ANTELOPES SERIES Mario Scumbini and the Big Pig Swipe By Herbie Brennan The Haunting of Joey M'Basa By Rosemary Harris Hamish Hamilton Pounds 6.50 each
SPRINTERS SERIES Oliver Sundew and the Tooth Fairy By Sam McBratney Illustrated by Dom Mansell Little Stupendo by Jon Blake, Illustrated by Martin Chatterton, Walker Pounds 3.50 each Go Fox By Helen Dunmore Young Corgi Originals Pounds 2.99
Series designed to extend the skills of inexperienced readers are now well-established and continue to draw on distinguished children's writers.
The excellent Take Part series has several interesting new titles. These are written as play scripts for reading aloud in small groups, preferably with a tape recorder so that children can enjoy creating sound effects in the appropriate places. Handled like this, reading aloud acquires an exciting and pleasurable purpose.
The new titles present traditional stories in an accessible form, from the adaptation of the contemporary Philippa Pearce story The Battle of Bubble and Squeak to retellings of The Adventures of Odysseus and The Riddle Girl, an Anglo-Saxon tale. A historical dimension is provided by Christopher Columbus, a challenging text that encourages children to form basic concepts about the science of navigation as well as to check Columbus's route to the New World for themselves. An additional modern adaptation is of Phyllis Arkle's The Village Dinosaur. The scripts by Sheila Lane and Marion Kemp are lively and humorous.
Hamish Hamilton's Antelopes use established children's authors who use simple storytelling styles in quite complex story structures. Children need to experience different ways of organising stories if their book choices are not to be limited to the straightforwardly chronological. Herbie Brennan's Mario Scumbini and the Big Pig Swipe is an enjoyable example of such a narrative. It juxtaposes parallel stories: the first is set in the comic world of Mafia gangster movies, while the second, more serious and reflective in tone, focuses on young Hannah's reading of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In this delightful intertextual story, the worlds of the book and the film interface until Hannah meets Mario halfway along the rabbit's tunnel and the two narratives join.
The story, which is funny and well-suited to the needs of both girls and boys, can teach children how two plots can be contained in one story, something most of them will be accustomed to already in their TV viewing.
In the same series, Rosemary Harris's The Haunting of Joey M'Basa is a delightful, humorous ghost story which could well lead children into the pursuit of some interesting historical knowledge, since the ghosts in question are the two young princes in the Tower of London, Richard III and Lady Jane Grey. Again, this story is equally suitable for boys and girls.
For slightly younger readers, Walker Books' Sprinters series has two new titles - Oliver Sundew and the Tooth Fairy by Sam McBratney, and Jon Blake's Little Stupendo. Oliver is a wimpish tooth fairy whose skill at swimming enables him to win out over fairies who can only fly. The tone is one of silly, gentle humour, and six-year-olds would enjoy Dom Mansell's delicate illustrations. In similar vein, Little Stupendo tells of how the Great Stupendo's little daughter triumphs over the forces of malice by her own bravery and skill; both stories are in the classic folk-tale tradition.
Finally, Young Corgi Originals have an interesting new book from the first winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, Helen Dunmore. Go Fox is about Danny who plays a computer game called Go Fox. As he zaps the screen the virtual reality fox comes to life. I expect there will be many stories along these lines now. Go Fox is a virtual reality who becomes "reality" in a story which is itself a virtual reality . . . and so on. We've come a long way since Alice in Wonderland.