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Saturday 12 July 2014

Summer tales to tease the children

Summer's here and the school holidays stretch to the far horizon, to be filled with lots of running around in the fresh air. But if the rain is lashing down and the PlayStation is out of bounds, what better time to encourage your child to read? Alison Walsh looks at promising books for tots to teenagers -- and some that adults will enjoy as well

Alison Walsh

Published 29/06/2008|00:00

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For younger readers, parental intervention is still required, but you can curl up on the sofa with them and read The Wildest Brother, by Cornelia Funke, (Chicken House, €8.30) a gentle look at sibling relationships from a bestselling children's fantasy author, with an agreeable dollop of slime and monster. Another children's favourite, Chris Riddell, returns with Wendel's Workshop, (Pan Macmillan, €8.30), in which inventor Wendel does battle with the Wendelbot, full of lovely robot illustrations for tiny teccies. An Amazon bestseller is the sequel to Aliens Love Underpants -- Dinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman (Simon & Schuster, €8.09), a rollicking tale that solves the mystery of what happened to the dinosaurs -- it had to do with pants, apparently.

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Slightly older readers, aged five and upwards, will go for Horrid Henry Robs The Bank (Orion, €5.06), with four brand new stories, which should please parents wary of the endless repackaging of the series -- prepare to laugh out loud at his sheer badness. Another hero, this one distinctly more charming, is Joe O'Brien's Alfie Green, a little boy who has wild adventures of the plant variety. The latest, complete with attractive illustrations by Jean Texier, is Alfie Green and the Supersonic Subway (O'Brien, €7.95), a lovely story that features exploding cacti and a magic lawnmower.

The 6-7 age group can be hard to entertain, too old for the picture books and not quite old enough for Harry Potter. For this tricky age, Eileen O'Hely's lively and funny Penny the Pencil series is ideal --and adults will enjoy characters such as Baron de Couperpen. Penny the Athlete (Mercier, €8.99) is the latest. Something a wee bit naughtier, but very funny for 6-7-year-olds and up is Captain Underpants, in which lavatorial humour abounds, this time in The Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People, (Dav Pilkey, Scholastic, €4.49). Slightly more gothic, but with a real sense of zany fun, is Oisin McGann's Mad Grandad series. In Mad Grandad's Wicked Pictures (O'Brien, €5.95), home decoration goes badly wrong for Lenny and Grandad as the pictures on the walls come to life and begin to chase after them. Mad Grandad and the Kleptoes (O'Brien, €5.95) is even more "out there", with a wacky tale of what happens to all that stuff that disappears down the back of the sofa ... And if all this is too much for granny and grandad and they'd like something improving to buy their grandchildren, Usborne's Reading Programme has a lovely selection of classic tales adapted for younger readers. Graded in seven levels, these have just enough stretch in them and yet are not too overwhelming. Titles include: The Three Little Pigs, Chicken Licken, The Musicians of Bremen, Cowboy Stories, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Robin Hood, all priced at £4.99.

Moving up to the 8-11 age group means a leap into more complex stories, with lots of fantasy and mystery to thrill older readers. The London Eye Mystery by the late Siobhan Dowd (Corgi Yearling, £5.99) comes recommended. When their cousin goes up on the London Eye and fails to come back down again, a brother and sister are forced to work together to solve the mystery of what exactly happened. An exciting mystery with an unusual hero, which might encourage a bit of sibling harmony over the summer. Another family drama, for slightly older readers in this age group, is the paperback edition of Roddy Doyle's Wilderness (Scholastic, £5.99). A young mother takes her two boys on a holiday to Lapland and vanishes, leaving her boys to find her in a wild and inhospitable place: at the same time, far away, her stepdaughter is meeting the mother who abandoned her as a child.

Frank Cottrell Boyce's Cosmic (Macmillan, £9.99), described by Vivienne Murphy, children's buyer at Dubray Books, Rathmines, Dublin, as "a very funny book" is about what being a grown-up really means. Outsize Liam's height leads him into all kinds of funny situations -- but will it win him the chance to go into outer space? As tiny as Liam is tall -- 1.5mm to be precise -- the hero of Toby Alone by Timothee de Fombelle (Walker, £9.99), lives in a tree, and has to save his father's secret from the wrath of an endangered community. Translated from the French, it's a gorgeous-looking package ideal for children who are much more eco-savvy than us oldies.

