What drives Sterling?

11th March 2005 at 00:00
Too busy to keep up with new children's authors? Literary agony uncle, Michael Thorn, can help


Q. In Year 8 I have a Grand Prix-fixated boy called Sterling (no, not a misspelling) who will not read a book. His last English teacher let him read car magazines. His mum says all he reads at home are game reviews, when he's not actually playing the latest car-chase action game. Is he a lost cause for fiction?


Not necessarily, Mark. I have just the book for Sterling and any other car-game addicts out there. Hover Car Racer by Matthew Reilly was originally published online, but is now out in book format. It's a futuristic, fast-paced series of race descriptions, with colour images of the tracks and of the Argonaut, the hero's hover car.

The text has charts showing the Argonaut's position on the champion ladder.

Not necessarily for Sterling, but for computer game addicts generally, there's a quirky sequence of small books called Golem, written by three French siblings and translated by Sarah Adams, the Marsh Award winner.

Q. I have a group of Year 7 lads who were into Darren Shan's books, then suddenly stopped reading them. They just say they got bored, but the school librarian says the real reason is that girls have started reading them.

She's noticed it before: boys latch on to a series, but if it's taken up by girls, that's the kiss of death.


I've heard of this before, Adam, but not in relation to the Darren Shan books which, judging by the lively forum on his website, have a mixed fanbase. You could show www.shanville.com to those Year 7 boys, to see if messages from other keen male readers can coax them back.

Or try new boy-friendly series Sam Hutton's Special Agents about crime fighting in London. Fans of Crime Scene Investigation on BBC5 will enjoy Traces by Malcolm Rose, featuring Luke Harding "the youngest forensic investigator ever".

Q. I am teaching key stages 3 and 4 in an area with a limited ethnic mix. I need books that will open the students' eyes to other cultures and other sets of values. Can you advise?


First I'd check your school library shelves for books by Benjamin Zephaniah, Bali Rai and Gaye Hicyilmaz. Zephaniah is known as a poet, but recently he has been writing novels, such as Gangsta Rap and Refugee Boy, that address racial equality and tolerance. Bali Rai writes about the conflicts that arise in adolescence for teenagers growing up in Asian families. Look for (un)arranged Marriage and Rani Sukh. Gaye Hicyilmaz's Girl In Red and Pictures From The Fire are fine novels that force readers to confront prejudices.

The profile of books in translation is rising, thanks largely to the Marsh Award for Children's Literature in Translation. Playing With Fire by the Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell is a moving story about the effect of AIDS in Africa. The Dream Merchant by Isabel Hoving (translated from the Dutch) is a big, time-travelling fantasy novel written to introduce readers to cultural and philosophical perspectives.

Q. I'm working in a small primary school and because of my English degree I'm being steered towards the role of literacy co-ordinator. The head says she's fed up with seeing the same three or four children's authors crop up time and time again in teachers' planning - Anne Fine, Jacqueline Wilson, Dick King-Smith -and hopes I will bring some fresh ideas. But my degree focused on Reformation theatre. Can you help?


It's understandable that teachers like to stick with the authors you mention, Sandra. They are fantastic writers and their books lend themselves to classroom use. But it's easy to get into a rut.

How many Year 6 classes, I wonder, use Goodnight Mr Tom as a group reader year after year. An alternative novel and set a few years after WWII, is Time Bomb! by Nigel Hinton.

* The Saga of Darren Shan: 12 books starting with Cirque du Freak, now being published in paperback three at a time (pound;9.99 each volume) by HarperCollins Children's Books.

* Special Agents: Full Throttle by Sam Hutton HarperCollins pound;4.99

* Traces: Framed! By Malcolm Rose Kingfisher pound;5.99

* Gangsta Rap by Benjamin Zephaniah Bloomsbury pound;5.99

* Rani Sukh by Bali Rai Corgi pound;5.99

* Girl in Red, Pictures From The Fire by Gaye Hicyilmaz Orion pound;4.99

* Playing With Fire by Henning Mankell Allen Unwin pound;5.99

* The Dream Merchant by Isabel Hoving Walker pound;9.99

* Time Bomb! By Nigel Hinton Puffin pound;4.99

* Hover Car Racer by Matthew Reilly Macmillan pound;12.99

* Golem: Magic Berber and Golem: Joke by Elvire, Lorris and Marie-Aude Murail Walker Books pound;4.99

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