She'll be right, Tate;Children's books

14th August 1998 at 01:00
KELP: A COMEDY OF LOVE AND SEAWEED. By Linda Aronson. Macmillan pound;3.99

LOCKIE LEONARD ... LEGEND. By Tim Winton. Macmillan pound;3.99

THE SCHOOL AT THE CHALET. By Elinor M Brent-Dyer. Collins pound;3.99

Two of the most sparky offerings to divert early teens this summer come from Australia: the real Australia, that is, not Neighbours-land.

Linda Aronson is a playwright and screenwriter, and this shows in the pace and sharp comic timing of Kelp, in which 14-year-old Emily Tate and her family attempt to scrape a living from their smelly natural resource.

Tate Island off the Victoria coast is covered in seals, seaweed and Tates (a grotesque clan, mostly interbred and not too bright). Emily alone has a head for business and dreams of turning into Anita Roddick. Then another entrepreneurial Tate surfaces. An absorbing account of what happens when side-lined youth gets a hearing.

Lockie Leonard, Tim Winton's surf-aholic hero from a former whaling town in south-western Australia, also finds responsibility weighing heavy on his shoulders in the third and final Lockie novel. His mother, who helped him win an environmental battle in Lockie Leonard I Scumbuster, has a nervous breakdown, his father can't cope and his love life looks bleak. Lockie's laconic voice is always a treat, and the high standard of the previous two books is maintained.

Winton has decided to quit the Lockie series while he is ahead. Nobody hinted that Elinor M Brent-Dyer should do any such thing, and she wrote 62 Chalet School books, roughly one a term while she was teaching. The quality of the tales is variable, but Brent-Dyer's belief in her characters makes them work for modern readers and there is enough action and charm to make the moral fibre digestible.

The School at the Chalet, written in 1925, introduces the diehard Chaletian Joey Bettany and her friends soppy Simone and gung-ho Grizel. Stash it under the duvet - there are many more.

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