Brum and the Statue Rescue By Alan Dapre and illustrated by Zig Peterson Hodder Children's Books Price: pound;2.99 each
Mac amp; Lauren: Rainy Races!
By Lisa Dennis Simon amp; Schuster Pocket Books Price: 6.99 each
Black Cats: Something Slimy On Primrose Drive By Karen Wallace A amp; C Black Price: pound;8.99
Mister Skip By Michael Morpurgo Collins Children's Books Price: pound;3.99
Hover Boy: Fizzy Feet By Margaret Ryan and illustrated by Nicola Slater Hodder Children's Books Price: pound;3.99
My Sister's A Yo-Yo By Gretel Killeen Red Fox Price: pound;3.99
The latest entrants in the race to find a transport character that will have the same appeal and success as Thomas the Tank Engine are cars. Brum, a sporty vintage vehicle with yellow bodywork and beady-eye headlamps, comes from Ragdoll, the creators of Teletubbies. Mac amp; Lauren, Formula One racing cars, are the main characters in a series devised by Lisa Dennis, whose husband heads up the Mercedes McLaren team.
The Brum storybooks are bright and busy, ideal for children on the verge of reading alone. They have lots of repetition and bold-print emphasis of key words as well as bubbled comments such as "Brum is so fast!", "After him Brum!" to encourage reading alongside an adult.
In each story, Brum saves the day with an heroic deed. Brum and the Statue Rescue, in which the car has to catch up with the runaway statue of a mayor, has a storyline that reflects the creators' desire to emulate silent movie action. All the books end with a final "Way to go Brum!" a slightly annoying Americanism, but preferable to some of the Hooray Henry dialogue in the Mac amp; Lauren series. In Rainy Races! the featured circuit is Silverstone. The accompanying car cast includes Wills and Harry, who "fly the flag for Britain" and say things like "But it's fun to share, chaps!"
and "What bad sports!".
It is difficult to predict what will appeal to five to seven-year-olds. These odd books in which the text, for no apparent purpose, is confined within a small mock VDU, and the computer graphics are all in the same, characterless wet-brush style, may well possess a magic ingredient that somehow eludes the cool, critical eye of a reviewer.
In Something Slimy On Primrose Drive, a chapter book in the Black Cats series, Karen Wallace has an immense amount of fun in suburbia. The Wolfbanes are, in Primrose Drive terms, a family, if not from Hell, then from some nether region nearby. They arrive by carriage and take up residence at No 34, just the kind of "normal" house their rebel daughter, Pearl, has always yearned for. In the course of a novel that also tells an amusing tale of business skulduggery, with some hilarious sideswipes at the golfing fraternity, Wallace is entertainingly observant about the need to live side by side with those of differing aspirations.
Jackie - the main character in Mister Skip, set on a high-rise estate in Ireland - has a knack for finding useful things in a local skip. The flat she shares with her mother is full of lucky finds. On one visit to the skip, Jackie finds a broken garden gnome. The result is a modern genie story, told with Morpurgo's characteristic narrative poise, in which Jackie becomes locally famous for winning a horse race while riding a donkey.
Hover Boy, a new character trilogy with an eye-catching jacket and inside illustrations, has an intriguing central premise. In Margaret Ryan's first book, Hover Boy: Fizzy Feet, we are introduced to Oscar Smith's special gift - the ability to float three feet above the ground. Not wanting to admit that their son is "different", the Smith family do their best to ignore Oscar's hovering, hoping he will grow out of it. Good-fun reads in which the humour is gently targeted.
Brasher and more anarchic is My Sister's A Yo-Yo, by Gretel Killeen, an Australian comedienne and host of the down-under version of Big Brother. When Zeke's sister is squashed to the size of a strawberry by a passing truck, he puts her in his pocket and she becomes tangled up with his yo-yo. Just the ticket for children who laugh at things adults think should not be funny. There is a sequel, My Sister's An Alien.
Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm Primary School, Hailsham, East Sussex