Dark secrets, moonshine and emotions with Usborne Books - book reviews

The Garden of Lost Secrets by A.M. Howell
The Garden of Lost Secrets by A.M. Howell

Enjoy a thrilling, atmospheric adventure set against the Great War, journey into space for a Moon landing anniversary visit, and learn how to understand your moods with a selection of entertaining and educational new children’s books from innovative publisher Usborne.

Age 9 plus:

The Garden of Lost Secrets

A.M. Howell

A visit to National Trust-owned Ickworth House in Suffolk, and the amazing discovery of a 100-year-old gardener’s notebook wedged behind an old filing cabinet, sowed the seeds of one of this year’s most exciting middle-grade debut novels.

A grand, neoclassical building set in acres of beautiful parkland, Ickworth is a favourite haunt of A.M (Ann-Marie) Howell and on a winter’s day visit, she looked up at the Gardener’s Cottage, with its attic window high in the garden walls, and felt ‘the itch of a story brewing.’

The result is The Garden of Lost Secrets, a thrilling, atmospheric tale inspired by real history, fired by the power of the author’s imagination, and delivering all those favourite children’s book ingredients… adventure, mystery, drama, friendship, and some spine-tingling danger.

Set during the uncertain and turbulent years of the First World War, this gripping debut stars a 12-year-old Kent schoolgirl who is sent away to stay with her aunt and uncle on a large country estate in Suffolk, only to find herself caught up in a perilous mystery.

In October of 1916, Clara Millar is forced to leave behind all she has ever known when her mother sends her to Suffolk to stay with her uncle and aunt, Mr and Mrs Gilbert. It’s a wrench for Clara because her father is very ill after inhaling poison gas on the battlefield in France and has been told to convalesce in the clean sea air of Devon.

Clara tries desperately to shut the door on her memories but she has brought with her a secret… a secret that touches on her older brother Christopher who is also fighting overseas; a secret that she hasn’t told her parents about.

And her arrival at the cottage on the enormous country estate, where her uncle is head gardener and her aunt is the housekeeper, is not greeted with the welcome she had expected. Clara is not allowed to go to school, her aunt is inexplicably mean to her, and there is a dark, locked room in the cottage she is not allowed to enter.

Clara has always feared she is not as brave as her father would like her to be despite his assurance that she IS brave and that ‘when you are brave, you can be anything you want to be.’ And she is soon tested to the limit when she is plunged into a tangle of secrets which will lead her to a scheming thief, and a mysterious boy who only appears at night.

As the secrets turn to danger, Clara must find the courage to save herself, and those around her…

There is the feel of a modern classic in this beautifully written, wonderfully descriptive, and thoughtful story… Howell perfectly captures the haunting air of melancholy that enveloped those who lived and endured the ravages of the Great War.

Against the evocative backdrop of the aftermath of the terrible Battle of the Somme, she weaves a multi-layered, emotion-packed debut which explores trust, friendship, the effects of grief, our different interpretations of bravery, and the importance of not judging people on first appearance.

But this is also an enchanting adventure… cleverly created, full of secrets, mystery and memorable characters, and with an exquisite coming-of-age story at its heart.

Inspirational storytelling…

Published on June 13

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 4 plus:

The Usborne Book of the Moon

Laura Cowan and Diana Toledano

On the 50th anniversary of the spectacular Apollo 11 Moon landing, there has never been a better time to take a closer look at that magical orb which dominates our night sky.

So as the world gets ready to celebrate the July anniversary, Usborne have created a fantastic, fully illustrated book full of facts, fun, magic and moonshine just made for a new generation of readers.

In the pages of this entertaining journey to the Moon, youngsters get the chance to read, dream, wonder... and discover the secrets and legends that surround it. The story and vast mythology of our Moon is a thrilling tale of Moon dust and Moon rabbits, cheese and astronauts, deep thoughts and bold plans.

