Mystery and intrigue aplenty

25th June 2004 at 01:00
Adle Geras chooses strong stories for upper primary readers and above

The Summerhouse

By Alison Prince Walker Books pound;5.99

The Dark Ground

By Gillian Cross OUP pound;10.99

Colossus

By Lesley Howarth OUP pound;4.99

Lost and Found

By Valerie Mendes Simon amp; Schuster pound;5.99

Alison Prince has been writing excellent books for children for many years and has not been sufficiently appreciated. She can tackle every sort of story with great style, from family dramas to ghost stories, and her books for younger children are often enhanced by her own delightful illustrations.

Her latest novel, The Summerhouse, is of particular interest to teachers because the main thrust of the narrative concerns the cooperative writing of a story. At the heart of it is the professional writer, Stan, who is slightly mistrusted in the community as he is foreign (Polish) as well as being something of an irritable recluse. Some children from the local school make friends with him and together they fashion a story which is displayed to parents and teachers at the end of the novel.

The children are a mixed bunch, each one with their own history. They understand what Stan is trying to achieve and it is the mysterious misfit, Chokker, who brings magic to the tale in an unexpected way.

We are given two stories for the price of one: both the account of how the tale is collectively written and also what is being produced as the work progresses. The changes and amendments that the children come up with along the way are a model of how to redraft without going mad with boredom. This is a book full of wisdom about very many things from a writer who knows what she's talking about, and it's also a cracking good story.

Gillian Cross's new book, The Dark Ground, is the first part of a trilogy.

Robert finds himself in a jungle and has no memory of how he got there. The jungle is not all that it appears to be and there's great pleasure for the reader in deducing where it is and who it is exactly that Robert meets there. The struggle to find a way home is exciting and because it's the first part of a longer work, there are many adventures still to come.

In Colossus, Lesley Howarth takes us to Rhodes. Again, we have a story within a story, and deep in the inner tale there's yet another layer of narrative which relates to mythology. The beauty of the island is well described and the relationship between the brother and sister at the centre of the book is extremely well portrayed. There are bottom-pinching local youths and Greek gods; donkeys and a wonderful cat called Aristotle; and there's the Colossus himself in his myriad forms. This is the book to read if you wish to be transported to the Mediterranean without leaving your armchair.

Valerie Mendes has written a good and exciting book, Lost and Found, about three people who meet in and around Oxford. There's Daniel, living with foster carers across the road from his old house after his grandmother's death. Laura, a middle-aged woman he meets by accident, is also in mourning. Then a family moves into Daniel's old house and he's immediately drawn to Jade, the daughter, who spends much of her time caring for her younger brother Finn. But appearances can be deceptive and the plot twists and turns to its happy conclusion.

* Adle Geras' latest novel for young adults is Other Echoes (David Fickling Books)

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