Short but sweet

24th March 2006 at 00:00
Michael Thorn finds enticing shorter novels for primary school and class libraries

A Single Shard By Linda Sue Park Oxford University Press pound;5.99

The Legend Of Captain Crow's Teeth By Eoin Colfer, illustrated by Tony Ross Puffin pound;7.99

The World According To Humphrey By Betty G Birney Faber pound;4.99

Christopher Mouse: The Tale of a Small Traveller By William Wise, illustrated by Patrick Benson Bloomsbury pound;5.99

Butter-Finger By Bob Cattell and John Agard, illustrated by Pam Smy Frances Lincoln pound;4.99

Clemency Pogue, Fairy Killer By J T Petty, illustrated by Will Davis Simon Schuster pound;5.71

Fish By Charlie James Bloomsbury pound;4.99

Castle Diary and Pirate Diary By Richard Platt, illustrated by Chris Riddell Walker Books pound;4.99

Not all children jump from simple chapter books to full-length fiction with alacrity. Even those who do, welcome a quick read from time to time. So it's good to report that there is a healthy supply of new short fiction.

Someone should send a copy of A Single Shard to Madonna, whose motivation for writing children's books was a perceived lack of moral tone in stories available to her as a parent. This short novel, set in Korea in the 12th century, was a deserving winner of the Newbery medal in the US in 2001, and cannot fail to make young readers think about right and wrong.

Why we have had to wait so long for it to be published in the UK is hard to fathom. It tells the story of an orphan boy who begins to work for a potter after accidentally causing damage. The relationships between Tree-leaf, the boy, and Min, the potter, and Tree-leaf's relationship with Crane-man, the older disabled companion he lives with under a bridge, are observed with gently inspiring authorial authority.

Older brothers have always enjoyed spooking their younger siblings. Eoin Colfer's new Legend story begins the night before the Sprats' Jig (a junior disco) with Marty scaring the younger lads in their holiday caravan bunks.

This is short fiction of the very highest order and a worthy companion to The Legend Of Spud Murphy.

The World According To Humphrey is a hamster's account of his adventures as a classroom pet. "Today was the worst day of my life," it begins. It's the day the teacher, Ms Mac, leaves; the new teacher does not approve of pets in the classroom and she is certainly not going to take Humphrey home with her in the evenings and at weekends as Ms Mac did.

Humphrey is a very perceptive hamster. In observing the way Mrs Brisbane handles her students, he has to admit that in some ways Ms Mac's replacement is the more effective teacher. Eventually the head offers to take Humphrey home with him, and then children in the class take turns.

Seeing the children's homes helps Humphrey understand why they behave as they do in school. The book's cute animal appeal is conveyed by an enticing cover, and delivered by means of an easy, accessible style.

Any child who enjoys reading about Humphrey is also likely to appreciate Christopher Mouse. Adults may find the humour a little fey, especially in the verses that intersperse Christopher's tale, but children will concentrate on the story which has enough dramatic highs to keep them enthralled. Patrick Benson's illustrations are delightful.

There's nothing fey about the verses in Bob Cattell's Butter-Finger, (one of the launch titles of Frances Lincoln's fiction list for eight to 12-year-olds), but then they're by John Agard, who was an inspired choice as co-writer for this story about a fumbling cricket fan. Riccardo Small loves the game but he can't catch and is a general liability out on the wicket, but he does contribute inspiring calypsos to encourage his team-mates.

At the start of Clemency Pogue, six fairies in worldwide locations randomly drop dead as a result of a girl repeating, "I don't believe in fairies" too many times. This is a lively, quirky read which fans of The Spiderwick Chronicles will enjoy. It can be demanding at times, with a hobgoblin character coming out with, "Only imaginary creatures have intentions distilled enough to prove the imaginary real. So only as the imagined you in your own imagination can you imagine the imaginary true." Gifted and talented pupils to discuss.

Fish describes how Ned's little brother turns into a cod after eating some of the special fish food their father has been hoping to market to public aquarium owners. In this enjoyable debut, Charlie James demonstrates a keen sense of pacing for her target audience, frequently breaking up the narrative with numbered options and resumes Finally, class libraries, in particular, will welcome a new small format edition of the very popular history-based titles, Castle Diary and Pirate Diary, in a single volume.

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