Review: Otter-ly Cute Illustrated Fiction for Young Readers

I am firmly of the belief that children cannot be offered too many choices when it comes to engaging them in independent reading for pleasure. Today I am happy to recommend three books which I am certain will appeal to young readers. They all feature short chapters, are approximately 100-120 pages in length, are an ideal size for small hands, have clear fonts, engaging stories, beautiful illustrations to break up the text…and OTTERS! Who doesn’t love an otter?

Well actually, the AdventureMice might have something to say about that last question! The star of AdventureMice Otter Chaos is an adventurous young mouse called Pedro who disregards his Dad’s advice that mice do not need anything so ‘scary, dangerous and uncomfortable’ as adventures. As soon as he is old enough, he packs his suitcase and sets off in search of excitement, getting more than he bargained for when a gust of wind blows him out to sea! This entertaining story by Philip Reeve features an unusual villain and plenty of action to keep young readers engrossed from start to finish. The full colour illustrations by Sarah McIntyre are fantastic, I especially loved the detailed cross-section of the Mousebase, the map of the mouse islands and the ‘how to’ guide which will enable any reader (young or old) to draw their own version of Pedro.

I lack any artistic talent and therefore can provide evidence that the instructions will give anyone the confidence to draw!

Big Sky Mountain The Beach Otters is written and illustrated by Alex Milway and is a gentle adventure which cleverly blends environmental messages into a story which explores geography, weather and the natural world.

Rosa and her Grandma Nan live in a cute cabin on the shore of Lake Jewell, with Albert the Moose, Little Pig the pygmy owl and Stick a wolf cub. However, they drop their daily chores as soon as they spot a distress signal coming from the direction of the coast. Setting off in Grandma Nan’s canoe, they travel across a range of landscapes before reaching the coast where they find a family of sea otters who live in an abandoned lighthouse. The problem of plastic pollution of the oceans is hugely apparent in the mess that washes up on the otters’ beach every morning. Rosa and Nan help with the clean up and fashion a raft from many discarded plastic barrels which they use to carry out a daring rescue mission from Jagged Rock Island!

As well as a thoroughly satisfying story, young readers are treated to fascinating facts about ocean dwellers; I can imagine many will enjoy learning about hermit crabs and some interesting information about blue whale poo!

Another story with an environmental theme, the third book in the Woodland Magic series The Stranded Otter finds Cora, Trix, Jax and Nis working on a handmade raft, in preparation for the moonlight raft race which will be held in honour of Grandmother Sky’s birthday. Within the first few pages of the story Cora demonstrates her credentials as a Nature Keeper, risking a dunking in the lake in order to rescue a drowning caddisfly.

In each story of this series the young Nature Keepers are sent out into the Big Outside early each morning to perform a task intended to repair some of the environmental damage caused by the Ruffins (humans). This time Cora and Jax are sent to build a bug hotel outside a newly constructed supermarket – a narrative that would be lovely to share with Key Stage One children perhaps in a science or Forest School lesson. There is a non-fiction section at the end of the story which provides additional details on different natural materials which can be used to attract a range of invertebrate species.

Despite designing an excellent bug hotel, Cora and Jax risk failing their assigned task when they are diverted by an otter cub who is trapped by a discarded shopping trolley and risks being drowned in the fiercely rushing river. A daring rescue which relies on impressive teamwork and the sacrifice of their racing raft will have young readers turning the pages until the final resolution. Julie Sykes blends magical characters with perfectly pitched environmental issues, wonderfully illustrated by Katy Riddell in this adorable story for young readers of 6-8 years of age.

My thanks to Piccadilly Press for review copies of Big Sky Mountain The Beach Otters which was published in autumn 2022 and Woodland Magic The Stranded Otter which will be published on 9th March 2023, and to David Fickling Books for AdventureMice Otter Chaos which will be published on 2nd March 2023.

Review: Woodland Magic Deer in Danger by Julie Sykes, illustrated by Katy Riddell

cover image by Katy Riddell, published by Piccadilly Press, September 2022

This second book in the Woodland Magic series is every bit as delightful as the first, which I previously reviewed here: Woodland Magic Fox Cub Rescue. It again features Cora and Jax as the two main protagonists, with them trying once more to become fully trained Keepers but struggling to stick to the task they have been set!

