Some of the latest, reviewed by Steve Rosson
I knew I was going to enjoy Errol Lloyd’s The Big Gold Robbery (Heinemann `Banana’, 0 434 96267 8, £3.99) as soon as I saw the B-movie heavies on the front. The old adage advises us against judging a book by its cover, but the cover is such an important element in the process as children select their books and this one’s a winner. The story’s not half bad, either. The necklace Kelly buys his mum for her birthday from some `iffy’ market traders selling from a suitcase turns out to be real gold and the Bicycle Riders’ Action Team swing into action. Pretty soon they stumble across some Premier League bad guys just released from a ten stretch and anxious to regain their loot. Action all the way with some suitably sardonic dialogue from the villains, and the author’s own illustrations maintain the verve and style of the cover. Incidentally, how old do you have to be to remember B-movies?
I’m all for children’s fiction tackling controversial subjects – but underwear fetishism? Fortunately, all my worst fears came to nought as the garments concerned in Jean Ure’s The Phantom Knicker Nicker (Blackie `Story Factory’, 0 216 94044 7, £5.99) are not of the skimpy black lace variety but Old Annie’s pink drawers. They’re disappearing from the washing line nonetheless and the Gang of Four Private Detective Agency, ably led by Priya Patel, are employed to keep watch. Each of the would-be private eyes comes across as an individual and there’s plenty of humour at the expense of Sergeant Durkin, otherwise known as the head Truncheon. It’s a shame Mark Southgate, the illustrator, seems more comfortable drawing adults than children.
After all the brouhaha over alleged PC in the children’s book world Daily Mail readers will be reassured by Calling Tracy by Clare Cherrington (Hamish Hamilton `Gazelle’, 0 241 13276 2, £4.99) where the heroine is obsessed first by ice-skating and then by riding. But I’m starting to trivialise what is actually an interesting and thoughtful book. Tracy has to come to terms with the end of her skating ambitions after a fall from a tree ends in a broken leg and consequent limp. The first-person narrative and episodic plot make for almost a diary style as Tracy moves through disbelief, despair and breakdown to recovery; on the way dealing with fluctuating relationships with her mum, best friend Janet and the psychiatrist she nicknames Snoopy. Skating and riding, yes, but Mum is a single parent who loses her job and Tracy’s school is no Malory Towers. Perhaps those Daily Mail readers shouldn’t be too reassured, after all.