YOU can't beat a good rousing tale of knights and quests. Those of us who are familiar with Arthurian legend, and the story of Parsifal and the Fisher King will recognise quite a lot of what's going on with Dragt's main character Tuiri.
The son of a knight well-known in story and song, Tuiri and his fellow aspiring knights are holding their night-long vigil in a chapel, when a voice pleading for help disrupts Tuiri's meditations. Tuiri can't resist the cry for help, and embarks on an adventure worthy of any knight worth his scabbard. He agrees to take a letter from his own home of Dagonaut to the King of Unauwen, surviving many trials and setbacks along the way.
First published in 1962, there's a Lord of the Rings vibe in addition to the Camelot veneer. This is not a bad thing, as the archetypes that Dragt is employing are robust, and are surely part of the well from which both troubadour and Tolkien alike have drawn from, for inspiration and detail.
As a character, Tuiri is a perfect balance between youthful vigour and burgeoning wisdom: as he learns to make sacrifices and decisions along the way, he truly enters the worldly, adult realm - which is, perhaps, bitter-sweet for the parent reading this to the child.
This is the essence of the excellence of this book: grown-ups will be as rapt by the tale as will the little ones. I read this in one go, until all hours - I had to find out what was in that letter! I will say that it did get rather long towards the end; I suppose that a soporific touch here and there encourages it to actually work properly as a bedtime story. I also felt that the villain was introduced far too late in the work, and then dispatched far too easily.
Honestly, though, this is as much fun as I've had with a younger person's book since Harry Potter. I look forward to the release of Tuiri's next adventure, the Secret of the Wild Wood, next year.
By Roddy Doyle
Macmillan Children's Books (2014) €9.74 HHHHH
Gloria and Raymond Kelly love their uncle Ben, but something's wrong - he's not his usual self. He's moved in with their family, and it's clear that he's struggling, what with the economic downturn and all. When they hear that his problem is the Black Dog, the children resolve to chase it off their beloved uncle's back once and for all.
They set out to do so and find that they're not the only young ones on this quest, and that a whole world of magical animals are set to help them. There are no medieval knights that have got anything on Gloria and Rayzer, as, pure in heart, they take off into Dublin-at-midnight for the love of their uncle. Doyle's signature style suits itself perfectly - and possibly, vice versa - to this middle-grade novel. It's funny, it's heartfelt, and it's written in a voice that will resonate for the kids, and for their adults, too.
THE GIRL WHO WALKED ON AIR
By Emma Carroll
Faber & Faber (2014) €10 HHHHI
Set in a Victorian circus, Louie is an orphan who has dreams of being a Showstopper, via her skill on the tightrope. Once her skills are needed in a time of desperation, and she is indeed the sensation she'd always hoped to be, an evil rival circus owner tries to steal her away, with a challenge that Louie finds impossible to resist… Ah, pride. Well, in fairness, she's gifted, so it is probably less about the deadly sin than about figuring out how to achieve - wait for it - balance in life. There's a lovely feel of the time period, although the dialogue sometimes feels a bit contemporary. Terrific for encouraging middle-grade girls to be strong, brave, and happy in their talents.
By Kristin Callihan
Little, Brown (2014) €8.75 HHHII
This is for older readers and falls in the romantic YA category that also encompasses vampirish creatures, steampunk inventions, and fog and such. Holly Evernight has been forced by a fallen angel to test drive a clockwork heart on a demon - sure, one less in the world is not a big deal. Well, not if you're Will Thorne, who is the one suffering with the fake ticker.
He's a Sanguis - Sanguish? - which doesn't make him any less human (somehow), and he's painfully turning into a machine, except when he's with Holly, and she's touching him. You can see where that's going. Sixth in a series, Callihan is handy with the prose, less so with the dialogue, which is trying to be 19th century - you can feel is almost yearning to be contemporary. Still, a nice juicy series for a teen.
CLOSE TO THE WIND
By Jon Walter
David Fickling Books (2014) €15.75 HHHHI
Given the state of the world, and the numbers of children who are finding themselves homeless, exiled, or on the run, this couldn't be a more timely read.
I have to say, though, that I'm not sure that the lower end of the age group it's aimed for - eight years old - is actually old enough. This is so emotionally exhausting and so fraught, I shudder to think of giving this to one of my young nephews or nieces.
Malik and grandfather are on the run in a country under siege. They arrive at the port from which they intend to take ship and escape. Will they make it? Will Malik's much-missed mum make it in time, too? If you think your child is able for it, it's an incredible read for producing awareness and compassion.
I NEED A NEW BUTT!
By Dawn McMillan, Illustrated by Ross Kinnaird
Dover (2014, 17 September) €19.50 HHHHI
Herewith I expose my sense of humour as that of belonging to a seven-year-old boy. I can't imagine anything funnier to read to your child, although if it's before bed, you'll have to deal with the hysterical laughter. Just me? A boy discovers he's got a crack in his bum. How did that happen?
How can he fix it? The suggestions go from the ridiculous to the sublimely ridiculous (a titanium butt!) I love the illustrations; the rhyming couplets don't achieve Dr Seussian brilliance, but they are entertaining nevertheless. This book also contains farts, so forget it - I was on the floor.