Children's Literature

19th May 1995 at 01:00
. By Andrew Matthews. Illustrated by Andre Amstutz.CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT. 1 85213 778 9. CACTUS BOYS. 1 85213 779 7. GALACTACUS THE AWESOME. 1 85213 780 0. PURPLE PRAWN 1 85213 781 9. Orchard Books Pounds 6.99 each.

PICCADILLY PIPS series. PRESS PLAY. By Anne Fine. 1 85340 202 8. A WORM'S EYE VIEW. By Jan Mark. 1 85340 292 3. Piccadilly Press Pounds 3.99 each

FIRST YOUNG PUFFIN series. THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING HIPPO. By Stephanie Baudet. 0 14 037072 2. BLESSU. By Dick King-Smith. 0 14 037373. X. DUMPLING. By Dick King Smith. 0 14 037374 8. Puffin Pounds 2.99 each

ANIMAL ARK series. By Lucy Daniels. LAMB IN THE LAUNDRY 0 340 61932 5. BUNNIES IN THE BATHROOM. 0 340 61933 3. Hodder Pounds 2.99 each

Graveyard School series. By Tom B Stone. THE HEADLESS RIDER 0 340 636947.Deadly Dinners 0 340 63693 9. Hodder Pounds 1.99 each

Andrew Matthews' Baddies are posturing poseurs of one kind or another in enjoyable pastiches of archetypal villains.

Galactacus, the Awesome, an overbearing space giant, is outwitted by young Sam Brassworthy in good fairytale tradition. Other genres provide the settings for Abel Thinscratch, pirate captain in The Purple Prawn, and for The Cactus Boys, and Captain Midnight. Using the conventions and language of all such tales, the stories fairly zip along with a humour and verve that will appeal to children and adults. They cry out to be read aloud.

The characters have a healthy line in self-parody. A scene at The Withered Weasel inn, when a highwayman climbs to the casement window to see Polly, his raven-haired beloved, might have Alfred Noyes turning in his grave but would not be out of place in Blackadder. The writing is full of lively similes and bursts of alliteration - "Mouldy mizzen-masts! That's scuppered my schemes of skullduggery!" - as well as surprise twists and the sort of jokes that can have an adult laughing out loud and children rolling in the aisles.

Piccadilly Pips is a new series for younger readers of six plus years and if the first two set the standard, they deserve to be very successful. Both feature children in family life, with a younger cousin or brother as a catalyst for some fine touches of humour.

A Worm's Eye View, by Jan Mark, is set on the family allotment where the temperamental young David "plants" just about anything he can lay his hands on, including his uncle's money and keys. In his imagination, and ours, stones will grow into mountains, keys into trees. It falls to Alice and Tom, after putting up with their cousin all afternoon, to make sense of his baby-talk and find the buried keys.

In Anne Fine's Press Play, Tasha and Nicky are obliged to get themselves and Little Joe ready for school in the morning. Mother has had to leave early for work and has recorded detailed instructions on tape. Father is sleeping after his night shift and must not be woken. With a baby brother like Joe even the simplest tasks can become fraught, and there are plenty of laughs in situations with which many children will identify.

First Young Puffins are full-colour illustrated paperback stories for very young readers. Of the six attractive books by various authors, perhaps the best is The Incredible Shrinking Hippo, by Stephanie Baudet. Simon finds a hippo and wants to keep it. The main problem is that although he knows how to make it shrink, he has no control over when it will suddenly grow back to normal size. Dick King-Smith also has two stories in this series, of which Blessu, the elephant who has hay fever, is very appealing. All these books will enhance any beginner reader's library.

There are now 12 books in The Animal Ark series, by Lucy Daniels, each with an alliterative title - Lamb in the Laundry, Bunnies in the Bathroom, and Piglet in a Playpen. It is tempting to parody this list - Lemming down the Loo, Mice in the Microwave - just to escape its cosiness. The stories are about Mandy, adopted daughter of the village vets, her friend James, and their adventures with animals. This is a world of happy endings, where people help each other, and where locals fight against health cuts in a campaign to save the cottage hospital - and win. All Creatures Great and Small meets Enid Blyton, but the stories have pace and should appeal to 9 to 11 year olds who enjoy animal tales.

The Graveyard School series, by Tom B Stone (geddit?) will grab children's attention by their titles alone. What a pity the American spellings were not changed for the English editions. There are some reasonably good stories, if only they were better written. There must be worthier American products than these to let loose on unsuspecting British school children.

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