Snaggletooth's Mystery By Gene Kemp Faber pound;4.99
The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler By Gene Kemp Faber Children's Classics pound;5.99
Maggot Pie By Michael Lawrence Orchard pound;4.99
Operation Timewarp By Kate Reid Orion pound;4.99
Fudge first appeared in Judy Blume's Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing, published a scarcely believable 30 years ago. After the sequel, Superfudge, in 1980, another decade went by before we heard from the Fudge family again, in Fudge-a-mania. The result is that each Fudge title has a freshness and energy that would probably have been missing if Blume had been writing to the commercial imperatives of regular series fiction. Her website www.judyblume.com reveals that the writing of the new book, Double Fudge (with Peter now in seventh grade), was interrupted by the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, and that she temporarily doubted her ability to pick up the light-hearted tone in which all the Fudge books, in contrast to her more issue-based teenage fiction, are written.
Well, she managed it - seam-lessly. Double Fudge, (cover detail above) suitable for key stage 2, is a model of comic pace and tone, with much of the comedy driven by the dialogue. Peter's younger brother, Fudge, can think of only one thing - money. While this obsession, and the frustrations and anxieties it causes Peter and his parents, provide a good deal of laughter, usually at Fudge's expense, it is the chance meeting with a family of cousins on a family day trip to Washington (to show Fudge where dollars are printed), that sets up hilarious set-piece scenes in the best tradition of American sitcom. And also explains the book's title, for the family have twin daughters named Flora and Fauna, and a son with the same name as Fudge (whose proper first name is Farley).
Gene Kemp's now-classic The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler still has the power to surprise the uninitiated reader with its postscript revelation of the main character's gender. In Snaggletooth's Mystery, a new novel set in the same Cricklepit School, times have moved on. Mr Merchant, Tyke's former class teacher, is now deputy head. And one of the plotlines involves the disappearance of SAT papers.
A group of Year 6 children, led by one Snaggle Watson, produce a school newspaper, The Cricklepit Chronicle. Their journalistic frankness gets Snaggle into trouble with the new head, who can't be called Chief Sir anymore, because she's a woman. The historical references which Kemp is fond of slipping into her books are here connected with the deaths of two children from cholera 200 years ago. This highly enjoyable novel climaxes in a flood and the discovery of skeletons.
Michael Lawrence's first Jiggy McCue story, The Poltergoose, deservedly made the Blue Peter Book Award shortlist and I have enjoyed the subsequent books. But the tone of the latest one, Maggot Pie, seems to have lurched in the direction of bad taste. Near the start a genie arises from Piddle Pool, a landmark where boys take a lucky widdle before their first day at infant school. (Jiggy attributes his bad luck to his failure to "go".) The notion of four-year-olds standing around peeing in public and making remarks like "Whassamatter, mate, got a knot in it?" is presumably intended to be far-fetched, but that only reinforces the impression of an author provoking, rather than genially generating (as both Blume and Kemp do so well), amusement. This impression is confirmed in a gleefully described maggot-eating episode, decidedly aimed at sending the disgust meter off the scale.
Kate Reid's debut novel Operation Timewarp is an excellent, highly accessible, light-hearted futuristic caper. In 2099, Buckingham Palace is occupied by the evil President Rigg. Genetic engineering has ensured that the population remains servile. The only hope for resistance is to "timewarp" some rebellious individuals (three children from "now") forward from the past.
Reid proves herself skilful at plot momentum, which is fortunate because this is not the kind of book where the reader wants to ask too many questions about the central premise. I heartily recommend this to all nine-plus children looking for a fun read, and will eagerly anticipate a sequel.
Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary school, Hailsham, East Sussex