Children's fiction

6th July 2001 at 01:00
OXFORD READING TREE. Tree Tops Stage 16. Oxford University Press. pound;4 each (six for pound;23). Available from TES.Direct

Tree Tops aims to be a series of top quality fiction with built-in progression for pupils aged seven to 11. It succeeds admirably.

Paul Stewart's excellent Snowblind is an atmospheric eco-thriller. It handles complex themes - cloning, globalisation, tradition versus change - with a sure touch and credits its readers with intelligence. Some characters are lightly drawn, but the protagonist, Meg, is strong and thoughtful and the Arctic settings are effective.

Margaret McAllister's My Guinea Pig is Innocent is a pacy tale of bullying overcome with the help of a guinea pig - one used in medical experiments. Central character Joe, new kid on the block, is sympathetic but not prissy. Tim Archbold's vibrant illustrations enhance the text.

Another new kid in town is Albie, in Anna Perera's Lolly Woe, who wants to win a TV in a competition to collect 1,000 lolly sticks. He has to contend with his three-year-old, plastic pony-collecting sister, the intimidating Big Malco and Tash, the girl who might fancy him. Humour, well-defined characters and top-notch handling of the first boyfriendgirlfriend issue.

Jon Blake's One Girl School contains some great lines - "I don't kiss anybody, least of all relatives" - and some wonderfully gothic caricatures of teachers. The style is permeated with the appealing cynicism of a wily 11-year-old. Claire Funge's time-travelling, cliff-hanging, and tear-jerking Second World War mystery, The War Monkey, and Chris Powling's tale of superstition and football, The Million Pound Mascot, complete this collection for older primary readers. All are highly recommended.

Kevin Harcombe is head of Redlands primary school, Fareham, Hampshire

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