Magical trains, wartime drama and zombie bears - book reviews

The dark nights are drawing nearer and it's the perfect time to cuddle up with a good book!

Tuesday, 2nd October 2018, 5:24 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd October 2018, 5:28 pm
The Train to Impossible Places by P.G. Bell and Flavia Sorrentino
The Train to Impossible Places by P.G. Bell and Flavia Sorrentino

Take a train trip to some impossibly exciting places, discover what it was like to be a child in the dangerous years of the First World War, find out what it takes to be a budding entrepreneur, meet some scary bears and share some of the best jokes around.

Age 9 plus:

The Train to Impossible Places by P.G. Bell and Flavia Sorrentino

If it’s full-throttle adventure you are after this autumn, then hop aboard the train to Impossible Places and enjoy a truly magical mystery tour.

And the good news is that you don’t need a ticket to ride… just sit back and let your imagination run wild as you encounter amazing people and fantastical places courtesy of one of this year’s most exciting debut children’s authors.

Starring science-mad girl Suzy Smith, a one thousand-and-ten-year-old grumpy troll, a moody brown bear called Ursel (who dyes her fur blonde!) and an undersized post boy in an oversized uniform, The Train to Impossible Places is a full-steam stunner and the first book in what promises to be a terrific series.

And it comes from the pen of Welshman P.G. Bell whose thrilling and inventive story was created from his young son’s demand for a new, made-up bedtime story from his dad. Having requested a new instalment every night for a week, the story of Suzy’s journey began to evolve and Bell started writing it down.

The result is a tale destined to become a classic; a rip-roaring adventure full of mystery, magic, goodies, baddies, laughs, thrills, spills… oh, and a science called fuzzics (that’s physics, only fuzzier).

Eleven-year-old Suzy Smith loves science… to be more precise, she loves physics because that’s where the action is. You know where you are with physics even if her classmates look at her as if she is the victim of some terrible affliction.

But knowing about physics doesn’t explain the strange rattling noise that wakes Suzy in the middle of the night. And it certainly has no answer to the gigantic steam train that she finds has crashed in the hallway of her house.

But this is no ordinary train… it’s the Impossible Postal Express, the magical delivery service of the Union of Impossible Places, run by an assortment of droll trolls, including rail engineer Fletch, Stonker the driver with his enormous moustache, and irrepressible hereditary young Postmaster Wilmot.

The exciting news is that the train is now leaving Trollville for the five corners of reality and ‘come rain, shine or meteor shower, the Impossible Postal Express will deliver!’ The not-so-good news is that this is a confusing world where Suzy’s knowledge of the law of physics is turned upside down and trains are powered by exploding fusion bananas.

The really bad news is that Suzy’s first job is to deliver a cursed package to fearsome sorceress Lady Crepuscula. And when the mysterious package begs not to be delivered, Suzy discovers the fate of the Impossible Places might just be in her hands…

Bell delivers an extraordinary, exhilarating and inventive story beautifully illustrated by Flavia Sorrentino… a whistle-stop, action-packed journey in which the spirit of adventure and a spirited girl are the driving forces, and where the impossible really does become possible.

Come rain, shine or meteor shower, don’t miss the ride!

(Usborne, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

Evie’s War by Holly Webb

One of the nation’s favourite children’s authors, Holly Webb turns her sharp eye and storytelling talents on the harsh realities of life during the First World War for a moving and memorable middle grade novel.

Based on the real-life bombing of Whitby in 1914 and partly inspired by Webb’s own family stories, this warm and beautifully written tale is a powerful snapshot of the devastating effects of war on children, on families and on the country as a whole.

In the seaside town of Whitby in North Yorkshire, as the country teeters on the cusp of war in the summer of 1914, Evie and her family are touched by tragedy when Evie’s younger brother Alecky dies unexpectedly from pneumonia.

