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THE VOYAGE OF THE ARCTIC TERN. By Hugh Montgomery. Walker Books, pound;12.99

JIM DAVIS. By John Masefield. Introduced by Michael Morpurgo The Chicken House, pound;4.99

THE ALCHEMIST'S APPRENTICE. By Kate Thompson. The Bodley Head, pound;10.99

JOSHUA CROSS AND THE LEGENDS. By Diane Redmond. Wizard Books, pound;10

Richard Monte embarks on a literary adventure exploring the theme of voyages

The theme of voyages is the trademark in these adventure stories for readers aged 10 and above, who can journey over the sea in the company of pirates and smugglers, go in search of the philosopher's stone in 18th-century England and travel through time to the Elysian Fields of ancient Greece.

Hugh Montgomery's The Voyage of the Arctic Tern is a tale in narrative verse of Bruno, Elizabethan fisherman and captain of the Arctic Tern, who is cursed with a life of eternal wandering because of a moment of greed and betrayal.

The poem evokes the smells and sounds of the sea, and the treacherous world of piracy. Mad Dog Morgan, the villainous pirate with all the duplicity of Long John Silver, tries to thwart Bruno's search for redemption, but as in all the best adventures, good eventually triumphs over evil.

Nick Poullis's black and white drawings, sampled here, bring out the ghosts and shadows which lurk between Plymouth and Seville in fog-shrouded alleyways and on misty seas.

A long narrative poem might not appear the most appealing format for a children's book at first sight, but don't be put off - the Arctic Tern moves along swiftly and is altogether a richly rewarding experience.

Like Montgomery, who grew up in Plymouth and joined the underwater archaeology team that salvaged the Mary Rose, the poet John Masefield spent much of his youth in the company of the sea.

Masefield, who died in 1967, also wrote five books for children, including Jim Davis, first published in 1911 and now in a new edition. In his introduction, Michael Morpurgo encourages young readers to ask what "ingredients" inspired this fast-paced novel in which Jim is caught up in the world of smuggling in 19th-century Devon.

Jim's adventures begin when he falls into the company of the mysterious Marah, witnesses the kidnapping of two coastguards and is forced to go to sea with the smugglers. On the trail of contraband rum and tobacco, he is involved in gunfights and has to run from the customs officials who scour the craggy Devon coastline. As Morpurgo makes clear, this book has lost none of its excitement in more than 90 years.

Eighteenth-century England (London and the Yorkshire Moors) is the setting for Kate Thompson's The Alchemist's Apprentice, another accomplished novel from the author of the Switchers trilogy.

Jack, a poor blacksmith's boy, is on a quest to find the philosopher's stone which can turn base metal into gold. He finds great wealth on his travels, but no stone, and bitter experience teaches him that wealth alone cannot bring happiness.

When he loses his riches, he finds what he has been looking for among the pebbles in his pockets, which the robbers leave in place of his coins. Full of renewed hope he returns to the alchemist, Barnstable, to perform his Great Work.

Will Jack succeed in his alchemical quest? When he opens his philosopher's egg, will there be gold inside it? Is this where Jack's happiness really lies? This is an intricately woven story, full of rich imagery and symbols, a deeply satisfying and thought-provoking experience for more able readers.

A different kind of quest is in store for 10-year-old Joshua Cross. Joshua is searching for his father, who died before he was born. He is chased along the Embankment by a centaur in the prelude to a series of bizarre events which sweep him into the past, where he must continue his search in the Elysian Fields of ancient Greece.

In the company of Muck and Mate (a puppy and a seagull), and helped along by heroes and gods, Joshua's destiny weaves in and out of classical legends. He competes in the Olympic Games, discusses the merits of peas, beans and popular music with Pythagoras, comforts Sappho's granddaughter by telling her women won't always be treated as second-class citizens, and charms Cerberus with a rendition of Jimi Hendrix's "Wild Thing" on the lyre.

Meanwhile his mother hasn't even missed him, and is still frying chips in Shakespeare's Chippy when he returns to 21st-century London. An engaging and well researched book, and a change of direction for Diane Redmond, a scriptwriter for Bob the Builder and The Tweenies.

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