A bunch of paper roses
The Salt and Pepper Boys by Jean Willis (Red Fox Pounds 2.99). As soon as you read that the boarding house has changed its name to Lobster Pooh Private Hotel you know that small children will be rolling around with laughter. A summer full of tricks unites Lenny and Michael as they "help" Lenny's mother run Seaview Boarding House. Ages 6-8.
Ganging Up by Alan Gibbons (Dolphin Pounds 2.99) is a gripping tale which twines together two themes close to the pre-pubescent male's heart: football and being bullied by older, adolescent males. Add to this close observation of life on inner-city estates, the pressures on decent working-class families when dad gets made redundant and the puzzles for their sons of male role-modelling and you have a really good book for the recalcitrant reader aged 10-14.
Owl Light by Maggie Pearson (Hodder Pounds 3.99) is a haunting exploration of the anxieties and angers felt by young adolescents. "Gran says we all have a bit of werewolf in us," muses Hal but when he goes out to see if his sister Ellie's moonlight expeditions are sinister shape-shifting, he stumbles into an even more sinister badger-baiting ring.Who are the non-humans - the animal-like Stittles family, or the thugs who make sport of animals? Ages 12-16.
Grandpa's Indian Summer by Jamila Gavin (Mammoth Pounds 3.50) is a tender evocation of India from the point of view of an English-reared child returning to the land of his family for the school holidays. Much of the action is seen through the eyes of a telepathic Grandpa who benevolently oversees the accommodations needed between cricket-loving Indian Rahul and football-mad English Sanjay. A sequel to the popular Grandpa Chatterji. Ages 7-11.
Journey to Jo'burg (Collins Pounds 2.99) is Beverly Naidoo's classic tale of childish perseverance in the face of adult injustice. Fortunately much of its detail is now historical, dealing as it does with the oppression of apartheid, but the simple story of two black children trying to reach their mother (who has had to leave her own family to work for a white household) to come home and save the life of their baby sister is deftly and movingly told. Not just a good one for the holidays but cries out to be read in class. Ages 9-11 The Girls' Gang and Fireballs from Hell by Rose Impey (Collins Pounds 3.99 each) are some of this writer's enjoyable explorations of naughtiness. The Girls' Gang is a thoroughly satisfying account of how a gang of girls not only defeat and humiliate an obnoxious male classmate but also rub salt in the wound by magnanimously forgiving him and giving him an important part in their end-of-term play. Fireballs from Hell offers a male perspective on the thorny business of trying to get your own rock'n'roll band started in the teeth of paternal opposition and peer group scepticism. Both ages 11-14.
Meteorite Spoon by Philip Ridley (Puffin Pounds 3.99). Ridley is touted as the new Dahl and his mixture of grotesqueries, sadistic knockabout humour and zany pace does have something in common with the Master of Matilda. Ultimately, Ridley is both tamer and more compassionate. This story, a wry look at arguing parents from the child's point of view, is both fun and thought-provoking. Ages 9-12.
Flow by Pippa Goodhart (Mammoth Pounds 2.99). Boy and dog - how can you lose? And when you add in sheep on the fell, rescue a friend with broken leg, and "Flow" really being "Wolf " spelled backwards you've got a surefire hit for junior-school boys. Ages 7-11.
Griffin's Castle by Jenny Nimmo (Mammoth Pounds 3.50). Dinah's mum has got a new man. Her boss, the sinister Gomer Gwynne, has not got much time for an 11-year-old girl almost as tall as her mum, not pretty and sullen to boot. As Christmas approaches, it looks as if the best option for Dinah is to stay in Gomer's creepy old mansion surrounded by menacing stone animals while her mum is off with Gomer. But who is this? Can it be a happy ending? Ages 9-12.
Best Friends For Ever by Kathryn Cave (Puffin Pounds 3.25). Relationships,don'tcha just hate 'em? That heady brew of "I'm not your friend any more" versus "I'm your best friend" is sympathetically treated and, unusually, given a final perspective from an adult point of view. Ages 8-12.
The Watch House by Robert Westall (Macmillan Pounds 3.99). Spooks, wreckers, lonely children now and in 1854, old newspapers and dream drownings, miserable children and murdered seafarers: Robert Westall mixes up his usual potent brew of atmosphere and emotion, set this time on the cliffs of the North-East and ending with an exorcism. Unputdownable and deeply satisfying. Ages 11-15.
Words of Stone (Red Fox Pounds 2.99) is a poignant glimpse into the lives of two vulnerable adolescents in small-town America. Blaze, whose mother has died, lives with his father and grandmother. He is artistic, sensitive,easily humiliated by his peers. But his home is ordered and loving. Joselle, daughter of a single and flighty mother, visits her rather disorganised grandmother. She is defiant, unusual, compelling. As their relationship interweaves with those of their adult families, the summer boils up and subsides. Kevin Henkes writes beautifully on the nerve. Ages 11-15.
Everything Happens on Mondays (Pont Pounds 3.25) is a hilarious and touching set of stories about a middle school in Wales. Sparely written, yet it vividly realises the tribulations of school and community life in a strongly realised account of surviving in Year 7. Nicola Davies is especially good at the minutiae of friendships and classroom feudings. Ages 9-14 Hill of Darkness (Faber Pounds 4.99) is set in the Seychelles. Jan Michael follows two English colonial children through an entanglement with native culture, specifically the monstrous greegree man who lives (or does he?) up the hill. Heady as the atmosphere it describes, the text is hauntingly lovely and the characterisation of the central figure, a 10-year-old girl, rings lots of bells in its mixture of fantasy, guilt and insouciance. Ages 9-13.
How Come the Best Clues Are Always in the Garbage? and How Can I be a Detective if I Always Have to Babysit? by Linda Bailey (Puffin Pounds 3. 99 each) are the kind of books which adults can hardly bear to pick up but which keep children absorbed for hours. Plucky heroine Stevie (yes, she's a girl and it's good role-modelling) Diamond lands up in all kinds of scrapes but applies all her feistiness to solving them with triumphant panache, like a transatlantic Nancy Drew. Keep on reading, 8- to 13-year-olds.