Death but not despair

20th April 2001 at 01:00
Jacqueline Wilson writes so well about death and bereavement, effortlessly finding the right balance between humour and poignancy. We saw that at work in her last book for older readers, Vicky Angel. Here we see it again in The Cat Mummy (Doubleday pound;10.99), a tale for Year 4 and above.

Verity decides to embalm Mabel, her grandparents' dead cat, and store the "mummy" in her bedroom. She uses bath salts as a substitute for preservative and it isn't long before the putrid smell of decay becomes overpowering. With echoes of Morris Gleitzman's Water Wings (Puffin), a novel that features a dead guinea pig secretly stored in the family freezer, Verity sets up some amusing situations in her attempts to keep her secret.

In the end, Mabel has a proper burial and the book's conclusion draws attention back to Verity's mother, who died the day after Verity was born, and to Baby, a young kitten set to replace Mabel in the grandparents' home. There are strong hints, too, that Verity's dad and her teacher have become an item. Wilson does it again - economically and entertainingly embracing life's highs and lows.

In Five Weird Days At Aunt Carly's by Judy Allen (Walker Bookspound;3.99), Mike and his friend Scott are staying in London with a lively young woman who becomes very irritated by the two boys' inability to make up their minds about mundane matters, such as what to eat for breakfast and how to spend their days.

But Mike and Scott have ghosts on their minds. They are staying in a shed-like annexe and have seen a wig floating across the floor. The solution and resolution in this clever sequel to Seven Weird Days At Number 31 take the boys back to the Civil War. For Year 2 and above.

Sebastian's Quest by CA Jefferies (Chicken House pound;4.99) begins as a classic holiday-house yarn, with Jefferies setting up some strange experiences for his main character. The bathroom floor turns to sand; baby turtles arise from it and are immediately swooped on by seagulls. The bath becomes a vast tank and Sebastian has to swim the length of it, then try to pull himself up the plug chain. He calls for two friends to join him in what becomes an imaginative and engaging timeslip adventure for Year 4 and above, somewhat undermined by overly earnest dialogue.

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary school, Hailsham, East Sussex

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