That's entertainment

9th September 2005 at 01:00
Jan Mark finds chapter books to appeal to readers gaining in confidence

When cousin Sarah-Jane comes to stay, Joe and his cheerfully energetic sisters build an assault course in the garden for her entertainment - and theirs - but it turns out that the visitor is not into physical exercise. Sarah-Jane believes in fairies, exhibiting the steely single-mindedness of the truly deluded.

Before Joe's horrified eyes the assault course becomes a fairy theme park, the sisters are subverted and the garden is overrun by mincing girlies with frills, wings and wands. Even spherical Bert the toy hippo is tarted up with tutu and tinsel and a dainty picnic is prepared for passing fairies. Joe seems doomed to a summer of pure slush until he teams up with a neighbour's enterprising granddaughter. Coming from a family of actresses, she has Shakespeare and Coleridge as back-up and knows a whole lot more about enchantment than soppy Sarah-Jane could ever imagine.

Angels currently being the teenage equivalent of fairies, there is a growing sub-genre of fiction apparently peddling the message: death is so, like, cool. Heather Dyer's Hilary, The Girl with the Broken Wing has an alternative agenda: heaven is so, like, boring. Landing on the roof of James and Amanda, Hilary feigns injury to avoid being sent home where there is nothing to do but sing hymns and indulge in a little decorous dancing.

Far from bringing sweetness and light into the twins' lives she proves to be self-absorbed, slightly domineering and impossible to dislodge. Wings concealed under a duffle coat, she turns up at inopportune moments, occasions like a nativity play and a visit to York Minster being irresistible to an angel. Told partly from Hilary's own point of view, this tale of an essentially good-hearted friend who is as much of a liability as an asset is an attractive companion to Dyer's debut novel, The Fish in Room 11.

Hairy Hezekiah, the only bactrian camel in the zoo, discovers how to open the gate of his paddock and escapes to find company, preferably another camel. His quest takes him across country, leaving a certain amount of havoc in his wake since his talents do not extend to closing gates as well as opening them, until he reaches Wiltshire and Shortseat safari park.

Shortseat is owned by the Marquess of Basin in whom Hezekiah recognises a soulmate as the noble lord, a genial type with a more than passing resemblance to another item of aristocratic sanitary ware, is as hairy as himself. The feeling is reciprocated. Hezekiah gets a new home and the marquess finds him a charming lady camel for a long-term relationship. The appropriately hirsute drawings are by John Eastwood who also illustrated Dick King-Smith's The Catlady, a tale of inter-species reincarnation, now out in paperback.

Robin Hood and the Silver Arrow retells one of the best-known Hood legends in which our hero is lured by the Sheriff of Nottingham into taking part in an archery contest where he and his men can be arrested with maximum publicity. Far from taking Robin prisoner, the Sheriff sees him win the competition in the famous arrow-splitting scene, and is taken a prisoner himself as Robin and the Outlaws rip off their disguises and Maid Marion gallops to the rescue. This is one of the Orchard Myths and Classics series by Tonys Bradman and Ross which, with Andrew Matthew's Shakespeare retellings, also illustrated by Ross, comprise an attractive and affordable library.

Cassie the Posh Cat discovers she is putting on weight and embarks on a regime of diet and exercise to no avail. Then she disappears and her owner sets out to find her. Not entirely realistic - cats are generally indifferent to their body-mass index - this is not just a cosy anthropomorphic tale but one of the Perfect Pets series of small simple picture books. Supported by the RSPCA, which benefits from their sales, these introduce young readers to pet-owning. "Cassie will need an operation to stop her having more kittens," says the RSPCA lady at the animal centre.

Stand by to explain.

Joe V. the Fairies By Emily Smith, illustrated by Georgie Birkett, Young Corgi, pound;3.99

The Girl with the Broken Wing By Heather Dyer, illustrated by Peter Bailey, Chicken House pound;6.99

Hairy Hezekiah By Dick King-Smith, illustrated by John Eastwood, Doubleday pound;7.99

(Hb) The Catlady By Dick King-Smith, illustrated by John Eastwood, Young Corgi pound;3.99

Robin Hood and the Silver Arrow By Tony Bradman, illustrated by Tony Ross, Orchard Books pound;3.99

Cassie the Posh Cat: staying in shape By Gordon Voke,iIlustrated by Adam Prescott, Ravette Publishing pound;2.99

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