Magic psyches

26th May 2006 at 01:00
A VERY MESSY INSPECTION: Piccolo and Annabelle Volume One. By Stephen Axelsen. Oxford University Press pound;6.99

THE TRIMONI TWINS AND THE SUNKEN TREASURE. By Pam Smallcomb. Bloomsbury Pounds 4.99

AVRIL CRUMP AND THE LUCKY 13. By Angela Woolfe. Egmont pound;5.99

THE MAKING OF MAY. By Gwyneth Rees. Macmillan pound;7.99

HUGO PEPPER. By Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell Doubleday pound;8.99

Fiona Lafferty spots fiction to enthuse upper primary pupils

When readers in the 9 to 11 age range find something they like, they are keen to read more of the same. Competition among publishers to hook these readers early is fierce, hence the ever-increasing number of trilogies and series.

A Very Messy Inspection, the first in a trilogy already published in Australia, is produced in the increasingly popular small hardback format pioneered in A Series of Unfortunate Events. The illustrative style, and the opening paragraph, in which we learn that the young protagonist Piccolo Grande has lived all alone in his big family house since his parents went missing in the tropics, make it look and feel even more like Lemony Snicket.

The similarity ends with the arrival of a small, breathless lady with wild hair (think a diminutive Miriam Margolyes), who turns out to be Annabelle, Piccolo's Guardian Angel. She is far less competent at looking after him than he is: indeed, she needs his help to pass her imminent Angel Inspection.

This is an affectionate and amusing introduction to an endearingly quirky double act and readers will be delighted that Volumes 2 and 3 are to follow hot on its heels.

More magic and mayhem in The Trimoni Twins and the Sunken Treasure, the second adventure of the twins from the Trimoni Circus.

They are visiting Amsterdam with their tutor Hector, whose Uncle Hoogaboom needs help to track down family treasure. While there, the twins are to perform their marvellous magic act in which they change people and animals into other forms with their magic "Changing Coin". It transpires that Hoogaboom has a similar "Shrinking Coin", which becomes the key to finding the missing treasure. When someone mentions a third "Mind-Reading Coin", I feel another book coming on.

Avril Crump and the Lucky 13 is the third book about a wacky trio of clones -Eddy, Bonaparte and Augustus the dog - and their eccentric saviour, scientist Avril Crump. At the end of the second book, Eddy discovered that the hitherto evil Professor Gideon Blut (the clones' creator) was really her genetic father and, unbeknown to Avril, she saved his life.

Eddy longs to be part of a proper family and is keen to believe that Gideon genuinely wants her to live with him. Needless to say, he is up to his old tricks and intends to use his latest invention to import qualities from other children into Eddy to make her the perfect child. Fans should expect more of the same fast-moving, madcap ingenuity, gadgets galore and earth-shattering explosions.

Gwyneth Rees can tap into the psyche of pre-teen girls. Her younger books, Fairy DustMagicTreasure, have built up a following of seven to nine-year-old fans to progress naturally to her longer novels, of which The Making of May is one. Orphan May, or Mary, lives with her much older half-brother and sister, Louise and Ben. When Louise goes travelling for a year with her boyfriend, Ben thinks that he and Mary need a change too, and gets a job as a gardener in a big house, which comes with a cottage to live in. Mary, whose heroine is Mary in The Secret Garden, is delighted when she gets the chance to restore a neglected walled garden to its former glory with the owner's son. And there is the mystery of the light in the old tower to solve. There are underlying issues of loyalty, responsibility and the baggage of family life that make this a more thought-provoking story than it first appears.

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell have created the perfect vehicle for capturing young fans in the Far-Flung Adventures series, which has all the wit, spark, fast-moving narrative and illustrative style of The Edge Chronicles.

This third Far-Flung Adventure, another beautiful creation, features 10-year-old Hugo Pepper, who was been brought up by a two reindeer herders, Harvi and Sarvi Runter-Tun-Tun, since his parents were eaten by polar bears. He arrives in the strange town of Harbour Heights where everyone seems to be bizarrely connected. His unique family history gradually unfolds in a series of skilfully written and magically interwoven tales.

Fiona Lafferty is librarian at St Swithun's Junior School, Winchester

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