If your boy or girl is an animal lover, Marley, a Dog Like No Other by John Grogan, is a specially adapted version of his mega-selling adult book featuring the naughty but lovable dog (HarperCollins, £5.99). Indeed, the Marley phenomenon is even available for toddlers with Bad Dog Marley, a picture-book version of the tale, also from HarperCollins at £5.99, which might be seen as stretching the concept a tad, but which proved popular with my young reader, who greatly enjoyed the dog's antics.

Classic children's writer Michael Morpurgo has a new novel. Born to Run (HarperCollins, £5.99) is the story of the life of greyhound Best Mate, from his being rescued by a young boy, to being kidnapped by a ruthless trainer whose own daughter falls in love with the dog. A gentle, pastoral story, and a more traditional read. Another classic "quest" tale comes from Enda Wyley with The Silver Notebook (O'Brien, €7.95). This magical story of a young boy's quest to find the truth about his father has really captured young readers' imaginations.

Something entirely "untraditional" is the hugely entertaining and inventive Skulduggery Pleasant, by Irish author Derek Landy, exuberant and funny and with a deceased hero to boot. The second book in the series, Playing with Fire, now out (HarperCollins, £12.99), in which our hero, skeleton detective Skulduggery, takes on the notorious Baron Vengeous.

At the upper end of this age group, fans of Jacqueline Wilson's clever, insightful, honest books will be delighted to get their hands on My Sister Jodie (Random House, £12.99), in which sisters Jodie and Pearl, as different as chalk and cheese, realise how much they need each other -- a warm tale set in a decrepit boarding school, peopled with the author's vividly drawn characters. Wilson's novels have real appeal to both girls and boys. Another author who has tuned into strong female friendships is rising star Judi Curtin, whose Alice books (Alice Next Door, Alice Again, Don't Ask Alice) celebrate friendship, humour and loyalty. Her latest, Bonjour Alice (O'Brien, €7.95), has our friends going to France for a supposedly idyllic holiday, until Alice meets a local French boy ...

Which more mature content brings us neatly to the young adult category, a huge growth area in recent years, with many books being read by adults and younger people alike. One such book is this years' sleeper hit, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Walker Books, £12.99). Todd is on the verge of manhood in a dying world, where a virus has wiped out the woment, and where everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts -- a contemporary fable about information overload for sophisticated readers.

Vampires are huge in the American market, and making their way here, with an avid following among teenage girls. Described by Vivienne Murphy as "teenage vampire romance", Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga (Twilight, Eclipse, New Moon, Breaking Dawn, ATOM, all £6.99) has received rave reviews and even -- gasp -- knocked Harry Potter off the number one slot in the US bestseller charts. "Girls and young women, aged 16-25 'get' this," Vivienne Murphy tells me. "They'll stay up all night reading them." Expect a movie and a new book in August.

Something that both adults and young people "get" has been Nick Hornby's foray into young adult writing, with the skateboard novel Slam (Penguin, £7.99), in which young Sam's plans for his future are derailed when his girlfriend tells him she's pregnant and he must come to terms with adult responsibilities. Even though one reviewer referred to it as a "sex-ed cautionary tale" Hornby's gentle humour and warm insight is sure to lift it.

For those young people who eschew grit and like their fiction full of fantasy and adventure, there is much to divert: bestselling Irish writer Michael Scott follows The Alchemyst with The Magician (Doubleday, £12.99), and a welcome return for his hero, Nicholas Flammel, accessible to the younger end of this age group and full of wizardry and lore. The lovely looking Blood Red, Snow White (Marcus Sedgwick, Orion, £6.99) is a rich, historical yarn set in wintry Russia, about the real life of Swallows and Amazons author Arthur Ransome during the Russian Revolution. And for those who like thrillers, Robert Muchamore is the man: his latest is Sleepwalker (Hachette, €6.99), but according to Vivienne, "All nine books in the series are selling continuously, not just the latest one."

And finally, for those of you misty-eyed about your own childhood reading, don't forget the classics. A young reader I know discovered Huckleberry Finn from a 1970s Brimax illustrated edition left at a holiday home, and was enthralled. Other noteworthy titles are: Treasure Island, Black Beauty, The Secret Garden and King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, many of which are reasonably priced Puffin Classics (£5.99). And, although as adults we might cringe, Enid Blyton's appeal is perennial, with Malory Towers and the Secret Seven/Famous Five ever popular. Whatever you pick, there is an embarrassment of reading riches for children to enjoy this summer.

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