Feed the reading fever;Children's books

26th November 1999 at 00:00
Michael Thorn suggests some titles that will keep your young bookworms turned on to fiction

Most book prizes tend to go to picture books and to fiction of a certain vein for older children, with short fiction for seven to nine-year-olds and light-hearted entertainments for all ages suffering a degree of neglect. Selection of this type of book for the school or class library can be problematic, and very often depends on seeing what children choose to buy with their own money. Whatever disenchantment sets in at a later date, most children do pass through a stage of voracious reading at the rate of a book a day. Here are some suggestions for feeding the fever.

The proper term for novels in which the story is told by means of an exchange of letters is "epistolary". But Simone's Letters by Helena Pielichaty, illustrated on nearly every page by Sue Heap (Oxford University Press pound;5.99), is far too entertaining to be lumbered with such a highfalutin description.

Ten-year-old Simone has two correspondents. The first is Jem Cakebread, star of a touring theatre company. After Jem has become her mother's live-in partner, Simone confides in Chloe, with whom she has a decidedly hate-love relationship.

Wickedly perceptive about school life, the 10-year-old female psyche and parental separation, this is a laugh-out-loud, feel-good book for Years 4 to 6, written with a vivacious wit.

The Egg Thieves by Joan Lingard (Hodder pound;9.99) has a brilliantly cinematic and action-packed opening, as Lecky Grant tries recklessly to intercept a gang of osprey egg thieves in their getaway car. Schoolfriend Nora McPhee, whose father runs the village post office, has an idea who the suspect is. A superb adventure story for Years 2 to 4 with illustrations by Paul Howard. Janet Burchett and Sara Vogler, a writing team, specialise in comic chapter books. Their new creation is Mabel Muttley, a handbag-swinging 109-year-old who has gone back to school. In one of four opening titles, The Oldest Ringer In Town (Bloomsbury pound;3.99), she joins Mr Dibble's Year 5 class, where she finishes the numeracy hour in 10 minutes and spends the rest of the time polishing her abacus and tidying her handbag. A councillor's plan to cheat the school out of hidden treasure is foiled when Mabel brings her acrobatic bell-ringing technique into play.

For newly independent readers who still like a high level of illustration, try Damon Burnard's latest Bullysaurus title, Bullysaurus and the Alien (Hodder pound;3.50). Chapter One is told entirely in comic strip. Thereafter, illustration and text are evenly distributed. Bully and dinosaur friends Dolores, Theo and Dinah set out on an expedition to try and find a falling star. They discover, instead, a stranded and initially obstreperous alien called Zooble, who enlists their help in rebuilding his spaceship.

Animal series are spawned with scant regard for any mating season, and the gestation period often appears to have been extremely brief. The Animal Stars tales by Narinder Dhami (Hodder pound;3.50 each) make the most of a fresh angle. Kim Miller's parents are agents who provide and train animals for media work. In Harry's Starring Role the family Jack Russell is cast in a TV cop series; Casper in the Spotlight sees a golden retriever get a part in a soap. In each story, Kim comes to the rescue when the dog is in danger of being written out.

It's Not My Fault by Bel Mooney (Mammoth pound;3.99) is the eleventh collection of tales about troublesome Kitty, now aged eight. These books offer a good-humoured insight into the way adults and children interact in well-adjusted households, during both good times and bad. In the final story, "It's Not My Fault . . . that the stars are out of reach", Kitty has to react to the death of her grandmother.

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

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