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Family ties, truths and lies

Elaine Williams looks at stories that explore familyrelationships and the potent mixture of affection, hurt, and confusion experienced by their younger members


Love From Dad Anthology Egmont Children's Books, pound;4.99

Smoke Trail By June Oldham Hodder, pound;5.99

Notes from a Liar and her Dog By Jennifer Choldenko Bloomsbury, pound;5.99

The Quigley's By Simon Mason David Fickling Books, pound;10.99

The War Diaries of Alistair Fury series By Jamie Rix Corgi Yearling Books, pound;4.99 each

Annie Rose is my Little Sister By Shirley Hughes Random House, pound;10.99

Double Love By Bernard Ashley Orchard Books, pound;10.99

Fathers and sons, dads and lads - the spotlight has been turned on this relationship and the importance of positive male role models in recent years as pivotal to boys' achievement, or lack of it. But what effects do fathers, or lack of them, have on daughters' lives? The nature of the fatherdaughter bond has proved a rich literary source for hundreds of years, but is explored for the present day in a series of warm and insightful short stories in the anthology Love from Dad.

This collection by established writers including Anne Fine, Jacqueline Wilson, Adele Geras, Stephen Potts and Helen Dunmore gives us a rich assortment of fathers - the charismatic but irresponsible, the dreamy philosopher, the overworked but well-intentioned, the redundant but wise house-husband - all of whom have a close or significant but complex relationship with their daughters.

For example, in The Ship of Theseus Fine describes a daughter's wily plan to get her philosopher father to camp out with her in the garden by engaging in some philosophical one-upmanship. In Pott's Abigail's Gift, Abigail sacrifices a precious birthday present to secure the one thing she wants more than anything - time with her father when he is not tired or stressed.

In Dunmore's The Best Kind of Dream a daughter copes with her single dad, a romantic and sometimes irritating character full of big ideas but with no money to carry them through - a story of affection getting the better of adversity. This anthology, suitable for key stage 23 readers, casts a critical but celebratory eye at the fatherly role and would form an excellent basis for creative writing about family life or as the subject for a personal and social education lesson about male role models.

The hold that an absent father can have on a child's imagination is explored in a powerful new novel by June Oldham. Smoke Trail is a dark but thrilling story about Cora, who longs to meet the father she has never known. Her adventure, set against the northern landscape of harsh rugged moors, shows Cora determined to follow a trail of clues that might lead her to this elusive object of desire, a shadowy figure that none of the women in her family are happy to talk about. Her determination leads her towards some harsh but healing truths. Oldham weaves a gripping narrative with evocative, lyrical prose. This is memorable psychological drama.

Notes From a Liar and Her Dog by Jennifer Choldenko, an American novel, is an equally forceful family saga, which describes the misunderstanding and entrenched positions that families can dig themselves into. Antonia is as preoccupied with the belief that she is unloved by her parents as Cora is with her father's absence. Her sense of hurt and anger leads her into a whole series of misadventures and psychological crossed wires. A novel full of pithy humour that holds the reader's attention to the very last page. Novels to give 11 to 14-year-olds plenty to think about.

On a much lighter and slapstick note The Quigley's by Simon Mason is a warm, funny portrayal of a chaotic family not averse to bribing their children or cutting corners as long as Dad can get to watch that crucial football match, or Lucy is distracted from her obsession with being a bridesmaid dressed as a bee. A book for adults and children to share.

The War Diaries of Alistair Fury by Jamie Rix, is a hilarious series about a very angry young boy with mammoth grudges against parents and siblings - should therefore have mass appeal. Bugs on the Brain and Dead Dad Dog present Alistair's diaries with sharp, ironic entries recounting endless acts of revenge. Stand-up comedy in book form. Delightfully light relief for top primary readers.

Family affection is celebrated in two wonderful picture books. In Annie Rose is my Little Sister, Shirley Hughes returns to her much loved narrative of Alfie and his younger sibling. Hughes captures in fresh, vibrant colour and line the charming detail of this brother and sister's everyday activities. She is as observant as ever of the expressions and characteristic behaviour of very young children.

Double Love by Bernard Ashley, illustrated by Carol Thompson, is a loving portrayal of two grandmothers and their relationship with granddaughter Blossom, especially when a new-born sibling arrives. Thompson's illustrations are cockle-warming, joyous in colour, line and composition.

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