In Brief;Children's books

17th September 1999 at 01:00
SEA DANCE. By Will Gatti Oxford University Press pound;5.99.

The whole point of what I'm telling you is that it is sea that surrounds us," says Willie Cormack, the hero and narrator. The sea pervades this book. Its cruelty and beauty act as background to a many-layered story.

On the "long lick of land" called The Mullet, Willie lives in a community where his dread of the ocean is an enormous handicap. On one level, the book is about how Willie overcomes this fear. But it's also about the effect on a small community of the (very dramatic) arrival of a stranger. Malouf comes from North Africa and it is his rescue and protection which form the backbone of the plot. Through his relationship with Malouf, Willie grows and develops.

It would be wrong to give away more. Read it for the language. It's very seldom that one comes across a lyrical voice without a trace of soppiness. Gatti knows how to make the words work all sorts of magic.

THUNDERWITH. By Libby Hathorn. Hodder pound;3.99

This novel came out in Australia in 1989. A friend told me about it in 1991, and I made a mental note to look out for it. It's hard to understand why we've been kept waiting for so long. The author (probably best known in this country for her text for the picture book, Way Home, which won Gregory Rogers a Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration) has written a novel which adults can share with their children. Although teenagers are the target audience, younger good readers will empathise with Lara in a difficult situation.

Thunderwith is a dog. He's both real and symbolic; a friend and a totem. It's around his relationship with Lara that the other elements of the plot revolve. After the death of her beloved mother, our heroine goes to live with her father, a grim-faced stepmother and new siblings named after precious stones. She has to deal with them, with a new school and a bully who has it in for her, and with an entirely new environment, while at the same time coming to terms with her bereavement. How she triumphs makes an involving tale. Be warned - you will need a hankie.

Adele Geras Free with the TES today: Read On, the children's books supplement.

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