Children's books

9th February 2001 at 00:00
THE SUMMER HOUSE LOON. By Anne Fine. Mammoth pound;4.99.

Right from the beginning, there is a sparkle to Anne Fine's prose. This is her first book and tells of Ione Muffet, her blind father Professor Muffet, and the wonderful Ned Hump, who is hopelessly in love with Caroline Hope when Ione first meets him in the summerhouse.

The adventures of this delightful family continue in The Other Darker Ned, which is also reissued. New readers are in for a double treat. The dialogue crackles, the heart is in the right place, and both books are full of energy and wit.

THE TIN PRINCESS. By Philip Pullman. Scholastic Press pound;5.99

There's a map in the front, the date is 1882, the action moves between London and the kingdom of Razkavia, and the pages teem with all the accoutrements of a jolly good romp among Ruritanian (or is it Transylvanian?) forests, mountains, castles and everything that goes with them.

Adelaide Bevan and Prince Rudolph, the Countess and, above all, Jim Taylor (a hero in the best traditions of the ripping yarn) spring from these pages with enormous vigour. It's difficult to imagine anyone reading this book except at the cracking pace it deserves. It would make a great film.

DICEY'S SONG. By Cynthia Voigt. Collins Children's Books pound;4.99

This is the second book about the Tillerman children, who have, in the words of their grandmother, "brave spirits". The first, Homecoming, is also published as a Collins Modern Classic.

It tells how Dicey leads her brothers and sisters on a search to find their grandmother. The end of the book is moving and uplifting, and it would be a shame to give away what happens. As soon as the last page is turned, readers can move on to Solitary Blue, which taes up the story of Jeff, one of the characters we meet in Dicey's Song.

The Runner, next in the series, is a sad and searing tale that deals with Bullet, the loner of the family. The sequence, one of the finest achievements of recent American children's fiction, ends with Seventeen Against the Dealer and Sons from Afar. Try to read them all.

AUTUMN TERM. By Antonia Forest. Faber Children's Classics pound;4.99

From the moment Nick and Lawrie (twin girls) meet Tim (another girl, whose real name is Thalia) on the school train from Victoria we embark on a wonderfully entertaining and enjoyable adventure.

School stories have a magic that's hard to explain, and there are many fans of the genre whose experience of single-sex boarding-schools is minimal. It doesn't matter a scrap. All the conventions are well-loved, and in Forest we have the advantage of a writer who knows about pace and dialogue, plus lots of interesting characters and relationships.

First published in 1948, this book is good value: 300 pages for less than a fiver. Let's hope the rest of the series follows quickly.

THE SINGING BOWLS. By Jamila Gavin. Mammoth pound;4.99

On the cover of this book miniature paintings form a border for a picture of the singing bowls of the title. The story is a quest that takes our young hero on a voyage of discovery from England to India and allows Gavin, who recently won the Whitbread for Coram Boy, to show us many kinds of people and settings. She is good at bringing places to life, and knows all about things such as the pain of exile and the need for a home.

The bowls are a linking device between parts of the tale. This book packs a great deal into less than 200 pages.


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