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Champions, chivalry and comedy

This month's titles selected by Elaine Williams

Myths about knights, tales of chivalry and the Crusades remain popular, and The Barefoot Book of Knights by John Matthews, illustrated by Giovanni Manna (Barefoot Books pound;14.99), is absorbing and visually exciting. These are lively retellings of knights' tales from around the world, such as the German story of Hylas, a 12-year-old knight whose brothers and sisters have been turned into swans by an evil queen, and who slays the queen's champion to enable their return to human shape; or that of Yogodayu from Japan, the samurai warrior who learns wisdom from a bee. The striking composition and colourful illuminated patterning of Manna's pictures greatly enrich the narrative.

The intention and desire, misinformation and muddle that drove knights to the Crusades is clothed in riddle and magic in William Mayne's latest novel The Worm in the Well (Hodder Children's Books pound;4.99), a book to engage top primary readers. This is the story of two knights - the proud, insensitive Meric and the more thoughtful Robin, their children Margaret and Alan and the consequences of ignoring the warnings of Granny Shaftoe, the greenwood witch, about the worm in Saint Oswald's Well. Mayne's uncompromising style - every word working to create a world layered with meaning, every phrase pleasurable for its freshness and originality - creates a narrative about metamorphosis that careers between foreboding and humour. A book that would thrive under detailed scrutiny in a literacy session.

The traditional story of George and the Dragon (Jonathan Cape pound;10.99) is given a delightful twist by Chris Wormell in this thrilling picture book, with a dragon that has never looked so fierce and fiery red and a George who has never seemed so diminutive. Dramatic illustration and clever humour that infants will find irresistible.

David Melling has produced an equally funny knight's tale in The Kiss That Missed (Hodder Children's Books pound;10.99). The king is always in such a hurry that he can't even stop to blow his small son a good-night kiss with any accuracy. A not-so-brave knight is unceremoniously dispatched into the dark forest to retrieve the errant smacker. Melling is a highly skilled, imaginative and witty graphic illustrator and this story sizzles with colour and humour. A book to warm the cockles.

More kissing in Colin McNaughton's latest Preston Pig picture book, S.W.A.L.K. (Andersen Press pound;9.99). Preston has a girlfriend who insists on sending him letters that are sealed with a loving kiss. She wants to know every detail of his life and Preston duly replies with an account of his day-to-day routine. But Mr Wolf is lurking, a beast doomed to an unrequited appetite. As always in this series, the book is bursting with visual games, wordplay and enjoyable slapstick.

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