News Hounds: The Dinosaur Discovery / The Princess in Black and the Giant Problem

News Hounds: The Dinosaur Discovery
Laura James, illustrated by Charlie Alder
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

From the author of the fabulous Pug and Fabio series comes new star, Bob. Bob belongs to Colin, the stationmaster at Puddle Station, and in addition to ensuring the trains run to time, he acts as a reporter for the Daily Bark, the town’s one and only newspaper for dogs. Now there’s a new dog in town; her name is Diamond and Bob thinks he’d like to become her friend, so one morning he heads off to the park where he’s been told she’s taken for a daily walk by her owner Mr Marcus who runs the Curiosity Shop. In order to open the friendship he decides to give her a present and having come upon a pile of bones – the biggest he’s ever seen – under the bandstand floor, thinks a large bone the ideal gift. However it takes so long to dig it out, that he misses his chance.

Temporarily diverted from his Diamond friendship forging, Bob dashes back to the newspaper office to report ‘the most amazing story Puddle has ever known.’ It could just be the scoop of the century. However, it’s not only News Hounds who are interested in the bone.
Diamond – yes she does eventually get her present – is amazed at its size and thanks to a book in her owner’s establishment is able to tell Bob when he finally meets her, what she’s discovered therein.
The trouble is Mr Marcus is more than a tad interested in the skeleton find too. The race is on … It’s definitely time to enlist the help of the entire canine population of Puddle.

Another highly engaging story from Laura and with Charlie Alder’s frequent coloured illustrations that help ramp up the drama, this book will appeal to new solo readers and work as a read aloud.

The Princess in Black and the Giant Problem
Shannon & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Walker Books

Readers will really need to have read some of the previous titles in the series (this is the eighth) to fully appreciate this one. It’s set on a chilly winter’s day and sees the Princess in Black, the Goat Avenger and the Princess in Blankets with a giant problem – literally. While they’re engaged in building snow monsters, with a shout of “Squashy!” a massive foot flattens their latest creation. Said foot belongs to a giant and it continues to shout and flatten everything in its path. The race is on to prevent the total destruction of the village. It’s a task beyond just three but with the help of some superhero friends, it might just be possible.

There’s a lovely twist to this story, wherein teamwork is important but to reveal what would spoil things so I’ll leave you to guess what it might be. Sure to be a hit with established fans of the princess with an alter ego. With a bright illustration by LeUyen Pham at every page turn, it’s ideal for newly independent readers.

Itty-Bitty Kitty Corn / The Three Happy Lions

Itty-Bitty Kitty Corn
Shannon Hale and Leuyen Pham
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Mere kitty cat, or is she a unicorn?

Kitty has an overwhelming desire to be a unicorn like the one on her poster. So much so that she fashions a paper horn for her head and what she sees in the mirror reflects her unicorn-ness – there’s no disputing that. Or is there? Certainly there is when it comes to Parakeet and Gecko, a pair of denigrating naysayers if ever.

Nonetheless Kitty continues undaunted until come sundown she’s certain the long shadow has convinced the killjoys. Not so though for this shadow belongs to … a unicorn.

Now Kitty feels totally dejected until this compassionate creature does something that completely changes things

allowing Kitty to see herself as the fabulous creature she truly is – not just a kitty but a Kitty-Corn, majestic, magnificent and quite perfect … just as she is.

From two of the creators of The Princess in Black series this is an enchanting tale of acceptance and true friendship: make sure you read from the front endpapers to the back to get the entire story though.

Also with a theme of finding your true self is

The Three Happy Lions
Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin
Scallywag Press

First published over sixty years ago and now reprinted for a new audience is this classic tale that tells what happens after Happy Lions One and Two produce an offspring that they name Francois.

Having pondered upon what their cub might do with his life, fate takes a hand in the form of a rich lady who visits the zoo and expresses a wish to have Francois as a pet. Somewhat reluctantly, his parents agree and so begins a pleasant life of pampering.

But like all lion cubs, Francois keeps on growing until the lady decides he’s become too big and she gives him to her friend Monsieur Tambour, a circus owner. However, the creature fails to become either sufficiently ferocious or a flaming hoop jumper and so back to the zoo he goes.

All the while though, Francois has harboured a yen. Perhaps now is the time to follow his true calling: he certainly has a good role model in his namesake…

With its occasional French phrases and its enchanting illustrations it’s good to see this book back in print again. I loved The Happy Lion as a child but was not familiar with this story of being true to yourself.

The Princess in Black and the Bathtime Battle / Stick & Fetch Investigate: Off the Leash

New additions to  two very popular Walker Books series for primary readers:

The Princess in Black and the Bathtime Battle
Shannon & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Walker Books

When a decidedly unsavoury stink starts wafting in from the goat pasture, Princess Magnolia has little choice but to leave her bridge-building in the kitchen, don her Princess in Black gear, mount her trusty steed and follow her nose to the source of the stench and deal with it.

So she does temporarily, but all she’s actually done is shift this particular stinky emanation elsewhere as it quickly becomes evident. For, one by one other masked princesses appear on the scene to try and overcome what they discover is a stinky monster.

This stinky monster however is truly powerful – ‘stinkier than a full litter tray … stinkier than a blocked toilet … stinkier than a pile of dirty nappies on a hot summer’s day. …more stink than monster.’ PHOAW!

It’s definitely time for all the princesses and the Goat Avenger to join forces and try a spot of teamwork.

This is book seven and the final pages indicate that there’s still more to come – something that will please the large numbers of newly independent reader fans of the series

Stick & Fetch Investigate: Off the Leash
Philip Ardagh, illustrated by Elissa Elwick
Walker Books

Detective partners Sally Stick and Fetch are hot on the trail again in a third adventure.

