Heroes and outlaws

11th February 2005 at 00:00
Jan Mark on fantasy and adventure stories for KS2

Big George and the Winter King By Eric Pringle, illustrated by Colin Payne Bloomsbury Children's Books pound;5.99

Measle and the Dragodon By Ian Ogilvy, illustrated by Chris Mould Oxford University Press pound;8.99

Happy Birthday Spider McDrew By Alan Durant, illustrated by Philip Hopman Collins Children's Books pound;3.99

The Green Men of Gressingham By Philip Ardagh, illustrated by Mike Phillips

Resistance By Ann Jungman, illustrated by Alan Marks

Tod and the Sand Pirates By Anthony Masters, illustrated by Harriet Buckley

Who's a Big Bully Then? By Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Joanna Carey Barrington Stoke 4u2read.ok pound;4.99 each

The Meanwhile Adventures By Roddy Doyle, iIllustrated by Brian Ajhar Scholastic Press pound;9.99 hardback

Unlike many series for children, Eric Pringle's Big George books are getting better and better, as past events become incorporated into the ongoing story. George was the first extra-terrestrial to visit England, arriving in the year 1103 from a planet where days and nights are rather longer than ours.

Concussed and amnesiac after a crash-landing, George was ready to go to sleep for 900 years (do the maths), but local events kept him awake for a few more Earth days. His new friends bedded him down beneath a man-made hill - gentle George is around 12 metres tall - but periodically his slumbers are disturbed and the hero sleeping under the hill rises again to defend the helpless and defeat evil-doers.

One thing that George has noticed about Earth is that those who seek power are the least fitted to hold it. What he does not know is that he has become a legend; he wakes in 1399 in time for an annual festival commemorating the mysterious giant who once appeared and freed the village from oppression, and may return when needed - as, indeed, he has.

Pringle makes some serious observations on the human condition, the humour less knockabout than before, and underlying it all is the melancholy of a man who knows that if he falls asleep he will wake to find the world changed and his friends gone for ever.

In their lairy plastic covers, Ian Ogilvy's Measle stories look frankly toxic but although there is plenty of stench and gunge on offer, Ogilvy is a good inventive storyteller who writes with an infectious enthusiasm.

Measle, briefly reunited with his parents after foiling the wrathmonk Basil Tramplebone, finds himself facing a whole conspiracy of wrathmonks, a weak bunch in thrall to a powerful Dragodon bent on world domination.

Few places look more desolate than a funfair in the rain, and this adventure takes place in a deserted theme park where it pours incessantly because wrathmonks attract small personal rainclouds. Accompanied by his faithful hound and pursued by rogue carousel horses, an army of hostile soft toys and an animated dinosaur from one of the rides, the dauntless Measle risks all to rescue his mother and defeat the Dragodon. Genuinely creepy at times, Measle and the Dragodon is illuminated with flashes of surreal humour.

Spider McDrew gives ideas due care and attention long after the rest of his volatile and vociferous class have moved on to something else. Perpetually out of sync with the others, he usually salvages some kind of triumph from the disastrous results of his daydreams, but when he sabotages his own birthday party by putting the wrong date on the invitations his anguish is heart-rending. Exasperating though he undoubtedly is, he is not the butt of the class and his friends rally round because they are honestly fond of him. In these simple stories, and in the preceding book, Spider McDrew, Alan Durant has created a really likeable and goodhearted hero.

Philip Ardagh's Green Men of Gressingham are a gang of forest outlaws who dress in brown as it doesn't show the dirt. Led by Robyn-in-the-Hat, they kidnap Tom Dashwood on his way to join his uncle's household as a page, intending to hold him to ransom. Tom is appalled to discover that his uncle is seen as a wicked oppressor and, deciding that there must be some mistake, escapes with the aid of a trusted retainer to uncover a fell plot, while Robyn and her men take the castle by stealth.

This cheery comedy is a "4u2read.ok" distilled from an original Barrington Stoke title to suit a reading age of under eight, with an interest age of 10 or above. In the same series are Ann Jungman's Resistance, a sombre tale of wartime Netherlands, Anthony Masters' Mad-Max-style adventure with heavy metal artwork, and Who's a Big Bully Then? by Michael Morpurgo, about a farm boy, his bull and his playground foes.

The Meanwhile Adventures by Roddy Doyle is attractively produced and illustrated, but so self-consciously wacky it is almost impossible to follow - and the large print makes it no easier to read.

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