Blaming the children’s governess Miss Jennings for letting seven-year-old Alecky catch a fatal chill, Evie’s mother and father have dismissed the family’s principal carer and are struggling in their own ways to come to terms with the terrible loss.

Evie and her younger sister Kitty are forced to spend most of their time in the faded old nursery at home where they try to find ways to keep their spirits up. Meanwhile, their older, teenage brother David distracts himself with the ever-growing menace in Europe.

But when the threat of war turns into reality and David enlists in the Army, Evie’s mother is truly heartbroken. And as members of the family do their best to contribute to the war effort, they also struggle with the sacrifices that each of them is forced to make.

Wartime bombing raids, the real-life work of Lt Col Edwin Richardson’s War Dog School and the trials and tribulations of growing up are all explored in Webb’s clever and compelling tale of love, loss and learning.

Brimming with heartfelt emotions, and dramas both public and personal, this is an honest account of the price of war but also an uplifting tribute to the resilience of ordinary people.

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

Usborne Business for Beginners by Lara Bryan, Rose Hall and Kellan Stover

Learning about business is just the business for every budding young entrepreneur…

Following on from the success of their Politics for Beginners book, resourceful children’s books publisher Usborne returns with a no-nonsense, easy-to-understand guide to what business is all about.

Whether you want to be an entrepreneur or simply a smarter consumer, this lively, empowering and fully accessible introduction to the world of business will have youngsters blue-sky thinking their way into the business empires of the future.

There are all the basics here that you need to start your own business – from tips for business ideas and how to beat the competition to advice on managing money. Young readers can also discover how business fits in to the wider world, from pollution and global supply chains to interest rates and bailouts.

When is a business a unicorn, how do businesses use your data, how do you become a billionaire, will robots replace workers, and just how do you get to be an entrepreneur?

With chapters on starting a business, selling your stuff, keeping track of money, people in business, making a product, growing the business and the bigger picture, youngsters will be inspired to get creative and meditate on their own business ideas.

A glossary at the back explains key business words and Usborne’s trademark Quicklinks guide youngsters to websites where they can find out more about how business works and how to get started. They can also play games and quizzes to test their business skills, meet young entrepreneurs who have started their own business, take a virtual tour of a factory, and see inside the New York Stock Exchange.

Business buzz for a bright new generation of entrepreneurs!

(Usborne, hardback, £9.99)

Age 7 plus:

Night of the Living Ted by Barry Hutchison and Lee Cosgrove

If scary bears are your thing, then this hilarious new series from comedy master Barry Hutchison will be the ‘stuff’ of dreams!

Belly laughs and lethal teddies are the order of the day as Hutchison gives free rein to a rip-roaring romp that stars zombie bears, ghost bears, witch bears and alien bears… in fact, the perfect gift to bear for your young adventurers at Halloween.

Hutchison, an award-winning children’s author and screenwriter, is on his funniest form as leading lady Lisa-Marie steals the show with her endearing (and secretly educational) penchant for ‘big words’ which opens up a fascinating new vocabulary for young readers.

When Lisa-Marie and her new step-brother Vernon pop into town to get their dad a birthday present, they discover that Lisa-Marie’s favourite Create-a-Ted shop is offering free Halloween bears.

Unfortunately the shop’s friendly owners, Mr and Mrs Chang, seemed to have disappeared but Josh, the slightly weird new man in charge, seems like fun and he offers them two free bears. Making two grisly Halloween bears for themselves and choosing an Elvis bear named Bearvis for Dad, they head home.

But that night, shopkeeper Josh brings the bears to life for what Lisa-Marie would like to call nefarious purposes … but Vernon’s bear, Grizz, doesn’t want to be a slave to humans. He wants to rule the world!

Converting the shopkeeper’s Stuff-U-Lator into a machine for turning living matter into stuffed bears, he begins to prowl the streets. Can the children and Bearvis save themselves – and the world – from being stuffed?

