Entertainment Book Reviews

Monday 21 October 2019

A scare at bedtime?

Sarah Webb's guide to the bewitching array of children's books out this autumn, from spooky adventures to ghoulishly good mysteries and lots more

Illustration by Júlia Sardà, from the book Mary and Frankenstein written by Linda Bailey and published by Andersen Press
Illustration by Júlia Sardà, from the book Mary and Frankenstein written by Linda Bailey and published by Andersen Press
Illustration by Andrew Whitson, from the book Molly and the Stormy Sea written by Malachy Doyle and published by Graffeg
Celine Kiernan
Dave Rudden
Sarah McIntyre
Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Young readers are in for a thrill this autumn with a bewitching array of books for all ages, including many newly published Irish titles. There are picture books galore for the smallest story lovers and for emerging readers, Mildred Hubble in The Worst Witch is back. First published in 1974, this much-loved character has been charming readers for generations. There are plenty of spooky adventures for age 9+ also, and lots of great books for children who do not like a scare before bedtime, too.

Age 0 to 4

The Pooka Party by Shona Shirley Macdonald (O'Brien Press)

Poor old Pooka is feeling miserable and lonely as it has no friends. So it decides to hold a party and invites all the ghosts, goblins and magical creatures to its house. But when the goblins start stealing the cake, a mighty battle ensues and the Moon must step in to broker peace. The simple story is brought to life by Macdonald's exquisite illustrations which are so packed full of details, and so enchanting, they practically dance off the page. Her night-time colour palette - shimmering silver, midnight blue, mossy green - is a treat for the eyes and don't miss her tiny fish riding bicycles. A picture book maker with an exciting future ahead of her. With the right story she could go stellar! Age 3+

Molly and the Stormy Sea by Malachy Doyle, illustrated by Andrew Whitson (Graffeg)

Malachy Doyle lives on an island off the coast of Donegal and his illustrator, Andrew Whitson, is also from the north of Ireland. Together they have produced a picture book full of emotion and atmosphere set in an Irish fishing village. Molly wakes up one night and realises that her father is missing. She knows he's out on his fishing boat and there's a storm brewing. But Molly has a plan. And maybe she can help bring her father home safely. A book about faith and hope. Age 4+

Don't Go to School! by Máire Zepf and Tarsila Krüse (Futa Fata)

Irish language publishers Futa Fata have produced this English language version of their bestselling Ná Gabh ar Scoil! and it's a cracker. Usually in a 'first day at school' book it's the child who is anxious, but in this clever book, it's Mummy and not little Benno the bear who is scared of school. "Don't worry, Mummy," he tells her. "You'll get to know the other parents in no time. They seem really nice." The stylish illustrations in rich shades of brown, green and blue are perfect for very young children. Highly recommended for any parents who are nervous of school! Age 2+

Once Upon a Wild Wood by Chris Riddell (Macmillan)

Chris Riddell is one of the hardest working people in children's books with six titles out this season, this handsome hardback being one of them. He was also UK Children's Laureate between 2015-2017 and has won countless awards for his illustrations. In this picture book, he takes classic fairy tales and weaves his own story from them. His heroine, Little Green Raincape is on her way to Rapunzel's party in the wild woods but danger lurks around every corner. Will she get to the party safely and solve some fairy tale problems along the way? The richly layered illustrations reward the careful viewer. Age 4+

Happy: A Children's Book of Mindfulness by Nicola Edwards, illustrated by Katie Hickey

(Caterpillar Books) Caterpillar Books has produced some outstanding picture books this season including this soothing book which encourages children to explore their emotions and the world around them. "Real life is right under our noses. We can miss it by rushing around, but stopping to smell life's sweet roses is where true happiness can be found". It asks us to listen to rustling leaves, watch the clouds, and smell the cool air after a rain shower, and it also has some simple practical tips on how to relax. A great book for reading to children at home or in school, with warm, expressive illustrations. Age 4+

('Feelings' by Libby Walden, illustrated by Richard Jones and published by Caterpillar Books is another book that talks about emotions in a gentle, child friendly manner.)

