Word play for the worldly

Key stage 2

Michael Thorn selects summer reading for the over-eights.

Words, and the various ways in which they are used, are among the most interesting facets of this clutch of recent novels.

Artemis Fowl and the Strega-Borgia family of Auchenlochtermuchty were introduced last year. Unsurprisingly, the follow-ups to these bestsellers continue in style, pitch and tone where the earlier books left off. Both Artemis Fowl: the Arctic incident by Eoin Colfer (Puffin pound;12.99) and Pure Dead Wicked by Debi Gliori (Doubleday pound;10.99) adopt a relentless narrative pace. There's only one tempo permitted - fast-forward.

Eoin Colfer's fame has been built upon a brilliantly modish conceit - the wholesale requisitioning of the world of fairies and goblins and the reinventing of it with hi-tech props and machinery.

Artemis Fowl's quest in this second book is to secure the release of his father, who is being held to ransom in a submarine graveyard in the Arctic. The profusion of sub-plots and set-pieces threatens at times to carry out "mind-wipe" on the reader (Colfer is keen on analogies that compare the brain to a hard disk). But the verbal inventiveness - I particularly liked the help that arrived "just after the nick of time" - is so fecund and energetic, and the cast of main and minor players so vividly conveyed, that the reader cannot help but be swept along.

In Pure Dead Wicked the Strega-Borgia family is forced to evacuate StregaSchloss while it undergoes roof repairs. Both Colfer and Gliori enjoy plays on words, with Gliori being the more scatological. It is no bad thing for a children's book to have adult appeal, and Pure Dead Wicked is wonderful read-aloud material, providing the teacher or parent as well as the child listener with laughs at the expense of a series of dead-wickedly observed satires on members of the hotel and building trades. Quake, quake, O publishers, lest Gliori choose you as a target for Strega-Borgia book 3.

Paul Jennings's short stories often hinge upon a punned punchline, and such is the case with several stories in his new collection Tongue-Tied (Puffin pound;4.99), most dramatically in "Lennie Lighthouse". But in the title story the pun is an overarching one. A smitten boy, too shy to declare his feelings, has spent two years' savings on a guppy fish for the girl he wants to kiss. The breaking of the guppy's bowl leads to them passing it from mouth to mouth to help it survive - an effort that ultimately becomes its own reward.

In this eight-page story, told without verbal histrionics, Jennings has managed to say something new and fresh about a boy's desire for that first kiss. The most memorable of his stories have a certain cleverness about them, but they are always conveyed in the words of a writer, not a performer.

The disembodied head in Susan Price's exceptionally fine novel The King's Head (Scholastic pound;12.99) is a performer: a storyteller. Recovered from a battlefield, the head recounts a series of pastiche period tales: "Be quiet, all you silly chits, and listen! I begin."

This new book by the author of The Sterkarm Handshake is unlike anything else published so far this year. Impressively imagined and evoked, written and constructed in a traditional, well-modulated style, it is perhaps too unflinchingly unromantic and its humour too subtle to gain the same readership as Colfer's unashamed escapism. Yet it is no less scatological, in places, than Gliori. Teachers and librarians should note the smattering of four-letter words and sexual references.

War Games by Jenny Koralek (Egmont pound;4.99) starts so thrillingly, with a sick boy called Hugo being smuggled out of Czecho-slovakia just as Hitler is about to invade, that I imagine certain readers, anticipating an action adventure, will experience a frisson of disappointment after the plane lands in England and the focus shifts to the other main character, a young emigree from South Africa called Holly.

There are many fine children's novels that evoke war on the home front, and quite a few of them feature town-to-country evacuees. Here is a novel - a very good novel, in both senses (well written and benignly intentioned) - that reminds us that England also sheltered many thousands of refugee Jewish children. Koralek writes in a highly accessible style, and gets under the skin of her two main characters so convincingly that this book can be recommended for fluent readers of any age.

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary school, Hailsham, East Sussex

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