Chocs away

25th February 2000 at 00:00
Michael Thorn gets his sweet tooth into titles for younger readers.

With Easter not too far away, Patrick Skene Catling's cautionary tales about chocolate gluttony make entertaining and timely reading. The Chocolate Touch (above) and Chocolate Magic have been reissued by Mammoth at pound;3.99 each. In the first story, John Midas is taught the same kind of lesson as his mythical namesake, when everything he touches turns to chocolate - a skill that is soon transformed from a delight into a social liability. In the second book, it is John's sister Mary's turn to be given the chocolate touch.

The two books retain their original illustrations. Those who read both may be disconcerted by the differing representations of the mysterious, white-haired old man who controls the magic, and the difference in typesetting, but Catling's narrative style is consistently easy and urbane.

The Minton picture book series from the Australian author-illustrator team Anna Fienberg and Kim Gamble would provide entertaining support for infant work on transport. Titles include Minton Goes Driving and Minton Goes Trucking (Allen amp; Unwin pound;5.99 each). There is even a design and technology angle: the final page of each book provides Blue Peter-style instructions for making the car or truck (other titles in the series feature a boat and a plane) that Minton the salamander makes in the preceding story.

Tashi and the Demons (Allen amp; Unwin pound;4.50) is the first in a series of six short fantasy adventures for newly independent readers, from the same team collaborating with Fienberg's mother, Barbara. Tashi is an imaginary and highly imaginative impish friend. Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, who are responsible for The Edge Chronicles (fantasy novels for older primary children), have now come up with The Bobheads, a richly inventive and lucidly written new series for confident young readers. In one of the first titles, Invasion of the Blobs (Macmillan pound;2.99), three Blobs from outer space arrive at Billy's house, via the toilet bowl, on a mission to collect the Most High Emperor, who turns out to be Billy's baby brother, Silas. When Billy refuses to part with him, the Blobs make a duplicate, but the cloning machine gets stuck and soon the house is swarming with Silases.

The Hilltop Hospital picture books by Nicholas Allan (Red Fox pound;2.99 each), illustrated with stills from the latex-model-animation series screened on CITV, make perfect read-alouds for Reception and Year 1, appealing to children weaned on soap operas, and containing a satisfying level of sardonic adult humour for those doing the reading aloud. Nicholas Allan proves himself capable of creating a self-contained world similar to that of Andy Pandy or Postman Pat, in which the real world is reflected but with a surreal shift of perspective. In Happy Birthday, Dr Matthews (below), a killjoy left in charge bans biscuits from the staffroom, and in Heart Trouble at Hilltop a new heart is delivered to the hospital with the comment, "'Ere it is, fresh as a fish" and Clare, the lab mouse, responds, "What a beaut!" In Alan Durant's latest Creepe Hall title, Creepe Hall Forever! (Walker pound;7.99, above) Oliver finds that his Uncle Vladimir is away at a mortician's convention and that the Hall has been taken over by the horrible Uncle Sylvester and Aunt Lupina, together with their even more horrible son Horace. The guests are making the life of Mummy (a male butler) a misery. Finally, Oliver, assisted by Tiddles, Uncle Franklin's robotic pet, takes it upon himself to engineer their removal. For confident readers in Years 2 to 4.

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