Children's literature Monstrous doings

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
In her last review for The TES, the late Jan Mark selects fantasy adventure and comedy for upper primary readers

The Edge Chronicles series

The Winter Knights By Paul Stewart, illustrated by Chris Riddell. Doubleday pound;12.99

The Return of Death Eric By Sam Llewellyn. Puffin pound;4.99

Horrendous Habits By Philip Ardagh, illustrated by David Roberts. Faber Pounds 7.99 Nelly the Monster Sitter series

Grerks, Squurms and Water Greeps; Cowcumbers, Pipplewaks and Altigators; Huffaluks, Muggots and Thermitts By Kes Gray, illustrated by Stephen Hanson. Hodder pound;4.99

F.E.A.R. Adventures series The Spy Master; The Emerald Pirate; The Space Plague By Jak Shadow.

Wizard Books pound;4.99 each

Climate change has come to the Edge. Plunging temperatures render the floating rocks unstable and energy sources are depleted. A deluded leader with a dodgy dossier sends gallant warriors voyaging into disaster while opportunists stage a right-wing coup. Whatever can the authors be thinking of?

Devoted followers of the Edge Chronicles will know exactly where they are in this eighth episode, as Quint Verginix, son of a sky-pirate captain, unites with friends and fellow students to defeat the enemy within and the threat from without, their exploits vividly illustrated in Chris Riddell's exquisite line drawings. These, with their vertiginous feats of engineering peopled by a bestiary of grotesques, leave Paul Stewart to tell his involving story in good straightforward prose, free of the humourless bombast that renders so much fantasy intensely irritating to all but its besotted fans.

In Sam Llewellyn's comic novel, Death Eric, heaviest of heavy-metal bands, blasted off into retirement long ago. Other members have found gainful and fulfilling employment in grass-cutting and dried fish, but Eric himself has been living comfortably off royalties with his offspring, Lulubelle Flower Fairy and Living Buddha.

When the money runs out and the manager runs off, the children, madly named but severely sensible, know that the only answer is to get the band back on the road with the assistance of Enid the roadie, but Eric's deep-fried brains are suffering from rocker's block. Apparently inspired by long exposure to the frolics at the Osbournes' lovely home and about as subtle as Kerrang! magazine, Death Eric becomes faintly exhausting after a while - but probably not if you are, like Lulubelle Flower Fairy and Living Buddha, "between 10 and 13 years old", even if some of the jokes whizz straight over your head.

In the same manic vein, Philip Ardagh's Horrendous Habits, the second instalment of Eddie Dickens's further adventures, picks up where the last one apparently left off, or imploded, finding our hero suffering from amnesia and being cared for by kindly monks while various acts of assault and battery break out back home at Awful End. Acquaintance with the previous book might be an advantage, but newcomers will no doubt be instantly addicted. Plot summary is fairly pointless, since the plot occupies about 10 pages. The rest is taken up by authorial interventions ranging from commenting on the illustrator's performance to pointing out typographical errors - although I spotted one he missed: page 141. Not recommended for unconfident readers: a moment's inattention can leave one badly disoriented.

Since the world is clearly infested with monsters why, Nelly wonders, do you never meet any? Simple, her dad points out. They never go anywhere because they can't find babysitters. Public-spirited Nelly recognises a niche; she will specialise in caring for baby monsters so their parents can get out more. Parent monsters are a civilised bunch and the children are generally nicely-brought up, much better company than Nelly's annoying twin sister, although she finds it difficult to tell sufficiently scary bedtime stories to the aristocratic Muggots' giant larvae. Good-natured, entertaining and, with three monster encounters in each substantial book, an extremely good value series.

Wizard Books have reissued all the interactive Fighting Fantasy titles which enthralled in the 1980s (their co-creator Ian Livingstone recently received an OBE) and then went the way of all crazes. No reason why contemporary children, weaned on computer games, shouldn't be similarly hooked, and slightly younger or less accomplished readers can cut their teeth on this new interactive series. The reader takes the role of F.E.A.R.

(Fighting Evil, Always Ready), devoted to the pursuit of Triton, a warty greenish alien with the usual megalomaniac ambitions of cosmic domination.

Triton is rubbish at disguise - he looks exactly the same whether he dresses as a pirate or spaceman - but he can travel through time which means lively historical shenanigans for the reader (set in 1999, for example). One more book to follow later this year.

* Jan Mark died aged 62 on January 15. See Friday magazine, January 27, for an appreciation of her work

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