Discover ancient legends about the Moon’s creation and how Chinese astronomers used the Moon to track time, meet the very first astronomers, Thomas Harriot and Galileo Galilei, and learn about the Space Race and how scientists worked hard to see who would get to the Moon first.

And for more facts and information, parents and teachers can use Usborne Quicklinks to download a resource pack with literacy-focused lesson plans based on the book. There are also links to websites where you can watch the first Moon landing, listen to astronaut Neil Armstrong, and find more facts, stories, myths, puzzles and activities about the Moon.

Brimming with fun and fascinating facts, questions and answers, myths and mysteries, and the exciting history of mankind’s race through space to land on the Moon, this is a wonderful introduction to our amazing, faraway Moon.

Published on June 13

(Usborne, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

What is the Moon?

Katie Daynes and Marta Alvarez Miguens

And inquisitive little pre-schoolers can also blast off into the night sky to take a closer look at the Moon in this fascinating, fact-filled board book with flaps to lift, simple explanations, and gorgeous illustrations on every page.

What is the Moon? is another imaginatively produced book in Usborne’s Very First Lift-the-Flap Questions & Answers series and is the ideal way to help little ones share in the Moon landing anniversary celebrations.

What shape is the Moon, what makes it shine, has anyone been to the Moon, what is the Moon made of, and what is it like on the Moon? Little hands will enjoy lifting the flaps to discover answers to all the intriguing questions in this entertaining and enlightening book written by Katie Daynes and beautifully illustrated by Maria Alvarez Miguens.

To the Moon and back in twelve exciting pages of fun and flaps!

Published on June 13

(Usborne, board book, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

All About Feelings

Felicity Brooks, Frankie Allen and Mar Ferrero

This year has seen a much-needed, raised profile for mental health awareness and the best way to go about your problems is to talk.

But encouraging conversations about mental health issues is not just limited to teenagers and adults… encouraging conversations about feelings and moods with young children is just as important, and no one knows that better than children’s publisher Usborne.

This summer, the clever boffins at Usborne are publishing two fun, informative and visually appealing books, designed specifically to help the youngest children to talk about their feelings, and to recognise, name and manage their moods and emotions.

All About Feelings offers an exciting and easy-to-understand exploration of feelings, like anger, frustration, happiness, sadness, anxiety and disappointment, by posing the simple question… how are you feeling today?

Using a reassuring, simple but lively text, and a gallery of engaging illustrations, children learn how to describe their feelings, how their feelings can change very quickly, and how being kind to yourself can often help you to feel better.

All About Feelings is the perfect introduction to helping little ones understand and handle their often confusing and jumbled-up emotions, and with useful notes for grown-ups at the back and links to websites for more advice, everyone at home, nursery or school is guaranteed to feel better when the last page has turned!

Published on June 13

(Usborne, hardback, £9.99)

Age 4 plus:

What are Feelings?

Katie Daynes and Christine Pym

What makes us happy, sad, angry or scared, why do we worry and how can we deal with our feelings?

All those questions and more are answered in this beautifully created and gently reassuring lift-the-flap board book, part of Usborne’s delightful Lift-the-Flap First Questions & Answers series which answers some of the biggest questions for little children through charming illustrations and intriguing flaps.

This thoughtfully created and gently informative book, written by Katie Daynes with advice from child psychologist Dr Sasha Lillie Lyons, explores happiness, sadness, anger, fear and worry in a friendly and approachable way.

Each page features illustrator Christine Pym’s adorable animal characters, all experiencing a variety of recognisable emotions and asking questions like will I ever feel happy again, do tears always mean you’re sad, why are you all angry, did I do something wrong, how can I cheer up my friends, and what happens when you’re scared?

The imaginative and eye-catching flaps contain the important answers with simple, reassuring messages that help little ones to understand and handle their often conflicted feelings.

Getting a feel for your feelings has never been easier than with this perfectly simple and cleverly creative book.

Published on July 11

(Usborne, board book, £9.99)