Children's books

2nd March 2001 at 00:00
Goal Kings. The Striker's Revenge. By Michael Hardcastle. Faber pound;3.99.

This series has immense pulling power with readers who relish stories of drama on and off the football pitch, and book number five will not disappoint. Hardcastle's heady mix of informed match detail, coloured by friendships and rivalry which boost or blight the Goal Kings' performance, make these novels irresistible to football fans. Undoubtedly a boy thing.

Graffix series. Various authors. Aamp;C Black pound;3.99 each.

Michael Hardcastle's ability to create strong storylines is well suited to this series of quality graphic novels. Mine's a Winner is the story of Tex, a boy who wants to be a horse trainer but takes silly risks to impress a girl. In the end, however, skill saves the day. Other new Graffix include Respect by Bernard Ashley, the thought-provoking tale of a boy who risks his life to get in with a graffiti gang. Caroline Pitcher's Castaway is the story of a school holiday adventure that goes badly wrong. All tempt the reluctant older reader with assured narrative and pictures.

ELAINE WILLIAMS. The Smallpox Slayer. By Alan Brown. Hodder Children's Books pound;3.99.

The slayer is, of course, Edward Jenner, who devised vaccination and became one of the great benefactors of the human race. Focusing on Jenner's first vaccination, when he smeared the infected material from a maid's cowpox pustule into an open wound on the arm of an eight-year-old boy, the book lucidly explains several scientific concepts as well as covering a large amount of social history.

Brown's formula of a scientific thriller follows in the steps of such adult bestsellers as Longitude. He is slightly hampered by Jenner's relative certainty from an early stage that vaccination would work. James Phipps, the subject of the first vaccination, attended Jenner's uneral and was gifted a cottage in his will.

But the fight to eradicate this terrifying disease is exciting enough, especially when you look at the photograph of a victim covered in sores. Definitely one for the information shelves of the junior school and key stage 3 library, particularly when there is an inoculation programme.

The Bearwood Witch. Point (Scholastic) pound;4.99. The Wolf Sisters. Hodder Children's Books pound;12.99 hb, pound;4.99 pb. By Susan Price.

Susan Price loves guts and gore. Add a good dollop of gruesome magic and young people caught up in deeds beyond their comprehension, and you have a fine formula for page-turning horrors.

Price aims for Stephen King's aura of menace: she doesn't quite capture his knack of imbuing personalities with demonic echoes but she is convincing when she draws her central characters as half-formed adolescents torn between good and evil. Both these novels could be enjoyed by readers over 12.

In The Bearwood Witch, Duncan, a Big Issue seller recently redeemed from a life of youthful drunkenness by a born-again Christian experience, gets caught up in the unsavoury attempts of Zoe to bring her layabout boyfriend back from the dead.

Best is the witch, an impoverished but educated woman who lives in a down-at-heel terrace in inner-city Birmingham and makes fun of the usual patter of mediums and of Zoe's affection for her scallywag lost love. Worst, for a sceptical adult, is the blood-spattered battle between angels and demons.

The Wolf Sisters is a crisper account of a teenage boy in Saxon times who falls in with shape-changers and gets drawn into the conflict between Christians and pagans. A few passages are genuinely spine-chilling, but the narrative flows best when it details life in a monastery or a feast in the king's hall.

Victoria Neumark


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