A fresh crop of water lilies

30th January 2004 at 00:00
Elaine Williams rounds up the latest books for primary children

CHARLOTTE IN PARIS by Joan MacPhail Knight; illustrated by Melissa Sweet Chronicle Books, pound;10.99

THE KEYS OF ROME by Louise Dale Dragonheart Publishing, pound;5.99

ERRAND LASS By Theresa Tomlinson

Walker Books, pound;3.99

NOT A PROPER MUM! (Misadventures of Guy Strang) by S Weeks Operation

HANDSOME BY Margaret Ryan; illustrated by Nicola Slater

Hodder Children's Books, pound;4.99 each

PRINCESS MiRROR-BELLE by Julia Donaldson; illustrated by Lydia Monks Macmillan Children's Books, pound;3.99

THE ORCHARD BOOK OF STORIES from the Ballet retold by Geraldine McCaughrean; illustrated by Angela Barrett Orchard Books, pound;8.99

APRICOTS AT MIDNIGHT by Adele Geras; Barn Owl Books, pound;5.99

OTHER ECHOES by Adele Geras David Fickling Books pound;10.99

There is no getting away from Monet in primary schools: his water lilies and other scenes from his garden at Giverny are reproduced up and down the country. While yet another book about his life hardly seems necessary, I was won over by the witty Charlotte in Paris. With all the charm of Kay Thompson's "Eloise" stories, it lends a fresh flavour to the story of the artist and works both as fiction and a reference text for eight-year-olds and above. Joan MacPhail Knight's text gives an insight into Monet's daily routine as observed by an American girl whose parents have moved to France to be near the great painter. The Gliddens are typical of the many arty Americans who irritated Monet with their determination to be part of the exciting French Impressionist movement; to enjoy cafe society and study at French art academies. Melissa Sweet's illustrations and collages are beautifully decorative as well as funny and informative.

The Baroque artist Caravaggio features in The Keys of Rome, a clever and intricate time-slip novel. When Alice is invited on holiday to Rome by her cousin Robert, they travel from 54 ad (after the murder of Emperor Claudius) through to the High Renaissance. This is an inventive drama (if a little over-complex) with entertaining historical insights, including an intriguing explanation as to why Caravaggio was such a ground-breaking artist.

Theresa Tomlinson's Errand Lass, part of a time-slip series for eight to 10-year-olds, is equally engaging and written with Tomlinson's usual clarity and cracking pace. Maddy, a timid child who struggles at school, takes courage from her time-slip encounter with the buffer girls - young women employed to shine cutlery - during a visit to a Sheffield museum.

Novels about divided families are a vast and growing market, and recent examples extract comedy from newly single mothers' attempts at handling boyfriends. S Weeks's latest book about Guy and his family explores Guy's embarrassment and pain when his mother kicks off her romantic excursions with his science teacher. Look out for the follow-up, Not My Sister.

Margaret Ryan is drily hilarious in Operation Handsome, a cockle-warming tale of Abby's collaboration with her "non-PC" grandmother to rescue her grandfather on the run in Australia and advance her mother's love life.

This is the middle book of a trilogy, between Operation Boyfriend and the new Operation Wedding.

Julia Donaldson (author of The Gruffalo, an award-winning picture book) rides high on slapstick comedy in her novel Princess Mirror-Belle. When Ellen talks to her mirror to pass the time during a bout of chickenpox, the image climbs out of the mirror and causes mayhem.

The bleaker side of fairytales is brought out in a haunting, but exquisite collection of stories. Now in paperback, The Orchard Book of Stories from the Ballet includes retellings of "Swan Lake", "Coppelia", "Giselle" and "The Nutcracker". Geraldine McCaughrean's lucid but resonant language, uncompromising in its faithfulness to original narrative, is well matched by Angela Barrett's beautifully composed but eerie pictures.

Two early books by Ad le Geras, also in new paperback editions, make superb reading for 10-year-olds and above. Apricots at Midnight is a collection of stories of childhood, love and friendship, all sewn into Aunt Pinny's patchwork quilt.

Other Echoes is a bitter-sweet, piercing account of an expatriate childhood in Borneo and a soulful girl's friendship with a sad old man whose tragic past unfolds. Ad le Geras has since had a long career and been shortlisted for the Whitbread and the Carnegie: her power and insight as a writer is already evident in these early works.

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