The versatile Hutchison is ably aided and abetted on his mission to make kids giggle by the wonderfully zany illustrations of Lee Cosgrove as together they stuff their all-action teddy drama with a delightful brand of visual and verbal virtuosity.

Frightfully good… from the start right through to the dénouement!

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 7 plus:

Vlad the World’s Worst Vampire: Midnight Fright by Anna Wilson and Kathryn Durst

Poor little Vlad… his brilliantly clever cousin Lupus is set for a flying visit and he plans to show scaredy cat Vlad how to be a real vampire!

Popular children’s author Anna Wilson works a special brand of black magic in this entertainingly batty and wonderfully witty illustrated series which stars a fangtastic vampire anti-hero who is not only short of his parents’ ‘scary’ genes but is afraid of the dark as well.

Vlad is the youngest member of the Impaler family of Misery Manor, the bravest vampires that ever lived, but unfortunately Vlad isn’t brave at all. Far from enjoying his twilight status, he’d rather be secretly attending human school where has become friends with the adorable Minxie.

In this funny and spooky new adventure, Vlad is not looking forward to his vampire cousin, Lupus, coming to stay. Lupus can fly brilliantly, turn into a bat in the blink of an eye, he’s popular at school, and he has an annoying raven called Claw.

He’s supposed to be teaching Vlad how to be a proper vampire, but all Vlad can think about is how to stop him from following him to human school. Soon, Lupus has all the humans charmed too, and Vlad is in despair. But the school play auditions show who really has talent, and who is the one with true friends. Vlad is in for a surprise…

Brimming with gentle humour, madcap escapades, warm friendships and affection, this tale of a vampire boy who wishes he was human is ideal for middle grade readers looking for fun and adventure with a tantalising Transylvanian twist.

Talented illustrator Kathryn Durst brings Vlad and his marvellously mixed-up adventures to life while Wilson has the devil of a time dishing up bat-loads of fun with an extraordinary boy trying to find where he belongs in an ordinary world.

Guaranteed to leave young readers well and truly impaled!

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

Beano Ultimate Joke Book by Beano Studios Limited

What’s round and dangerous? A vicious circle!

Get ready to impress and entertain your family and friends with hundreds of hilarious jokes and discover top tips on how to become a comedian with this brilliant Beano bonanza of side-splitting one-liners.

Using Beano’s tried-and-tested funny formula, this bumper joke book is filled with the best jokes from the Beano comic book. From rib-tickling knock-knock jokes to devilishly funny Doctor, Doctor gags and everything in between, this book has a joke for every occasion.

What did the dog say when it sat on some sandpaper? Ruff!

How many skunks does it take to make a stink? A phew!

When does a duck get up? At the crack of dawn!

The jokes are split into handy categories and there are some insider secrets on how to become a top stand-up comedian courtesy of the famous Beano Joke Academy. Budding young comedians will love discovering how to create their own comic persona, deliver one-liners and even write their own gags.

The perfect way to always have the last laugh!

(Studio Press, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

Dirty Bertie: Frights and Bites: Fangs! Scream! Zombie! by Alan MacDonald and David Roberts

And now for something truly hair-raising, foul-smelling and revoltingly wonderful… the brilliant new muck-propelled adventure starring the one and only Dirty Bertie!

Dirty Bertie, the cringe-making creation of writer Alan MacDonald and illustrator David Roberts, is the boy with nose-pickingly disgusting habits who just can’t help getting involved in comic chaos, and has proved to be one of the most enduringly popular and entertaining story book anti-heroes for younger readers.

An expert in all things yukky, there’s nothing Bertie likes more than to be surrounded by worms, fleas, bogeys, burps and suspicious smells... and with ever-increasing madcap schemes and crazy capers, Bertie is a disgusting delight for his legion of fans who revel in his revolting ways.

There are three fully illustrated stories in each book and in these latest hilariously horrid adventures, we join bad, bold Bertie as he attempts to reveal grumpy Mr Grouch as a vampire on his school’s book week, finds himself modelling the latest catwalk fashions, and gets a serious scare-cut at the barbers.

