Brilliant New Children’s Books – illustrated young fiction and middle grade adventure

Over the last few weeks several new books have been published for children including some that were delayed due to the pandemic and I would like to share just three of them. Children overcoming fears, making friends, having adventures, magic, humour, dragons, space and rainforest exploration ensures that there is something here for all tastes and every one of these should be popular in primary school libraries and classrooms.

Sam Wu is Not Afraid of Space by Katie and Kevin Tsang illustrated by Nathan Reed

This is the last in the series featuring Sam Wu, a likeable if slightly unlikely hero, and no doubt young readers will be sad to say goodbye. This is a fast paced and funny story yet with a reassuring and thoughtful theme of making friendships work in difficult circumstances.

It is the summer holidays and Sam is given the chance to go to Space Camp with his friends and as a huge fan of the TV series Space Blasters Sam has never been more excited. He is desperate for his friends to enjoy it too and would love to work together with them to win the Space Challenge Trophy. However to do this Sam has to conquer his fears and cope with others who may be reluctant team players which may be an even bigger challenge.

This entertaining series tackles common childhood fears and this final instalment would be reassuring for children who may have misgivings about being away from home on residential school trips. There is a lot of fun in this adventure but an insightful look at children’s friendships too. I particularly liked how Sam was depicted as a kind, considerate team leader and as a character he has developed a braver attitude which may inspire youngsters. There is a positive message of the value of tolerance and learning to work as a team running through the story. However children very quickly recognise a preaching tone and in my experience avoid books that adopt one, thankfully Katie and Kevin Tsang have brilliantly avoided this and the story is great fun whilst still containing a valuable life lesson. 

The engaging format of this book with its use of illustrations, graphics, differing fonts and amusing footnotes makes this an attractive read for children moving on to slightly longer independent reads; wonderful for readers who may find pages of dense text a little daunting. A jolly read but containing a great deal of warmth and understanding too

The Boy Who Dreamed of Dragons by Andy Shepherd illustrations by Sara Ogilvie

We may have thought that this delightful series ended with The Boy who Flew with Dragons but happily we were wrong. Tomas is back and so are the dragons. However the dragons have now grown and Flicker, Tomas’s beloved dragon, is living far away in the frozen North and only visits occasionally, which Tomas finds hard. However dragons are never far away and soon a new baby dragon hatches from Grandad’s dragonfruit tree at the bottom of the garden. Zing is tiny with very large wings and, like the other dragons, rather antisocial toilet habits and very soon, as regular readers may anticipate, magic and mayhem ensues.

However there is a subtle difference in this fourth instalment as we enter a time of change for Tomas and his friends. A new girl, Aura, starts at their school and immediately announces that she is a dragon expert which results in Tomas feeling both confused and a little threatened. However before long the two children are united by their shared interest and find themselves caught up in a new adventure together. 

This story is just as charming and amusing as the previous books and I enjoyed the tantalising hints at what the future may hold for Tomas and Aura. The family relationships and childhood friendships are depicted so well and I particularly like the close bond between Tomas and his little sister Lolli. Told with warmth and kindness this is a lovely adventure full of friendship, magic and secrets and the lovely illustrations by Sara Ogilvie capture this perfectly.  If you haven’t already read any of Tomas’s adventures you may like to try The Boy Who Grew Dragons  which is the first in the series. More good news is that there is another adventure due to be published in 2021! There are some fabulous resources linked to the books on Andy Shepherd’s website.

My Name is River by Emma Rea


Perfect for young readers who enjoy adventure stories this exciting read also has a strong ecological theme running through its engrossing plot.

Dylan has dreams for the future. Perhaps they are simple dreams but they matter greatly to him; all he wants is to spend time with his friends in the Welsh countryside and grow up to follow in his father’s footsteps on the family farm. Then all his ideas and plans are swept away by a global pharmaceutical company who want to purchase the family farm. Dylan resolves to stop them and save the farm he loves so much. Together with his new friend Floyd Dylan sets off to put things right but his journey will take him to the Amazonian rainforest and dangers that he never anticipated. 

With short chapters, a swiftly moving plot and a likeable protagonist I think this will be popular with a wide readership. Emma Rea writes convincingly and her research of the settings shows in the descriptions of Salvador and the rainforest itself with these settings brought vividly to life.  Lucia, the street child who comes to Dylan’s rescue, is a wonderful character. Brave, compassionate and with a delightful turn of phrase thanks to learning English through a pocket thesaurus she and the more reserved Dylan form an unlikely but strong bond. A villain who in the best tradition of children’s books will have readers desperate for their demise and many thrilling moments add to the enjoyment.

In addition to being a great adventure My Name is River would be a perfect book to study in the classroom linking to many important themes such as preservation of our environment, animal testing in science and medicine and our global connections. A children’s book with similar themes to Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson and The Explorer by Katherine Rundell and highly recommended.

I should like to thank Fritha Lindqvist, Egmont, Piccadilly Press and Firefly Press for providing my review copies.

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6 Responses to Brilliant New Children’s Books – illustrated young fiction and middle grade adventure

  1. I love the sound of My Name is River, will have to add that to the wish list, and I completely agree with you about the Sam Wu and “Dragons” series 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • alibrarylady says:

      I enjoyed My Name is River very much and found Dylan an endearing character. There’s a slightly classic feel to the adventure too despite it current relevance. Apparently Dylan appears in the author’s previous book too.

      Liked by 1 person

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  3. I really need to get my hands on a copy of My Name is River!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Using Barrington Stoke Books in the Classroom | Library Lady

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