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Children's books

Elaine Williams Finds Novels With Bite For Top Primary Readers And Young Teens

Gatty's Tale

By Kevin Crossley-Holland, Orion Children's Books pound;12.. For ages 10 to adult

Travel in medieval times meant walking (riding if you were wealthy) and risking plague, boils or bandits. Yet scholars, pilgrims and traders managed to wander across whole swathes of Europe and the Middle East.

Gatty's Tale follows pilgrims on such an epic journey, from the Welsh Marches to the Holy Land in the year 1203. One of the party is Gatty, the passionate and brave farm girl familiar from Crossley-Holland's Arthur trilogy. Until now ignorant of the world, Gatty accompanies Lady Gwyneth de Ewloe to Jerusalem with Snout the Cook, Austin the priest, a delicate choirmaster and a whining chambermaid. The pilgrims face death, love, sadness and joy while Crossley-Holland's taut, gutsy, ever-inventive prose lifts the Middle Ages and all its sights, smells, privations and wonders off the page. This is a classic odyssey and a crossover novel that both adults and young people will cherish.

Hood

By Stephen R Lawhead, Orbit pound;12.99. For ages 13+

Frozen Fire

Gatty's home turf, 100 years earlier at the time of the Norman Conquest, provides a new setting for Robin Hood. This well-worked myth (some would say over-worked) is enjoying a renaissance. However, Stephen R Lawhead's Hood has none of the sentiment of the BBC version. Here Robin takes vengeance for Norman butchery and his rule in the primeval forest of the Marches has the savagery of the terrorist. Lawhead explains in a postscript that the Welsh were the first people in Britain to use longbows and the "ever-dwindling Sherwood" could not have hidden Robin - here Bran ap Brychan, the prince of Elfael - and his men. His argument is intriguing and his tale of a Welsh Robin Hood hugely compelling and entertaining.

By Tim Bowler, Oxford University Press pound;12.99. For ages 13+

In this latest thriller by Tim Bowler, an equally ghoulish boy character takes centre stage. Dusty is a troubled teenager whose brother Josh is missing; her griefstricken parents' marriage is in trouble. Her anger and rebelliousness become extreme, however, after her life is overtaken by a ghostly presence: a strange, ethereal "hoodie" who seems to read her most inner thoughts and has some disturbing connection with Josh. Dusty finds herself sandwiched between the "ghost" and a band of vigilantes baying for his blood. Bowler is an accomplished writer for teenagers and Frozen Fire an edge-of-the-seat tribute to his ability to grip young minds See Review Bank at www.tes.co.uk for more reviews

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