With each action-packed, fun-filled story approximately 30 pages long, and split into chapters with wickedly funny illustrations on almost every spread, Dirty Bertie is ideal for reluctant readers in need of some laugh-out-loud comedy bait, confident young readers to enjoy by themselves, or simply to share with (secretly amused!) mums and dads.

Bertie, a boy with big ideas but a poor record for carrying them out, is the perfect anti-hero for any youngster who attracts trouble like a magnet, and isn’t afraid to make the most of it!

Naughty… but very, very funny!

(Stripes, paperback, £8.99)

Age 3 plus:

Dave the Lonely Monster by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie

Even monstrous beasts have feelings too!

Feel the rhythm of the verse and get ready for a monster rave because Dave the purple beast is in the mood for music… and he wants young readers to join in the fun.

Creative author Anna Kemp and exciting illustrator Sara Ogilvie really do find their perfect combined rhythm in this wonderful picture book romp starring a lonely monster who has given up his messy, mucky ways and retired to play his guitar at a retirement cave in isolated Echo Rock.

But after six decades of strumming songs that no one can hear, he would really like some company. However, when someone does arrive, in the shape of a tiny, belligerent knight called Sir Percival the Brave, things don’t get off to the best start.

After learning that monsters have feelings too and that love and peace is far better than war, Percy starts to mend his rude behaviour. But can a knight and a purple beast really end up as best friends?

Kemp’s warm, funny, rhyming tale speaks loudly about the importance of being kind to each other and the joys and comfort of friendship, while Ogilvie’s bright and richly detailed illustrations give monster Dave a quirky character all of his own.

Funny, monstrously endearing and ever so cuddly, Dave is set to win the hearts of all young readers.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Way Home for Wolf by Rachel Bright and Jim Field

Show me the way to go home!

The words of the old song ring loud and true in this warm, feelgood picture book story of a little wolf cub lost in the cold and ice of the Arctic but too proud to shout for much-needed help.

Author and wordsmith Rachel Bright provides the gorgeous, lyrical, rhyming text, and illustrator and animator Jim Field brings the story to life with a gallery of beautiful pictures in a striking palette of blue and grey tinged with gold, green and burnt amber.

Star of the show is Wilf who thinks he is as strong and independent as a wolf cub can be. He doesn’t need help from his friends and family because whatever challenge lies ahead, he can do it all by himself. But when Wilf finds himself lost and alone in the snow and chill of an Arctic night, he discovers something important… sometimes we all need the help of friends to keep us safe and show us the way.

Field’s illustrations add depth and drama to Bright’s moving, enchanting story which features a menagerie of amazing creatures, including a sea unicorn, an Arctic fox, a bear-moth and a musk-ox, and holds crucial life messages about friendship, trust and kindness.

The perfect bedtime story for your own little cubs!

(Orchard Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

You Can Tell a Fairy Tale: Little Red Riding Hood by Migy Blanco

Everybody knows the ending to the tale of Little Red Riding Hood… but now you can make the story your own!

This inventive picture book – a mix of fantastic illustrations and an interactive narrative – lets children use their imagination to retell Little Red Riding Hood in their own unique way.

Illustrated by picture-book rising star Migy Blanco, the exiting new You Can Tell a Fairy Tale series from Templar Publishing turns traditional stories into a reading adventure and encourages little ones to re-imagine their favourite tales.

In You Can Tell a Fairy Tale: Red Riding Hood, we help our heroine decide what to wear, which path to follow through the woods and which magic object will be best to save the day. Readers must also decide what Little Red Riding Hood should take in her basket, what clothes are in grandma’s wardrobe, and where to send the big, bad old wolf!

Children will love using the visual clues to retell and add detail to the classic fairy tale, there are some added puzzles to enjoy, and then the fun of returning time and time again to send Little Red Riding Hood on a different adventure.

(Templar, paperback, £6.99)