Sand, sea and pyromaniacs

17th August 2007 at 01:00
Michael Thorn chooses fiction to keep primary children reading through the holidays

Potential readers of Sam Llewellyn's seafaring adventure may be stuck at home watching foul weather out of the window, or relaxing after a day's fun at the beach. Either way, they will enjoy Eye Of The Cannon (Catnip pound;5.99), a good historical yarn set on the ocean waves in the early 19th century, during a naval war between England and France.

As well as being a children's author, Llewellyn writes for yachting and sailing magazines, so readers of this reissued novel will have no trouble suspending disbelief as they follow the adventures of Kate, a girl who gets aboard a naval vessel on account of mistaken identity, and has to disguise herself as a boy.

The Trouble With Wenlocks, A Stanley Wells Mystery (Doubleday pound;7.99), the first children's novel by picture book artist, Joel Stewart, is a small book with widely spaced lines. Written in a simple, accessible style, it nevertheless has a sufficiently philosophical patina to satisfy older as well as younger readers.

While on the train to visit his father, Stanley, a thoughtful soul who meditates about stepping into a parallel universe, is saved from a sadness inducing wenlock by the intervention of a strange pipe-smoking character called Dr Moon.

From that moment the story becomes a surreal fable about sorrow and how to deal with it. It may be a touch maudlin for the holidays, but can be recommended for any sensitive, discriminating reader looking for a book to fit the mood of a dull gloomy day.

Operation Ward Ten, a second anarchic Agatha Bilke adventure by Sian Pattenden (Short Books pound;5.99), is bright and amusing, and it's a very satisfying follow-on to The Awful Tale of Agatha Bilke, shortlisted for several awards. Pyromaniac Agatha (normally unscathed by the fires she lights deliberately) is admitted to hospital after accidentally setting fire to herself with hairspray in an opening scene that sets the tone for the tale.

The mood of this book may be different from Stewart's but there's still plenty of room for philosophical asides and it's these, as much as the madcap story, that give the book its frisson: "Having no brain is not a problem there are lots of stupid people who are very happy and contribute to society in a very positive way".

Shipley Manor by Tim Walker (Faber pound;6.99) is an impressively fluent debut, with colourful, larger-than-life characters.

The manor of the title is owned by an eccentric old sea captain, who has a big beard trimmed into the shape of South America. Under his care, the manor and its grounds have become a delightfully ramshackle paradise for young people. But as soon as Tom enters the domain, a pair of business fiends conspire to have the place condemned, so that they can acquire it for their own ends. One of these, Venetia Pike, is an especially vivid villain. Very good read aloud material.

In Thanks For Telling Me, Emily (Orchard Books pound;9.99) by Deirdre Madden, the big house is a castle and its owner the villain. It is sufficient recommendation for this charming novel for seven to nine-year-olds to say that it stands comparison with the best of Dick King-Smith.

Readers at the top end of primary school will enjoy The Geek, the Greek and the Pimpernel (Orchard Books pound;5.99) by Will Gatti. It may not earn the approval of teachers trying to devise transition projects in its presentation of secondary school as a place ruled by "monsters, maniacs and muggers", but it is adroitly constructed, with realistic dialogue. Although its characters are in their final year at secondary, this is Demon Headmaster material rather than teen fiction, very much aimed at readers of 10 and above.

Caroline Lawrence's Trimalchio's Feast and other Mini-Mysteries (Orion Pounds 6.99) is primarily aimed at existing fans of the Roman Mysteries series, eager to fill out unexplained gaps of time between the published novels. However, it's also a splendid appetite-whetter for new readers of the series.

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm Primary School, Hailsham, East Sussex

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