Following an operation Granny Stick is holidaying for a week at the seaside, staying at The Roxbee Hotel and that means Sally and her dog are there too.

No sooner are they installed in their very own room than the detective duo start discovering clues and looking for evidence of criminal activity.

So who is the mysterious thief that’s breaking into rooms, stealing shampoo, towels and other things, loading them onto a getaway trolley and eating chocolate bars?

This is assuredly an unusual case – or is it even a case? That would be telling.

What can be told though is that this crazy story is enormous fun for new solo readers. The mix of Philip Ardagh’s bonkers humour and Elissa Elwick’s chucklesome illustrations makes for a splendid first full-length adventure for the Sally and Fetch team.

The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate / The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare

The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate
The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare

Shannon & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Walker Books

I know a fair number of newly independent readers who will be dancing in delight at these latest The Princess in Black stories.

In the Mysterious Playdate, Princess Magnolia, aka the monster-fighter, Princess in Black has an engagement with Princess Sneezewort.

Off she goes, accompanied by Blacky, to execute her ‘mysterious plan’ leaving Goat Avenger guarding the hole into Monster Land to prevent any monsters escaping. Or so she thinks, for a shape-shifting monster is following her and manages to hide away on her carriage as Frimblepants pulls it to her friend’s kingdom and her castle residence.

While the two princesses play

the monster’s hunger gets the better of him and he tries to eat someone’s kitten.

Soon both princess have made excuses to leave the castle, donned disguises and set out to rescue the little animal.

When kitten’s duly saved there’s still the matter of the elusive monster. With ninja moves aplenty, they might just succeed in capturing the monster as well as keeping their secret identities undiscovered.

Princess Sneezewort is a thoroughly delightful addition to the bum-wiggling superhero troop in this action-packed treat.

In the Science Fair Scare, Princess Magnolia’s destination is the Interkindgom Science Fair, an event she hopes to keep monster-free especially as she’s going to present her project poster on the growth of plants.

Once there though, having met her friends, she begins to feel her project is inferior to those of the other participants particularly that of Tommy Wigtower. His talking volcano soon has the princess’s alarm bells ringing.

Happily her new friend aka The Princess (Sneezewort) in Blankets just happens to be nearby and before long a fierce battle is under way and it’s not just those two princesses, but three more, who join the fray.

Can they succeed in their endeavours to prevent the goo monster from devouring everything in its path?  Perhaps it could find a new home through that hole to Monster Land so zealously guarded by The Goat Avenger.

Welcome three more princesses to the superhero brigade. It’s good to see an addition to the series of a STEM story with its teamwork and spot of problem-solving alongside the monster pounding.

Another satisfying tale from the Hales with as always, splendidly spirited illustrations from LeUyen Pham.

Toppsta have a new reading record that is particularly appropriate for school use: see the details on Toppsta

Going Solo: The Princess in Black Takes a Holiday / Hubert and the Magic Glasses

The Princess in Black Takes a Holiday
Shannon & Dean Hale and LeUyen Pham
Walker Books

Princess Black has a double identity moving between Princess Magnolia and her black clad alter ego and it’s a pretty full-on, hard going existence and one that causes her to pay the penalty of a lack of a decent night’s sleep.
Now her slumbers are disturbed once again and having donned her transforming dark disguise, despite near exhaustion, she’s ready to leap into action once more.

Consequently when the Goat Avenger (who bears a close resemblance to her pal Duff the goat boy), offers to take over goat-guarding

and keep watch against marauding monsters, thus allowing the black sporting princess to take a much needed holiday, she cannot resist the opportunity.

Bags packed, Princess Magnolia is off on her bike to the seaside.

However her much-needed rest and relaxation are short lived for even on the beach, a monster shows up, emerging from the waves to cause havoc and scare the sunbathers out of their wits.

Time, (while Goat Avenger is still bravely playing the hero back home), to grab that black garb, step up and do battle with the brute.

Of course, in the end, our resourceful princess does finally get that much-needed holiday sans monsters, sans screaming humans, just her and sand, sea, sunshine and the odd bit of shade courtesy of a few coconut palms.
Brimming over with action, humour –due occasionally to the princess not recognising her friends, as well as monsters of the not really scary variety, the Hale partnership has penned another great chapter-book adventure story for readers just flying solo that’s bursting with engaging, action-packed illustrations from LeUyen Pham to smile at. Equally though, plenty of in-built sound effects to let rip with, make it a super read aloud.

Also ideal for new solo readers is:

Hubert and the Magic Glasses
Candice Lemon-Scott and Joe Spellman
New Frontier Publishing

When it comes to soccer, young Hubert’s skills as goalie for the under 12s Goodview Primary Able Ants team leave a lot to be desired: at best he’s mediocre. But then his team itself isn’t likely to be under enormous pressure in their next match when they take on the Wandering Wombats, reputedly the worst team in the district.

We first meet Hubert as he sits in the changing room struggling to tie his own boot laces, so nervous is he feeling while the other players are already on the field warming up. However despite the lad letting several goals in, his team does manage to win that match.

Next, Hubert’s team have to play in the quarter finals – a real challenge against a decent team – but then at dinner Hubert is faced with yet another problem when his mum announces that she’s made an appointment for him to see an optometrist.

The verdict? Astigmatism and Hubert is prescribed glasses: he’s not happy.

Just over a week later though, as he’s attempting to eat his breakfast Hubert is finally persuaded to put on his glasses and from then on everything in his life takes on an altogether different view.

With a new version of their goalie, can the Able Ants eventually win through: after all those glasses of Hubert’s aren’t just ordinary ones.

Issues of confidence building, team relationships, taking charge of your life, peer pressure and more are embraced in this amusing pacy narrative that has cool colour illustrations by Joe Spellman sprinkled throughout.