Truth or dare

18th October 1996 at 01:00
RESCUE! TRUE LIFE SURVIVAL STORIES By Karen Robinson Collins Pounds 2. 99

TRUE STORIES Chosen by Anthony Masters REAL-LIFE STORIES Chosen by Betsy Byars Both Kingfisher Pounds 4.99

FAMILY TREE Chosen by Kaye Webb Puffin Pounds 4.99

WALKER TREASURIES Pounds 3.99 each

THE FAMILY WHO WON A MILLION AND OTHER FAMILY STORIES Compiled by Alison Sage Hutchinson Pounds 9.99 (hardback)

Karen Robinson's cast of survivors are everyday heroes who feel the fear - and the cold, and the misery - and do it anyway. They are also very contemporary children, attractive to fluent readers of any age.

The voices of the boy who takes the wheel of the runaway school bus, the friends who save lives at sea and the young skier who endures nine days on a freezing mountainside emerge clearly in these sharp, touching fictional treatments of events that have made headlines. Rescue! is a winner for the classroom book box or the library anthology shelf, and could be used to spark discussion of how humans perform under pressure.

In True Stories, one of Kingfisher's collections for older primary children upwards, Anthony Masters has gathered classic accounts by and about heroic individuals including Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mary Seacole. The chunks of Anne Frank's diary and Pauline Cutting's Children of the Siege will certainly inspire but the text looks inaccessible despite the line drawings. Longer introductions to the sections might help.

Confusingly, the Real-Life Stories volume in the Kingfisher series are not "true real-life stories", but extracts from fiction on the loose theme of "friends, families, fun", from L M Montgomery to Judy Blume. Jane Gardam's Bilgewater is a refreshing find here, but the collection by Kaye Webb, the eminent Puffin editor who died this year, may do more to lure children towards the classics.

Webb's affectionate introductions to Laurie Lee's mother, Grace Nichols's Granny, Russell Hoban's little sister and the Family from One End Street supply something that is missing from most anthologies - a sense of the compiler's personality and enthusiasm.

Sometimes the publisher's distinctive presence can fill this role. The value-for-money Walker Treasuries, which work up from Stories for Five-Year-Olds, give collections of previously published material the air of illustrated journals rather than books, as each reprinted Walker story comes with its original illustrations. The effect is of busy, varied volumes with no whiff of a dull recycling exercise.

Hutchinson makes a little new material go a long way, kicking off its collection for newly confident readers with Caroline Castle's specially commissioned tale of a lottery win. Castle's moral is elusive - her "lucky" family shun the worldly trappings of wealth in favour of a lotus-eating limbo - but children may be able to think of one.

A generous scattering of Tony Ross's illustrations pulls the book together. Of the other contributions - which include stories by anthology regulars Jan Mark, Judy Blume and Anne Fine - my favourite is Ann Cameron's poetic morsel, "The Pudding Like a Night on the Sea".

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