We’re keeping it light this month with some fun reads featuring the first entries for a variety of new monsters and fantastic creatures, and all with the most eye-catching front covers!
Villains Academy by Ryan Hammond (published by Simon & Schuster, 2023)
Bram Moon is a young werewolf, recently enrolled by his parents in the Villains Academy – the most prestigious villain school in the land, and the place to go to learn how to be bad!
Together with the rest of his team, including his new friends Mona the elf-witch and Bryan the narcoleptic lion, he’ll have to work hard to be the baddest he can if he wants to beat their rivals and be named Villain of the Week!
In this humourous romp, we follow Bram and his friends (whose team name is the Cereal Killers!) as they compete in the trials against the ‘Overlords’ – but there’s more to it than simply being bad.
Villains Academy is just good fun! The characters are charming; they all have their quirks and their issues, but they all support each other. We are treated to a variety of silly names, such as the Tooth Hairy, Sheila Boo (yes, she’s a ghost), and Mr Toad (yes, he’s a toad…but an evil one).
Bram himself is incredibly likeable, even if he’s not very good at the Academy lessons such as making poisonous potions, and his new friends grow on you quickly – even if they’re not the friendliest to begin with!
Meanwhile, their rivals (The Overlords) are the type you love to hate, though I did find myself sympathising with some of them at certain points. They can be quite nasty, which should make them good villains, but there’s more to the trials than that. Still, anyone who has had gum stuck in their hair can appreciate their horribleness after a certain scene!
Master Mardybum is superbly dramatic, with a suitably villainous catalogue of misdeeds, but also a sensible approach to villainy; he’s not one of those teachers who is needlessly mean for the sake of it, instead being mean but fair.
The illustrations (also by Hammond) are fantastic, and make excellent use of the space, sometimes covering whole pages with some short accompanying text. There is also a tutorial on how to draw Bram at the back of the book, which any youngster is bound to enjoy following!
A great debut for Hammond, it’s a fast-paced, funny story that is all about making new friends and working together as a team. We can’t wait to see them come together again when book 2, How to Steal a Dragon, comes out in October!
Max & Chaffy: Welcome to Animal Island by Jamie Smart (published by David Fickling Books, 2023)
Max Bogel loves finding things, and it doesn’t take long before she’s on the lookout for lost items at her family’s new home – Animal Island.
After helping Orlando the pilot find his missing wheel (and his missing sandwich!), he tells her about a curious creature he’s sometimes spotted in the woods. Giving her his notebook, she heads off to find the mysterious animal.
When she does find the creature, it turns out he’s a Chaffy – an unusual animal that is also excellent at finding things, though with a habit of getting lost itself! So begins a fun and silly approach to searching for lost things on the island, whereby Chaffy finds the item, and then Max must find Chaffy!
Each section of the book features a double page spread where Max (and the reader) needs to find Chaffy; this is a smooth way of making the activity part of the story, without it being the only focus. And the fun doesn’t stop there, as there is a list of extra items in the back of the book for you to go back and find.
The story is lovely and endearing, and the characters are adorable – it’s just good gentle fun to encourage children to read. And by dealing with moving to a new place and making new friends in an indirect way, the story feels natural rather than forced. A good addition to any bookshelf!
Suitable for 5+, this one has only just come out, and there are two more coming soon. We’re looking forward to finding Max and Chaffy again!
Batcat by Meggie Ramm (published by Amulet Books, 2023)
Batcat lives alone in a gnarled oak tree on Spooky Isle, and they’re very happy with their life – eating mushroom pizza, playing video games, and watching their favourite shows. That is, until the ghost moves in.
Batcat goes to see the Island Witch who will make them something to get rid of the ghost – if Batcat fetches the ingredients. So begins an adventure across the island, featuring insensitive bats, selfish cats, and the realisation that maybe being neither one thing nor the other is okay.
The first thing you notice when you open the book is the wonderful map in the front (regular readers will know that we love a good map!), with some great names to grab the attention: Serpent Shoals, Mount Marrow, Mermaid Lagoon and more. It’s great for following Batcat’s adventure.
Their journey is not just about fetching ingredients however. As you may have guessed, Batcat is half bat, and half cat. The places they go are homes to the creatures with whom they share their DNA…but sadly, it’s not enough for either the bats or the cats.
I really felt for Batcat in those moments, and even more so when they break down sobbing to the griffins. We’ve all had times where we’ve felt left out or isolated, and Batcat experiences this to the extreme!
As the griffins tell them however, you don’t need to be one thing or the other – you can just be YOU. As the dedication states in the front of the book: “to anyone who was told that they could only be one thing and then decided to be something completely different”.
This story is all about finding your place in the world, and accepting yourself for who you are – and others for who they are too. It makes the point well without feeling laboured, due to the nature of the trials that Batcat goes through, and the ghost’s own background explained at the end.
The illustrations are beautifully bright and crisp, and very attractive to the eye. I particularly enjoyed the double-page map (yes, we can’t help ourselves!) of the Cavernous Cave system that Batcat clambers through.
I also enjoyed the moments of breaking the fourth wall, such as Batcat’s introduction when the camera gets a little too close! It all makes for a silly, but heart-warming tale.
As mentioned on the back of the book, this is the first in a new series for emerging readers about accepting yourself and others, and we hope that this includes another appearance from Batcat!
If you want to spend more time with Bram, Chaffy, Batcat, and the gang, you can grab copies at the links above.
(Disclosure: If you buy books linked to our site, we may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookshops.)
If you’re looking for more illustrated and graphic books, check out our previous reviews here.