Happy returns in time

12th November 2004 at 00:00
Fiona Lafferty reviews key stage 2 fiction by established authors

Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society By Adeline Yen Mah Puffin, pound;5.99

At the Firefly Gate By Linda Newbery Orion Children's Books, pound;7.99

The Historical House series: Lizzie's Wish by Adele Geras; Polly's March by Linda Newbery; Josie Under Fire by Ann Turnbull Usborne pound;4.99 each

Marshmallow Magic and the Wild Rose Rouge By Karen McCombie Scholastic Press pound;9.99

The Little Gentleman By Philippa Pearce Puffin pound;9.99

Cloud Busting By Malorie Blackman Doubleday pound;7.99

Chinese Cinderella, Adeline Yen Mah's moving children's edition of her best-selling autobiography Falling Leaves, was enormously popular, particularly among girls. Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society, is a kind of sequel, but, she stresses, not autobiographical.

Chinese Cinderella, now CC, is thrown out by her father and rescued by Grandma Wu and her Martial Arts Academy, where CC teams up with three orphaned boys and learns kung fu. The incredible adventure that follows is based on an incident that took place in China during the Second World War.

A fascinating, exciting, and utterly compelling story which shares the beautiful prose style of Chinese Cinderella.

Linda Newbery's At the Firefly Gate is also set during the Second World War, but in England. On his first night in a new house Henry sees a man standing by the gate from his bedroom window. When he looks again, he has gone. Next-door-neighbour, great-aunt Dottie, takes a liking to Henry and through their many conversations over Scrabble tells him how she fell in love with a young pilot, another Henry, who failed to return from his last mission. Henry feels that Dottie's Henry is trying to get a message to Dottie through him. The haunting story is satisfyingly pieced together and lingers in the mind. Both books should appeal equally to boys and girls aged nine to 11.

Linda Newbery is one of three established authors who have created the Historical House series, which looks at the lives of the inhabitants of a house in Chelsea during three periods in history. Ad le Geras kicks off the story in 1857 with Lizzie visiting her cousins in London, the elder of whom has been inspired by Florence Nightingale. By 1914 the house is divided into flats and Linda Newbery takes up the story with Polly befriending a couple of suffragettes who move in. The final story is set in 1941, when Ann Turnbull's heroine Josie is staying with her cousins to escape being ostracised when her brother Ted becomes a conscientious objector.

All three books stand alone, but girls of eight to 11 will want to read them all and will enjoy the historical detail in each.

Karen McCombie hits the right tone for girls of 10 and above with Marshmallow Magic and the Wild Rose Rouge, in which Lemmie has her own way of warding off "bad things" with "marshmallow magic". Her older sister has helped her cope with a bully at her primary school, but now she has moved house she is free of all that. Then the dreadful Sian turns up at her new school and threatens to ruin her new life. Fans of Jacqueline Wilson will love this.

Philippa Pearce has appeared from retirement with The Little Gentleman, a joyous, beautifully written little book about a talking mole. When Mr Franklin asks Bet to read aloud for him in the meadow, she is astonished when a mole appears and starts conversing with her. He is bewitched and is, in fact, 300 years old (he was the mole that caused William III's horse to stumble and the king to fall to his death - a lovely joke). Bet's friendship with the creature eventually allows her to free him from the spell.

This has the feel of a classic from the start, and will be enjoyed by Year 3 and above.

Malorie Blackman's new novel Cloud Busting is unlike anything else she has written. Each chapter employs a different style of verse - haiku, limericks, shape poems and free verse - to tell Sam's story of his complicated relationship with oddball Davey and a shocking incident of bullying. It is funny and poignant, and Blackman's use of language is wonderfully economic. This is a masterpiece of writing and a book for all ages.

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