Life's big questions
Death, nostalgia and the fear and pain of growing up are given an airing in three novels for older, confident readers. The Frog Castle by Jostein Gaarder (Orion Children's Books pound;10.99) sees the author of Sophie's World again getting to the heart of life's big questions in an inventive yet outstandingly simple text, in which Gregory Peggory's adventure one snowy, moonlit night helps him come to terms with his father's death. In Winter Wolf (Mammoth pound;3.99), Lynne Markham describes how a boy's conjuring of a silvery wolf helps him through the anxious nights as he ponders his mother's illness. And in Dick King-Smith's forthcoing new novel, The Roundhill (Viking pound;10.99), Evan is confronted with the spirit of place and the ghosts of the past when he meets the young Alice Liddell (the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's Alice) in his favourite haunt: the top of the roundhill near his parents' home. Dick King-Smith's understanding of nature and landscape make this a compelling read.
On a lighter, wackier note, Vinegar Street by Philip Ridley (Puffin pound;3.99) describes the struggle of 12-year-old Poppy, an eccentric, headstrong girl, to rescue her street from a facelift. This novel is a tonic for children sceptical of the prevailing ethos that it's just appearances that matter.