Break with family tradition

Fiona Lafferty

Pure Dead Wicked. By Debbie Gliori. Corgi, pound;4.99 pbk.

Pure Dead Brilliant. By Debbie Gliori. Doubleday, pound;10.99. The Fabulous Fantora Family FilesThe Fabulous Fantora Photographs. By Adele Geras. Oxford University Press pound;4.99 each. Fairy Dust

By Gwyneth Rees. Macmillan, pound;3.99.

Me Again! (and Charlie):a holiday in bits and pieces. By Rebecca Stevens and Steve Jeanes. Chicken House, pound;4.99.

Hoot. By Carl Hiaasen. Macmillan, pound;9.99

For children seeking some literary magic and mayhem over Easter, it's all relative, writes Fiona Lafferty.

Debbie Gliori hit on a rich comic vein when she created the eccentric Strega-Borgia family and placed them in StregaSchloss, the ancestral castle in an undisclosed location in the Scottish highlands and islands in Pure Dead Magic. The second book, Pure Dead Wicked, in which crooked property developers try to con the family out of said ancestral home and in which son and heir Titus tries his hand, unsuccessfully, at cloning, is now in paperback. Pure Dead Brilliant follows hot on its heels with a more intricate and intriguing plot, hinging on an ancient pact with the devil.

Tension mounts as wicked uncle Don Lucifer tries to get his hands on Titus's inheritance, and the devil in disguise attempts to retrieve the powerful and precious "Chronostone". It will not disappoint fans.

Anybody over nine who has enjoyed these books will enjoy Ad le Geras's stories about the equally weird and wacky Fantora family and their various "gifts" - The Fabulous Fantora Files and The Fabulous Fantora Photographs - which have been recently reissued in paperback.

Gwyneth Rees also sets her particular brand of magic in the Scottish islands in Fairy Dust, where fairy charms are woven into pertinent advice about coping with divorced parents.

When Rosie's parents split up she goes to live with her mother in a cottage on the Isle of Skye. She misses her father, but is cheered by the discovery of fairies living in the cottage, with whose intervention she gradually accepts the situation. A gentle tale, this will appeal mainly to girls between seven and 10.

Broken families are at the heart of Me Again! (and Charlie): a holiday in bits and pieces. The "me" of the title is Janet, whose parents are divorced; Charlie is her best friend, who has never known his father.

Charlie and Janet tell the story in alternate diary-style entries, chronicling their feelings for each other.

At the start of the book Janet is jealous because Charlie is going snowboarding in France, then Janet, her mother and sister are invited, too, and it is Charlie's turn to be jealous as he ends up in a wheelchair before the holiday begins. After a chaotic journey, they arrive to find the cottage they are renting is already occupied.

The ups and downs of friendship and family life are engagingly played out and the ending is predictably satisfying for nines and over.

Every now and then a book comes along that is so striking it gives the reader goose-bumps and stays in the mind long after its pages are closed.

Carl Hiaasen's Hoot is one of those. Roy Eberhardt is new to Florida and is school bully Dana Matherson's latest victim. But as Roy sanguinely points out, if it had not been for Dana pressing his face up against the bus window that morning he would never have seen the strange boy running barefoot away from the school bus and his adventure would never have happened.

The plot centres round how industrial bullies, here in the shape of Mother Paula's All-American House of Pancakes, can railroad the smaller people of a town by ignoring conservation and planning laws, thus cleverly echoing many situations in the book.

There are wonderful moments of bizarre black humour and moments of deep poignancy as we learn why the running boy is so mysterious and what he is trying to do. It is the kind of book you want to give every 11-year-old you know.

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Fiona Lafferty

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