Age 5 to 8

Nelly the Monster Sitter: The Grerks at No. 55 by Kes Gray, illustrated by Chris Jevons (Hodder)

This book has a clever premise: Nelly is the local monster babysitter. If monster parents need a night out (and who doesn't?), she is on hand to mind their little darlings. Or in the case of the Grerks, their six-legged pet gog (the monster version of a dog), Glug. When Glug escapes, Nelly calls her monster friends, Grit and Mump, to help her. This is a highly inventive and funny book, full of strange creatures with bizarre decorating ideas and even odder eating habits. The illustrations are full of brilliantly rendered details and I shuddered at the huge Malteser-sized fleas on Glug. Kes Gray clearly had a ball writing this glorious monster adventure and children will love it, too. And good news, book two - The Squurms at no 322 is out soon. Age 6+

Vlad the World's Worst Vampire: Midnight Fright by Anna Wilson, illustrate by Kathryn Durst (Stripes)

Poor Vlad. His annoying cousin Lupus is visiting. Lupus is strong and confident and can drink three pints of blood in a flash, making Vlad feel very inadequate. But Vlad has something that Lupus has wanted all his life, something very special indeed. Find out what makes Lupus so envious in this funny and charming book which deals with the tricky area of negotiating childhood friendships. With lively illustrations, it's perfect for any young vampire lovers. Age 7+

Night of the Living Ted by Barry Hutchison, illustrated by Lee Cosgrove (Stripes)

Lisa Marie and her stepbrother, Vernon, are tricked into creating evil teddy bears who come to life in this spooky adventure romp. Packed with puns and wordplay, and dealing with blended families and sibling rivalry, this would make an excellent bedtime story for a child who likes a bit of a scare. Age 7+

First Prize for the Worst Witch by Jill Murphy (Puffin) Trainee witch Mildred Hubble is about to start summer term at Miss Cackle's Academy and she has a secret wish - she wants to be Head Girl. But can she stay out of trouble for long enough to make her dream come true? Reliably strong storytelling and cracking illustrations make this a real winner. Age 7+


Age 9 to 11

My Secret Dragon by Debbie Thomas (Little Island)

Aidan Mooney has a secret: his mother is part-dragon. She has scaly hands, razor sharp claws and can breathe fire. Afraid of people finding out, Aidan has been home schooled, but he's fed up of being different and begs his mum to let him go to the local primary school, changing both their lives overnight and throwing some rather complicated friendship problems into the mix. Part heart-warming family drama (my favourite scenes are between Aidan and his mother), part rip-roaring kidnapping yarn, this story is a clever blend of realism and fantasy for children who like adventure tales with lashings of humour and heart. Age 9+

Mucking About by John Chambers (Little Island)

Set in early medieval Ireland, Mucking About chronicles the adventures of a wild young boy called Machán as he tries to avoid being shipped off to go 'monking' as his mother calls it (the monastery to become a monk). There is plenty of historical detail and Chambers' witty illustrations are full of energy, making the tales come alive. Ideal for readers who have an interest in history. Age 8+

The Trouble with Perfect by Helena Duggan (Usborne)

Kilkenny woman Helena Duggan won the Best Crime Novel for Children earlier this year for her first book, A Place Called Perfect. In this sequel, her main characters -Violet and Boy - are back to solve another strange mystery, this time involving zombies. An immersive fantasy adventure with lots of twists to keep readers guessing. Age 9+

Head Kid by David Baddiel, illustrated by Steven Lenton (HarperCollins)

If your young reader likes David Walliams, David Baddiel is your man! Like Walliams, his writing is crisp and funny, peppered with jokes and wordplay, and there are short chapters and lots of fun illustrations, ideal for younger readers. Ryan Ward is the worst boy in school. So when his body is accidentally swapped with the head teacher's, chaos ensues. Age 8+

Sports Academy: Atlantis United by Ger Siggins (O'Brien Press)

