Seduction of virgin readers

10th March 2000 at 00:00
Critic's choice The road ahead: longer novels

TES reviewers add their choices to the official list of Super Reads (see below)

It is a magic moment when a child realises he or she can read, but also a critical one. The child will be eager to move on to pastures new and, if the reading habit is to stick, these pastures need to be full of intriguing pathways: narratives with entertaining, yet challenging texts leading the reader on to fresh ways of looking at the world.

Tesco has introduced an excellent fresh-as-a-daisy Fun to Learn collection for newly independent readers (Tesco Stores Limited, pound;2.50 each). In the fiction titles, original storylines combine with colourful, quality illustration to give a witty and thought-provoking read.

A favourite is Randolph's Big Night Out, by Kate Tym and illustrated by Woody, about a snake with heavy social commitments whose friends let him down at the last minute. Is Randolph dejected? Not at all! A lovely tale about an eternal optimist: a book that swings along.

Rose Impey's Twice Upon a Time series (Orchard Crunchies pound;3.50 each) provides an enormous range of traditional tales, retold in simply written narratives. Impey has a wonderful feel for folk language and displays a lyrical but lucid style.

With two short stories in one book, Impey provides both pace and variety. For example, If Wishes Were Fishes gives us the tale of a silly couple given three wishes who, in the end, wish they were back where they started, and the delightful story of Mrs Vinegar, who learns the cost of chronic discontent. At the end of each book, Impey provides invaluable references for the root of the stories and further reading suggestions.

SuperDad, by Shoo Rayner (Macdonald Young Books pound;7.99), is the touching story of a father so overcome with regret for not spending enough time with his son that he comes home disguised as "Supercat". This is one of many engaging First Storybooks with an easy-to-read text and witty illustrations to be found among Macdonald's graded readers.

Once they have got the reading bug, some children progress rapidly. Vivian French's The Boy Who Walked on Water and other stories (Walker Books pound;7.99) contains three powerfully written magical tales, each different in mood, that draw readers into something deeper. French's text is complemented by Chris Fisher's vivid black-and-white drawings.

Ghost stories attract children across the age range and some will enjoy their first independent foray into ghoulish matters with Esme's Owl, by William Bedford (Mammoth Read pound;3.99), The Ghost and Bertie Boggin, byMartin Waddell (Walker Books pound;7.99) and The Curse of the Ghost Horse, by Anthony Masters (Macdonald Young Books pound;3.99).

Esme's Owl is a warm, inventive story about Fran, a young girl whose parents have just separated and who finds solace in friendship with a lonely ghost searching for a precious object across the centuries. Waddell's Bertie Boggin comes across a ghost in the coalshed who wants nothing more than to join in Boggin family life: a witty tale full of pithy observations about families, well complemented by Tony Ross's pen-and-ink sketches.

The Macdonald Tremors series provides something altogether scarier. The "ghost horse" is a touch melodramatic, but young readers will no doubt be gripped by the tale of Black Bess, whose hooves thunder forever.

The Conjurors Cookbook series by Jonathan Emmett (Bloomsbury Children's Books pound;3.99 each) has irresistible ingredients: a witty, punchy style; an inventive granny; a recipe book with a mind of its own; and a chain of enchanting culinary adventures. In my favourite tale, Fairy Cake, Granny's magic mix produces Dewlally, a fairy of misrule with an impressive range in cocky one-liners. As a bonus, each story ends with a simple recipe.

Hodder has come up with an invaluable aid to encouraging the reading habit - a boxed Children's Library of shorter novels in paperback, with a title for every month of the year. These editions were produced one at a time through the National Year of Reading. The array of authors, who have all written new introductions, is impressive - William Mayne with The Fox Gate; Helen Cresswell with A Gift from Winklesea; Jenny Nimmo with The Dragon's Child. Separate titles are pound;1.99 and the set is even better value at pound;19.99 for 12.

Kaye Umansky has created The Quest for 100 Gold Coins, a wild, rumbustious set of four novels ideal for readers with a taste for comic-book characters and Umansky's skilled way with direct speech. Donkey-ride to Disaster and Madness in the Mountains (Hodder pound;3.50 each) are the first two . Neville the naive and nerdy woodcutter goes in search of gold to pay his granny's rent. On the way, he meets many a bad lad, but some who help him.

Random House has published a Red Fox range of board books, picture stories and short novels based on the TV series Watership Down, inspired by Richard Adams's novel. Children's books tied to television series often represent an excuse for maximum marketing and minimum quality but, in this instance, the novels in particular - six titles by Judy Allen - are well written and may entice rabbit-lovers into longer reads.


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