Go buy the book

22nd December 2006 at 00:00
Reviews editor Geraldine Brennan chooses highlights from 2006

Anyone who knows children for whom reading is like wading through treacle may have tried to find a copy of Reads Like a Novel by Daniel Pennac.

This inspiring handbook on how to grow readers was first published in 1992 in France, with its first English translation long out of print. Its latestmass-market pocket paperback edition has a punchier title, The Rights of the Reader (Walker Books pound;6.99).

This highly accessible book is also a good stocking filler for adults who are more likely to find time for housework or the local gym than for books.

Daniel Pennac's bill of readers' rights includes: "The right to read anything", "The right to mistake a book for real life" and "The right not to read". It consists of the principles he established while teaching French literature to teenagers and as a parent. He now writes thrillers and children's novels.

In a foreword to the edition, Quentin Blake, the francophile and first children's laureate, compares the plight of the uncertain young reader in the English and French school systems. The "rather dry respect for arts and letters" in France is measured against "the withering effect" of our own mis-read demands for accountability: "not so much a respect for the subject as an urge to convert an elusive entity into something that can be tested".

Repeat Daniel Pennac's list of 10 rights until it is engraved on your heart, even if you have every right not to. To help you, download the list on a free poster (illustrated by Quentin Blake) at www.walkerbooks.co.ukdownloads.

The translator of this readable new edition is Sarah Adams. Those who enjoy her streetwise renderings of French texts had a treat last summer in Just Like Tomorrow, a clever but accessible and wryly funny novel for teens and adults by Faiza Gu ne (Random House DefinitionsJonathan Cape pound;5.99).

The tale of Doria, a 15-year-old French-Moroccan girl, her life with her abandoned mother on a grim estate outside Paris and her dreams for the future, has been shortlisted for the Marsh Award for children's literature in translation, a biennial award to be presented on January 23.

Sarah Adams won it last time around for her translation of Daniel Pennac's novel, The Eye of the Wolf.

Judging another book award, the Costa Children's Book of the Year, gave me an excuse to read more than 40 children's novels this summer.

Besides the four fine books that made it to our shortlist:Clay by David Almond, The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding, Set in Stone by Linda Newbery and Just in Case by Meg Rosoff), I relished Cliff McNish's chilly ghost story Breathe (Orion Children's Books pound;9.99), with its desolate vision of Limbo in the Nightmare Passage, and an odious Ghost Mother. Then I cried with laughter at Eoin Colfer's book Half Moon Investigations (Puffin pound;12.99), which is about an over-ambitious child detective.

Philip Reeve's novel for the same nine-plus age group, Larklight (Bloomsbury pound;12.99), is Christmas entertainment at its best. The subtitle "A tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space" gives you the drift: the charm of the historical storylines in Dr Who, a pair of adventurers in Victorian garb, villainous spiders and moths, superhero space pirates and witty etchings by David Wyatt.

To see you through the rest of the holiday, there's the whole of Philip Reeve's fantasy adventure quartet, which started five years ago with Mortal Engines and finished triumphantly this year with A Darkling Plain (Scholastic pound;6.99). His "traction cities" in the quartet show readers environmental disasters waiting to happen, and this year has seen a small forest-worth of books on changing the world andor reducing climate change.

Change the World 9 to 5, the follow-up to Change the World for a Fiver (Short Books pound;8.99) is a snappily designed blueprint for a greener and kinder office - or school - life. Painted on a bigger canvas is Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century, a marvellous compendium on how technology, communities and business brains are being harnessed for good.

Judith Levine describes in Not Buying It: My year without shopping (Bloomsbury pound;7.99) how the Christmas consumerfest spurred her to give up buying non-essentials for a year. Non-work-related books (much like her own) were on the banned list.

But if you get a lot of book tokens this Christmas, spend them on the facsimile of the 1660 Harmonia Macrocosmica (pictured left) by Andreas Cellarius (Taschen pound;69.99).

Take this remarkable, trail-blazing Renaissance depiction of the heavens to your school on the first day of term and show it to some children. You'll find it's worth every penny

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