Best known as a sports journalist, Siggins has also written six books in the bestselling 'Rugby Spirit' series. He widens his scope with this new series, bringing together young sports people from different backgrounds (both girls and boys), who are all taken to mysterious sports academy. Short chapters and a fast-paced plot make this a good choice for more reluctant readers. The characters do tend to giggle, chuckle and frown out words rather than say them, but this is a minor quibble. Age 9+

Teen and YA

The Lost Witch by Melvin Burgess (Andersen Press)

A powerful tale about witchcraft with a truly arresting opening which sucks you in and doesn't let go. Bea can hear voices and see things other people don't see. When a stranger visits and tells her that she's a witch and being hunted, her life changes in an instant. But why will no-one believe her and who can she really trust? A thrilling read for teens. Age 14+

Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan (Little Island) A dark, earthy collection of feminist fairy tale retellings with sinuous line drawings by Karen Vaughan, perfect for the witching season. Many of the tales are written in the second person, which is a hard voice to pull off, but Sullivan does it with aplomb. From The Frog Prince ('Doing Well'), to Cinderella ('Slippershod'), her sinuous, lyrical writing will have you transfixed. This paperback edition includes a new story, 'Waking Beauty'. Winner of the Children's Books Ireland Book of the Year, this book is highly recommended for teens and adults alike. Age 14+

The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti (Hot Key)

Matilda is slowing losing her sight. Scared of what this means, she decides to run away and hide in a cherry tree. But her family and friends help her discover things that make life worth living, even with no sight. Based on the author's own story, this lyrically written, moving book makes you think about what is truly important. A little gem. Age 11+

Dark Wood, Dark Water by Tina Callaghan (Poolbeg)From the opening pages, this chilling ghost story has a strong sense of place. Callaghan lives in New Ross, Co Wexford and used a real ghost story from the town to inspire her first novel of a cursed town and three teenagers who live there. It whips along at a lively lick, although sometimes at the expense of getting to know the characters properly. A promising debut. Age 14+


Mary and Frankenstein by Linda Bailey and Júlia Sardà (Andersen Press)

A fascinating biography of Mary Shelley with luscious illustrations. Bailey explains how Mary's tough childhood and teenage years helped fuel her imagination. She describes the fateful dark and stormy night when Lord Byron first suggests a contest to write the most chilling ghost story. Mary accepts the challenge and the rest is history. A clever and handsome book for all children and adults who love history and rattling good tales. Age 7+

The Great Irish Weather Book by Joanna Donnelly, illustrated by Fuchsia MacAree (Gill Books)

Joanna Donnelly is a meteorologist and weather forecaster and uses her knowledge to make the weather come alive for young readers. She explains the science behind the weather in a very clear and accessible way, and the stylish illustrations, which have a retro 1950s feel, are outstanding. A little texty in places for younger readers, it would make a great addition to any school (or home) library. Age 9+

Island of Adventures by Jennifer Farley (O'Brien Press)

Part tourist guide, part information book, this colourful hardback suggests interesting things to do all over Ireland, from surfing on the Wild Atlantic coast, to hot air ballooning in Trim, Co Meath. The information is shared in short succinct bursts but I would have liked dates of when the various festivals and events occur (like the sand castle championship at Bettystown, Co Meath). But an attractive book nonetheless, and a great addition to the wide-ranging list of home-grown information titles this season. Age 6+

Myth Atlas by Thiago de Moraes (Alison Green Books)

A fantastic book which I spent hours pouring over. Myths and legends from 12 different cultures and countries are chronicled in this large format hardback, including Greece, Ireland and Japan. The text is carefully researched and easy to digest and the illustrations are outstanding, beautifully coloured and full of detail. A book I'll be sharing with any child I can find. Age 7+

Sarah Webb is an award-winning children's writer. Her latest book is 'Blazing a Trail: Irish Women Who Changed the World', illustrated by Lauren O'Neill (O'Brien Press)

