Children's literature

12th April 1996 at 01:00
SKINNY MELON AND ME. By Jean Ure. Collins Pounds 8.99. MAD ABOUT THE BOY. By Mary Hooper. Walker Pounds 8.99. THE MAGNIFICENT TWO. By James Pope Andersen Press Pounds 9.99

Cinderella, as we know, did not have an easy time of it - shunned by her stepsisters, reviled by her stepmother and ignored by her father. When her fairy godmother arrived, Cinderella asked for a dress, a coach and a few horses. Too bad that she didn't realise that what she really wanted was to be put smack in the middle of a book written in 1996.

In this book Cinderella would be transformed from a waif who works from dawn to dusk into a teenager who never even seems to dry a dish. She would have all the clothes and stack-heeled sneakers a girl could want (glass slippers being somewhat passe). And, best of all, everyone - her stepmother, her stepsisters, her father - would worry about her. She is quite simply the star of the show.

Take 11-year-old Cherry Louise Waterton who lives in west London with her mother, Pat, and her stepfather Roland Butter ("one of the worst things about him is his name," she says). Her real father, Gregg, lives in Southampton with his new wife.

Cherry and her best friend, Skinny Melon, decide to keep diaries and the result is this inventive and funny book by Jean Ure. Cherry is a good diarist. Here, for instance, is what she thinks of Roland. "Mum says she wants me but how could she go and marry this creep if that was the case? He's really slimey [sic]. Look at him! Straggly hair and a beard and this long, droopy face like a damp dishcloth, and he's all freckled and gingery with white skin like a mushroom. Ugh! Whatever does Mum see in him?" And there you have the plot of Skinny Melon and Me, because the book aims to show us what Cherry's Mum - and eventually Cherry - sees in the man she calls Slimey. By the end, of course, he's not Slimey at all and his "weird" drawings (which provide visual gags throughout the book) turn out to be works of art. In fact he's far more attentive than Cherry's real father, who seems far too preoccupied with his job and new wife to attend to his daughter.

You don't have to go far into Mary Hooper's highly readable Mad About the Boy to see some similarities between Cherry and Joanna. Hooper's heroine may be older and like rock music more but she's none the wiser for Joanna's got the same problem by another name - Tatia, her father's new wife.

"I don't want to get to know her!" she tells her best friend. "The bits I know already I don't like. She dresses too young - she always looks as if she's bursting out of things. Her name's stupid." And we soon learn that she also has a son whom Joanna quickly labels The Boffin just as she decides to call her stepmother Tarty. Readers of teenage magazines can write the plot from here.

James Pope's The Magnificent Two is written for boys and at first glance Jeremy couldn't seem more different from Joanna or Cherry. He's a skinhead, resolutely working-class and lives on an inner-city estate. His mum works in a supermarket and his dad has moved out.

But suddenly Jeremy notices that it's not just him and his mum in the flat any more. Increasingly there is also Bob - an unemployed parks-and-gardens clerk - or as Jeremy calls him "Bob. Bo-b! Bob. Blob. Blobby Bobby." Despite the familiarity of the plot, this book is well-written and fast-paced with the added excitement of a robbery, the odd fist fight, a moral or two and a Star Trek convention.

Which brings us back to Cinderella. Beam her up, Scottie, to 1996 and she wouldn't be called Cinders at all. Instead, she would have found a terrible name to call her wicked stepmother. But then again, in 1996, it seems stepmothers (and stepfathers) aren't so wicked after all. At least not in these three excellent and useful books.

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