Dealing with matters of life and death

23rd March 2001 at 00:00
Allen Ahlberg turns to questions of death and whether there is life afterwards - key concerns for children - in My Brother's Ghost, now available in paperback (Puffin pound;3.99). In this story for mature readers in Year 4 and above, Frances Fogarty, disabled by poverty, is protected by the angelic presence of her brother Tom, killed in a road accident.

Annie Dalton tackles the same material of young life cut short in Winging it, the first in a new series for the same age group called Angels Unlimited (Collins Children's Books pound;3.99 each). Melanie, "snuffed out" in her prime "by some sad kid in a stolen car", is an angel trouble-maker, an unlikely contender for a halo who can't quite relinquish her passion for makeovers and shopping. Dalton's prose is sharp and witty with definite girl-appeal and, if you can cope with the archangel being referred to as "Mike", this series provides an entertaining pathway into some challenging issues.

In Brian Jacques' latest novel, an innocent cabin boy who loses his life through the wickedness of others returns as a time-travelling troubleshooter. Jacques made his name with Redwall, the series which casts animal characters in a quasi-medieval world of pitched battles between opposing forces of good and evil. However, Jacques' fanatical followers are well rewarded by Castaways of the Flying Dutchman (Viking pound;12.99), the author's first significant departure from the Redwall teme, which should appeal to fans aged nine and above.

The legend of the Flying Dutchman and its mad captain, doomed to sail the seas forever, is centuries old. But what of the young boy and his dog, trapped and abused on that wicked ship that went down so needlessly off the coast of Cape Horn? Jacques has used his formidable imaginative powers to create a new narrative of never-ending journey, but one that is blessed. Neb and his dog Denmark are transformed into peaceable, astute and wily avenging angels, ranging through time and space to help those in difficulty.

This is a poignant story: mystery and fantasy combined in an emotionally charged epic with some classic Jacques hallmarks - poetic passages, warm humour and mouth-watering descriptions of food. Like all of his books, readers will long to devour it in one sitting.

A darker swipe at the afterlife in Eoin Colfer's The Wish List (The O'Brien Press pound;4.99), is a battle between Lucifer and St Peter for the soul of Meg, a 14-year-old killed at pensioner Lowrie McCall's home during a burglary in which she is a reluctant accomplice.

Meg's fate is in the balance between heaven and hell and to escape the fiery furnace she returns to her former life in ghostly form to make amends to McCall - no easy task. A gritty, thoroughly engaging tale of life and death embellished with bucketloads of black humour to appeal to top primary readers.

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