Spooky picks

Celine Kiernan

Author Celine Kiernan choses her favourite children's spine-tinglers

Jampires by Sarah McIntyre and David O'Connell

Whimsical and tremendous fun, Jampires has everything a great picture book needs. There are charming illustrations and the rhymes are fun. The story is funny and sweet and - though definitely suitable for the Halloween season - not even remotely scary. Highly recommended for tiny Halloween fans who may not be quite yet ready for scares. Age 3+

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

I fell in love with Neil Gaiman's Coraline when it was first published, and in the following 16 years it's never released its grip on me. Creepy, dark, rich and genuinely scary, it's saved from being pure horror by Coraline herself whose bright, brave, no-nonsense reactions and sense of self carry the reader through the darkest passages with an (almost) comforting sense that all will be well. Age 10+

The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín

There is no sense that all will be well in The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín. Full on, everything-to-lose danger seeps every page. I could see no way out for any of the characters. And I wanted there to be a way out, because I loved these characters. They existed as entirely real beings for me. And the villains… oh, the horrible, relentless and yet strangely understandable villains. I've never read anything like them. *shudder* Want a dark Halloween story? Read this. Age 13+

Celine Kiernan's latest book 'Begone the Raggedy Witches' is out now, published by Walker Books

Spooky picks

Dave Rudden

Author Dave Rudden choses three books sure to thrill tweens, teens and young adults

Lockwood & Co by Jonathan Stroud

Three young ghost hunters face spirits with science in a world where spectres lurk on every corner. Perfect for 11-14 year olds who like their mysteries dark, funny and rapier-sharp.

Locke & Key by Joe Hill

For older teenagers who are interested in getting into comics, but might be put off by superheroes and spandex, Locke & Key is tight, pacey YA horror at its best. Gabriel Rodriguez's gorgeous, sinister art brings to life clever characterisation and excellent world-building as a family of teenagers struggle to trust each other in the face of both tragedy and an otherworldly threat.

Tuesdays are Just as Bad by Cethan Leahy

Of course, the most important thing about darkness is that it is temporary, and nowhere is that more expertly shown than in Cethan Leahy's debut. Brimming with wit and kindness, and more than a dash of Adrian Mole, this is the perfect read to remind teenagers that winter ends, and spring is around the corner.

Dave Rudden is the author of the award-winning 'Knights of the Borrowed Dark' trilogy, published by Puffin

Spooky picks

Sarah McIntyre

Author Sarah McIntyre choses a trio of enchanting and scary tales for the younger reader

Maudlin Towers: Curse of the Werewolf Boy by Chris Priestley

This first book in the Maudlin Towers series is a joy... or rather, a gloom-laden, gargoyle-infested monstrosity. We follow clumsy schoolboys Mildew and Sponge as they try to solve the mystery of a missing school heirloom. Priestley is genius at setting up jokes, and his clever and sometimes strangely heart-warming turns of phrase had me grinning down at the pages. I'm excited for the upcoming sequel, Treasure of the Golden Skull. Age 7+

The Great Snortle Hunt by Claire Freedman

I'm always looking for excuses to talk about Kate Hindley's artwork; this talented illustrator has a way of drawing characters that is both elegant and instantly heart-warming. Three animal friends pack their explorer packs to go hunt a monster. (The drawn objects may inspire children to draw their own monster-hunting gear!) The story's a bit spooky, but the lovely details makes it more fun and more magical than scary. Ultimately, they turn out to have misjudged the monster, and the hunt turns into a gathering of four friends over tea and cake. Age 5+

You're Safe with Me by Chitra Soundar

Illustrator Poonam Mistry's debut brings a different look to bookshelves, with its artwork inspired by both Indian and Aboriginal ornately patterned designs. The moon-like eyes of the animals at first look haunting, but Chitra Soundar's story is all about comfort and reassurance against the fears of the night. If you're looking to make animal masks for Halloween, these faces would make lovely templates. Age 4+

Sarah McIntyre is the writer and illustrator of 'Dinosaur Firefighters' and creates longer books with Philip Reeve, including 'The Legend of Kevin'

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