In brief;Children's books;Review

24th December 1999 at 00:00
Michael Thorn and Adele Geras have ideas for present crises and holiday reading

BARTLETT AND THE ICE VOYAGE. By Odo Hirsch. Bloomsbury Children's Books pound;9.99

A wonderfully preposterous quest story, narrated like an ancient legend. In an indistinct past time, the Queen, seduced by descriptions given by old explorer Sutton Prufrock, decides that her life is incomplete until she has tasted an exotic fruit called a melidrop.

A fawning adviser, Sir Hugh Lough, is keen to be sent on an expedition to bring back a melidrop, but the task is given to Bartlett, a scruffy, ignoble explorer. Journeying to the land of the melidrops is the easy part: the fruit, once picked, rots within a matter of hours. Bartlett devises a plan that involves harnessing an iceberg from the polar seas.

Odo Hirsch, whose first children's title, Antonio S and the Mystery of Theodore Guzman, was also widely praised, is establishing a reputation for idiosyncratic fiction that refuses to be pigeon-holed. Lightly but effectively illustrated by Andrew McLean, the book is a little gem. MT DARE TO BE DIFFERENT: a celebration of freedom. In association with Amnesty International. Bloomsbury Children's Books. pound;14.99

This is a well-presented, inspiring anthology of new fiction, poetry and retellings.

The original work conveys the most direct and effective messages. A moving story by Susan Gates tells about a boy rescuing a butterfly from a swimming pool. Jamila Gavin's story, "The Paradise Carpet", is a powerful tale about exploitation and the temptations of money. Geraldine McCaughrean's "The Gulf" is a symbolic tale about helping those who are trying to escape persecution.

The artwork is by leading children's books illustrators, and there is an introduction explaining the work of Amnesty International. MT THE POPPYKETTLE PAPERS. By Robert Inkpen and Michael Lawrence. Pavilion pound;12.99.

Best considered a rather classy graphic novel, this purports to tell the story - reconstructed from papers discovered in a tiny trunk in Tasmania - of the final journey of the last surviving Hairy Peruvians, a now-extinct doll-sized race.

Sailing in a stone kettle, they survive bad weather thrown at them by their enemy El Ni$o, and encounter various monsters such as the terrible Cunmerrie. The most exciting episode concerns their efforts to retrieve a large black pearl from inside a giant clam. MT BLIND BEAUTY. By K M Peyton. Scholastic Press pound;14.99.

"The foal was born without eyes." This stunning first sentence opens a novel you can't put down, with a title that echoes that other great horse story, Black Beauty.

Tess is traumatised by having to leave Shiner, the blind mare she loves. She grows into a spiky, difficult girl whose life is full of all kinds of problems. She eventually goes to work at a racing stable where she meets Buffoon, whose dam was none other than Shiner. Tessa's devotion to this horse turns her into a strong and caring young woman.

This is a book about different kinds of love, and different kinds of cruelty. It has touches of lyricism and is extraordinarily moving. My favourite Peyton hero has always been Pennington, the moody pianist in Pennington's Seventeenth Summer; now I am being won over by an ugly, long-nosed horse with a heart full of courage. The cover is the author's work too - a splendid finishing touch to a fine book. AG A PACK OF LIES. By Geraldine McCaughrean. Oxford University Press. pound;3.99

Reviewers are free with terms such as "tour-de-force", but for once it's the only way to do justice to this prize-winning book.

MCC Berkshire appears to Ailsa in the library, and subsequently moves into the antique shop her mother runs, where he tells stories to customers about the things they're buying.

You can sense the games the author is playing, the fun she's having with pastiches in prose and verse, and there is a wonderful surprise ending.

This is a book about the joys of fiction: its power and its pleasures. Literally fabulous. AG

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