Summer daze;Children's books

25th June 1999 at 01:00
Michael Thorn makes some suggestions to keep pages turning through the holidays

High summer, and the long holiday is just around the corner. Children will soon be playing outside until bedtime and school bags will have gone home for the last time this academic year. So should we give up on books until the nights draw in again and children are back in their new year groups, ready to make a fresh start in reading?

Not at all. British summers have their fair share of grey days, and anyway shouldn't children be allowed to indulge in that favourite adult pastime of selecting holiday reading? The first step must be to show them what's available so they know what to look for in bookshops and libraries. Schools still have time to order fresh library stock for children to borrow for the holiday.

Puffin's new Warpath series (Puffin pound;3.99 each) is a studied reaction to a perceived feminisation of children's publishing. The books aim to mix fact and fiction, with a combination of battle maps, munitions statistics, and first-person narratives based on real events. It's worth seeing, if its confident publicity is well-founded.

Geography, a subject that has fared badly in primary classrooms recently, gets something of a boost with the launch of two new series - Horrible Geography (Scholastic pound;3.99), by Anita Ganeri, a companion series to the Horrible History books, and Airmail from....

One airmail comes from Ngorongoro: Where Cow Poo is Lucky! This story by Michael Cox (Scholastic pound;3.50) features a Masai boy, and is a lot more informative and humorous than the title suggests.

Gene Kemp's The Hairy Hands (Puffin pound;4.99) is exactly the kind of book that voracious primary readers can never have enough of. Jessica and Tom are staying with their Uncle Pete on Dartmoor, along with Dad and prospective stepmother and step-siblings. Spooky legends, family tensions and themes of racism and disability could well make for too rich a brew, but Kemp handles it all with exemplary skill.

For the upper end of the age range, Anthony Masters is on his best edge-of-seat form in Day of the Dead (Orchard pound;4.99), another novel involving a father's plans to remarry.

Alex's dad, a jet-setting photographer, has fallen in love with a Mexican woman. He plans to smuggle her across the American border and then to divorce Alex's mother. After being double-crossed by guides and injured in a shoot-out, he is forced to rethink his options.

For children going to Scotland for their holidays, suggest Huntress of the Sea by Alan Temperley (Scholastic pound;4.99), a highly charged Highland story about a father who is seduced away from his peat-filled hearth by Neiraa, siren of the seas.

For younger readers, try two in the Mammoth Read series. Othergran by Vivien Alcock (Mammoth pound;3.99) is a sensitive story about an icily estranged grandparent in the Miss Havisham mould. Her determined grandson Mark is the catalyst for a thaw.

Robert Leeson's Swapper (Mammoth pound;3.99) explores children's delight in exchanging possessions and the consequences this can have in helping to build friendships.

Mr Majeika and the School Trip by Humphrey Carpenter (Puffin pound;3.99) is a new Mr Majeika title. Particularly enjoyable is the middle story, "St Barty's for Sale", in which the magician teacher foils a property tycoon's attempt to buy up the school and knock it down.

My grandmother used to warn me not to fall asleep with my mouth open in case a mouse popped inside during the night. In Dick King-Smith's Poppet (Puffin pound;3.99) a baby elephant - against its mother's advice - dares to let a mouse investigate its trunk. Rescuing Rita fans will relish a new title from Hilda Offen, Rita in Wonderland (Puffin pound;3.99).

For beginner readers, there's a bunch of Blue Bananas. Try Clumsy Clumps and the Baby Moon by Julie Bertagna and Monster Eyeballs by Jacqueline Wilson (Mammoth pound;3.99 each), which are both especially good.

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