Glittering prizes

4th December 1998 at 00:00
End-of-term rewards and prizes have to live up to expectations. Adults might feel like the fairy on top of the tree - strung up and overheated - but children turn into shooting stars, lit up with anticipation. Fortunately there are plenty of enticing and budget-friendly books about.

The Puffin Sci-Fi Book Bags (Pounds 3.99 each) are suitably crinkly, crackly and colourful, giant foil "crisp packets" with names like The Incredible Shrinking Person Bag and The Bizarre Body Bag. Each one contains a lucky-bag assortment of goodies of surprising quality, such as alien-head pencil tops, postcards, game cards, pens - and books. Authors including Dick King-Smith, Gillian Cross, Jeremy Strong and Allan Ahlberg have produced well-crafted stories.

King-Smith's Creepy Creatures, for example, offers two curious and witty tales of confrontation: in the first Debbie meets a pig-sized, sausage-shaped carnivorous alien in her garden; in the second a young yeti confronts a climber on Mount Everest.

Christmas can provide opportunities for spellbinding storytelling, and any one of Scholastic's Magic Beans - concise retellings of traditional tales at Pounds 1 each - would fit the bill. Top writers including Alan Garner, Henrietta Branford, Philip Pullman, Anne Fine and Michael Morpurgo, and illustrators including Michael Foreman, Debi Gliori, Nick Sharratt and James Mayhew were asked to enliven their favourite tale. The result is 13 books resonating with powerful language and highly evocative illustrations, which beg to be read aloud.

Despite the low price tag, Scholastic has not stinted on care and creativity. These muscular, energetic stories such as Pullman's Mossycoat (his adaptation of "Cinderella") or Fine's The Twelve Dancing Princesses will no doubt be well-thumbed collectors' items.

The new Activators titles from Hodder (Pounds 3.99 each) would suit older primary children of a more practical nature. Drawing, Computers Unlimited and Swimming are succinct, well-designed guides, fun and unpatronising. Computers Unlimited is delightfully free of jargon, though it requires a degree of reading fluency, and provides a sensible range of suggestions for laying out newsletters and letterheads, for simple graphic and electronic imaging, for tackling spreadsheets, creating a website and looking at the possibilities of multimedia. You don't have to be a nerd to understand this one.

Dorling Kindersley's 100th Eyewitness Guide title is Future (Pounds 9. 99), an absorbing book for any older child or young teenager concerned about life beyond the millennium: golden age or disaster? It pinpoints current debates about likely advances in information technology, genetic engineering, space exploration, transport, the environment, domestic and architectural design and the virtual world.

The Usborne Book of Puzzle Journeys (Pounds 7.99) would keep a young fluent reader with an inquisitive mind engaged for a few hours. In three adventure stories, children find old coins and artefacts which have powers to unlock paths around the globe, through space and through time. The book is full of incidental geographical and historical facts, while readers are drawn into the journeys through a series of questions. Even when children have solved the riddles, they will want to return to the stories.

Finally, those looking for books specifically about Christmas could do worse than We Three Kings... (Macmillan Pounds 2.99) a Brian Moses anthology of short, deliciously recitable poems, from the hilarious to the poignant, jauntily illustrated by Giles Pilbrow.

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