If you have not read the first book in the series, don’t worry because in the first chapter author Julie Sykes includes a brief recap on the role of the tiny Keepers who live in the centre of Whispering Woods and venture into the Big Outside to tidy up and rewild when the Ruffins are not around. With their cobweb bags full of seeds, they venture out into the human-inhabited world before dawn and after dusk, sprinkling the barren earth with wild seeds and a touch of woodland magic to restore the balance of nature. They are always on the lookout for natural treasures to take back to the head Keeper for use in their community, thereby making young readers stop and observe the beauty of the natural world through their eyes:

They were black and white with a shimmery line of blue.


This is Cora’s observation of the magpie feathers she has found.

When Cora and Jax are tasked with creating a hedgehog highway through the garden fences of a newly built housing estate, the race is on to finish the task before the workmen return to their bulldozers and tractors. What will they do when a young deer bounces out of the woods and gets into trouble in a deep trench?

I love the concept and execution of these stories. Deer in Danger, like its predecessor provides a gentle discovery of the natural environment that can be so easy to take for granted. The Keepers’ veneration of nature makes readers see flower petals, British wildlife and the natural landscape through fresh eyes. Cora and Jax, as well as their friends Trix and Nis are recognisably cheeky, curious and lovable characters who have to fight the urge to mess around in order to complete the important work they are tasked with. They demonstrate great teamwork and support for each other in this engaging and heartwarming story. At just over 100 pages, printed in a slightly enlarged font and illustrated throughout with Katy Riddell’s beautiful greyscale artwork, Woodland Magic Deer in Danger is a perfect book to encourage emerging young readers to complete an independent read and thus gain satisfaction in their new found skill. Highly recommended for children of 7-9 years of age.

I am most grateful to Antonia Wilkinson and Piccadilly Press for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: Woodland Magic – Fox Club Rescue by Julie Sykes, illustrated by Katy Riddell

Cover art by Katy Riddell, published by Piccadilly Press in March 2022

This absolutely delightful first book in the Woodland Magic series had me smiling throughout as I anticipated how warmly it will be welcomed by children of 5-8 years of age. The combination of fast-paced adventure, conservation and illustration topped with a dash of magic will totally engage young readers. I can imagine the forest school leader at my old school reading this to groups in the nature area where it would provide so many talking points and ideas for activities; there is advice on creating a wild flower corner or wild flower plant pot at the end of the story.

The Nature Keepers are a tribe of small fairy/pixie-like creatures who live in The Hidden Middle of Whispering Woods. They emerge from their compound very early each morning to tidy the mess left by humans (who they call Ruffins), collect useful natural products and re-wild by sowing wild plant seeds wherever nature has been scraped away. Their ingenious storage warehouse in a maze of old tunnels in an abandoned badger sett is described as “a huge natural museum of the ages” and set this librarian’s heart a-flutter (as did the idea of a strong, expanding bag made from cobwebs).

The tale starts with a pair of mischievous youngsters, Cora and Jax, who are about to embark on their first foray into the Big Outside to prove that they are worthy of becoming Keepers. They are handed their task, their want and their warning by Scarlet Busybee. They must sow wild flower seeds in the bulldozed meadow next to a new children’s play park; try to find some old eggshells and “stay out of sight and not get caught by the Ruffins”. However, the appeal of a super high and fast slide proves too much temptation for these two, and when the Horn of Tyr sounds to warn all Keepers to return to base before the Bramble Door is locked for the day they haven’t even begun their work.

With the threat of being sent back to school hanging over their pointy-eared heads, will Cora and Jax complete their tasks on day two in the Big Outside; and how will they respond to the plight of an injured fox cub when they have so much to accomplish in such a short time? I strongly encourage you to read Fox Cub Rescue to find out. In just over one hundred pages, Julie Sykes has crafted a gentle, enjoyable story which presents its ecological message in a wonderfully subtle manner. Our two main protagonists also demonstrate to young readers the importance of owning up to mistakes, of working hard to put things right, the benefits of teamwork and the importance of acknowledging the contributions of others. None of this is done in a preachy way, rather the themes unfold within the story as naturally as an untamed woodland path. I must also give a shout-out to Katy Riddell’s gorgeous black and white illustrations which appear at regular intervals through the story and the adorable fox cub chapter headers.

I cannot wait to read the next book in the Woodland Magic series; Deer in Danger. There is a short extract provided at the end of the book. I whole-heartedly recommend Fox Cub Rescue to Key Stage One teachers, school librarians and parents and carers of any children aged 5-8; it would make a lovely Easter present – cheaper and more nourishing than a chocolate egg!

I am most grateful to Piccadilly Press and Antonia Wilkinson for sending me a review copy of this book in return for my honest review.