Children's fiction: Dads, gags and udder stories

Krazy Kow Saves The World - Well, Almost
By Jeremy Strong, Illustrated by Nick Sharratt
Puffin pound;3.99

Spoofer Rooney
By Jonathan Kebbe
Corgi pound;4.99

Dogs Don't Tell Jokes
By Louis Sachar
Bloomsbury Children's Books pound;4.99

Skeleton Key
By Anthony Horowitz
Walker Books pound;4.99

There's no shortage of fresh new fiction to keep children reading into the new term.

Jeremy Strong's popularity is set to rise yet further as word gets around that his new book is better than ever - really funny, as always, but with a serious side.

With the notable exception of Jacqueline Wilson, British authors have not always found it easy to mix humour and sensitivity in the manner of the Australians Morris Gleitzman or Paul Jennings.

Krazy Kow Saves the World - Well, Almost does this in fine style. It's a real chocolate box of a novel that includes, alongside Strong's trademark funny flavours and slapstick soft-centres, some nutty truths about the power of perseverance.

Jamie Frink has invented a comic-book superhero, a cow with a Swiss Army udder armed with all kinds of James Bond gadgetry.

Spoofer Rooney is a feel-good novel set in Dublin. When Hopper Rooney's dad goes into hospital, Hopper has to stay with his aunt and uncle, his mother having long ago moved to England with her "fancy feller".

This temporary home is a scary place. Uncle Maddy is a belligerent old codger and Auntie Grace has painted eyes "like fake flowers".

In Dogs Don't Tell Jokes, Louis Sachar has created a memorable goon of a character, Gary Boone, whose only interest in school is the forthcoming talent show, which he wants to enter as a stand-up comedian.

He has no shortage of material and spends all day telling jokes - bad ones and not-so-bad ones - to the despair of his family and the derision of his classmates. He does have one supporter - his girlfriend, Angeline.

Gary avoids racist jokes by inventing a character called Mrs Snitzberry, who stands in for all nationalities and racial groups. The book is a triumph of tone and timing, as, after a shaky start, is Gary's performance in the talent show.

Anthony Horowitz's third Alex Rider novel, Skeleton Key, initially finds Alex posing as a ball boy at Wimbledon, not the most glamorous of guises for a would-be James Bond.

But the stakes are high, and Alex is soon coping with more than strawberries and cream.

Horowitz is never less than convincing, and has clearly been given access to the corridors of Wimbledon.

However, he knows that what his readers want is foreign espionage, so Alex is soon dispatched overseas to save the world from evil schemes.nbsp;

To read this article in full, see this week's edition of the TES.

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