… even a singing dodo!

There is a seductive exuberance to Offen's poems, a simple joy in the lines and rhymes that charms youngsters and makes reading them such a pleasure for adults.

With its vibrant, funny and easy-to-understand verse, enchanting illustrations and imaginative themes, this collection of thoughtful and surprising poems will amuse and delight all the family.

(Troika Books, paperback, £7.99)