Children’s Book Reviews Spring 2018

This is the last of four posts celebrating the books I’ve been reading lately! These are the books the boy and I have been enjoying together so far in 2018 – with Jules Verne’s classic, illustrated by Robert Ingpen, the clear favourite.

Individual Books

1. Around the World in Eighty Days – Jules Verne, illustrated by Robert Ingpen

Phileas Fogg, a sedate English gentleman of the late nineteenth century, bets his fortune on travelling around the world in eighty days, which at that point had been thought only theoretically possible. On the way, he meets with many obstacles to his goal, not least the policeman who’s convinced Fogg has robbed the Bank of England.

This is a wonderful unabridged version with marvellous illustrations. The secrets to getting your child to read great literature is a) reading it aloud together and b) amazing illustrations. Thankfully, these illustrations by Robert Ingpen are stunning and plentiful which makes this hardback edition a really special one. I had watched the Willy Fogg cartoon as a child but never read the book.

Though the language is complex and will often need ‘translating’ to children (and mentions opium dens and honour killings), I found that it dated well. It generally showed an appreciation and respect of other countries (for its time – although some conversations about race would make this book a richer experience) and was a great story.

The ‘will he, won’t he?’ tension of Fogg making his journey in the allotted time keeps up the pace and tension of the narrative, and it was a really satisfying read. We read it each evening over a few weeks and both really enjoyed it. (We applauded it at the end.) Highly recommended.

Buy this special edition for $21 –,  or £14.99 –

2. Tintin and the Calculus Affair – Hergé

Tintin and Captain Haddock try to solve the mystery of the disappearance of their great scientist friend, and travel to many countries to track him down. I found Tintin thoroughly boring as a child, but as an adult I’m finding it hilarious. It’s a joy to read the cartoon strip out loud with the boy, and he keeps re-reading it on his own and chuckling.

3. Arabel, Mortimer and the Escaped Black Mamba – Joan Aitken, illustrated by Quentin Blake

This is the third in the Arabel’s Raven series. They can be read aloud in about 45 minutes and are wonderful comfort-reading. The peril is only ever humorous, and it shows how absurd adults can be while the children are calm in their adventures. This one is up there with the standard of the first. These are little gems – do get the whole collection.

4. Awful Auntie – David Walliams, illustrated by Tony Ross

An orphaned girl is trapped living with her cruel Aunt – but there’s a child-ghost in the chimney who wants to help her escape. David Walliams has more than a hint of Roald Dahl about him, and there are some really dark elements here (e.g. threat of child torture), as well as crude ones. But this is a compelling story with a poignant and redemptive ending, and continues this honoured literary tradition of funny stories of child protagonists who bravely fight against cruelty – and ultimately win.

Book Collections

5. Three tales of My Father’s Dragon – Ruth Stiles Gannett

An enchanting book for 5-7 year olds with short chapters and plenty of illustrations about a boy who finds a dragon and protects him. This edition is hardcover and has the whole (short) trilogy. It’s rare to find a happy, feel-good children’s book – this is one of them. Makes a really nice gift.

Buy this edition for $11.86 –£11.21 –

6. Horrible Histories Collection – Terry Deary, illustrated by Martin Brown

Its reputation precedes it, and my boy is chomping through these and loves them. They’re good overviews of the culture and values of history, debunking many myths. They do focus on the darker side of history – death, gore etc – using humour and wit to offset the horror of it all. The downside is that my boy is fairly obsessed with all kinds of ways that people can be killed. A great series, but maybe not recommended for binge reading! They include civilisations like the Romans, Egyptians, but also a great selection of British history through the years too. Price includes 20 books and a collection box. $37.85 from, £23.77 from, £23.76 Wordery

7. Shakespeare series – Andrew Matthews, illustrated by Tony Ross

This is a children’s retelling of classic Shakespeare plays. I read Charles Lamb’s summary of Shakespeare as a child and it left me utterly confused and unable to recall the plots – so I was impressed by how readily my boy understood the plot of Macbeth after reading a slim volume. He’s making his way quickly through the whole set of sixteen books- a great gift for kids.

Buy from – $33.58, £13.99 

***BARGAIN ALERT – currently £8 from The Book People for 16 books! Jump on this.***

8. Just So Stories – Rudyard Kipling, illustrated by Chris Riddell

Never forget the suspenders, Best Beloved.”

We’re revisiting this illustrated, unabridged hardback edition – generally enjoying Kipling’s original illustrations more than the other ones. This is very much written to be read aloud. If you are getting an alternative, I’d say look for unabridged versions. Need to read thoughtfully though – although he generally bucks the trend of the usual colonialist outlook, occasional racism creeps through. This edition appears to have disappeared – but this new hardback with Robert Ingpen illustrations promises to be enchanting.

Preorder for c. £15 from Wordery (Free worldwide delivery),  $24.99 from

9. The Complete Polly and the Wolf – Catherine Storr

I read this when I was about nine, and loved the idea of a clever, kind girl constantly outsmarting a wolf who attempts new ways to capture and eat her. Each chapter is a new episode where the wolf tries to capture her, often playing with well-known fairy tales. The author wrote it for her niece who was scared of wolves in fairy tales, but I feel like this goes further in helping children establish resilience.

The wolf is not just a threat to be outsmarted but frequently a forlorn figure on which you show compassion. When Polly laughs at him, it is not unkindly, and when she is frightened she is still resourceful and calm.

We have the whole collection in this hardback edition, though reading through all four books in one go might be a little same-y after a while. I’m currently reading the first book (Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf) with my boy and it has a fairly high laughter-to-word ratio. This one brings together all four Polly books in a hardback edition with original illustrations – makes a lovely gift. A great series – highly recommended.

Those Who Wait 

AND don’t forget my own book, with now 70!! glowing reviews, Those Who Wait – Finding God in Disappointment, Doubt and Delay. Perfect for anyone who feels like they’re living life stuck in a waiting room.

“This is a gentle book full of humanity, biblical integrity and unexpected humour.” – Pete Greig, founder of 24:7 Prayer Movement.

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