More news from the knife-edge

27th July 2001 at 01:00
Fiona Lafferty finds absorbing short novels for older primary readers

JOEY PIGZA LOSES CONTROL. By Jack Gantos. Illustrated by Neal Layton. Corgi Yearling pound;4.99. TESDirect pound;3.99.

DEFENDERS. By Paul May. Corgi Yearling pound;4.99. TESDirect pound;3.99.

THE GHOST PERSON. By Ruth Dowley. Andersen Press pound;4.99. TESDirect pound;3.99.

THE GHOST OF GLENMELLISH. By Pat Gerber. Illustrated by Sue Gerber. Kailyards Press pound;5.50.

BENEATH BURNING MOUNTAIN. By Theresa Tomlinson. Illustrations by George Walker. Red Fox pound;3.99. TESDirect pound;3.49.

Joey, who suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was introduced last year in Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. Jack Gantos portrayed his problems with a wit and pathos that left readers of 10 and above eager for more. In this sequel, Joey's condition is kept more or less under control by medication dispensed on patches when he goes to stay with his estranged father for the summer.

Joey has been warned that his father is just a bigger version of himself, but nothing could prepare him for the reality. His dad decides that Joey should try to face life without medication and flushes his patches away. Gantos creates scenes of comic genius as Joey "goes it alone".

As the tension builds, the reader is on the knife-edge with Joey. Again, the plot's undercurrents focus attention on the family's situation with compassion. Joey is an endearing character who should run and run.

Defenders focuses on the "beautiful game". Chris is outraged when he is made to play in defence instead of his usual high-profile position as striker. His wilful behaviour almost costs him his place on the team, before he learns to step back and see another point of view.

In between the action-packed soccer games, the characters have other lives. Underlying issues such as friendship, ambition and self-esteem make this an engaging story likely to appeal to football-crazed boys of eight and over.

Ghosts are central to the next two stories. In The Ghost Person, Rosamund and Sam move into a haunted medieval manor house with their mother and new stepfather, Richard. Rosamund discovers that the experiences of the ghost of a Tudor Rosamund, who was under pressure to marry a man she did not want to, disturbingly echo her own situation. As Rosamund unravels the ghost's story, her stepfather's inappropriate and unwelcome attention increases. But Richard is never more than a two-dimensional character, and once he assaults Rosamund the story falls apart. The ending is abrupt and unconvincing.

The Ghost of Glenmellish is more satisfying. Annie and her parents have taken over a Scottish museum of country life, which recreates existence in an old farming community. The ghost of Jock is desperate to know what became of his mother after the eviction of his family during the Highland Clearances. Annie's school research into old clans neatly links present with past and is the basis for an idea that secures the funding the museum needs.

Nine to 11-year-olds will get a flavour of life in the Highlands in the 18th century, but those south of the border would have benefited from a glossary.

Theresa Tomlinson shows how deeply absorbing the historical novel can be. In Beneath Burning Mountain she creates a window through which the reader can observe an early-19th-century community in north-east England, dependent for a living on the alum works. When a landslide destroys the little they have, one family is forced to seek refuge in Whitby. It is a miniature masterpiece that will ensure that this tiny slice of history stays in the minds of nine to 12-year-olds.

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