Some of the latest, reviewed by Steve Rosson
‘Booky’ people to the fore in the first couple of offerings from the latest postbag.
In Form IIIM Strike Back by newcomer David Ross (Hamish Hamilton `Antelope’, 0 241 13228 2, £4.99), best-selling author Denzil Doxford lives a well-ordered, comfortable bachelor life funded by the enormous success of his books about the dreaded third-years at Oakwood Vale School. Returning home one day from his after constitutional he finds to his horror that his own creations are lolling around his front garden and are determined to have a say in their own existence. A light-hearted tale with unashamedly stereotypical characters including a madcap school cook, a daft head and a lonely female biology teacher as well as the kids, who wreak havoc in Denzil’s life before disappearing whence they came leaving the poor man resolved to write non-fiction in future. A lot of fun with some neat punning along the way, especially for some of the names. An encouraging first novel.
In an altogether more serious vein is Theresa Breslin’s Bullies at School (Blackie `Thriller Firsts’, 0 216 94038 9, £6.99). It hardly ranks as one of the year’s most original titles but it’s a good, solid read. Kindly school librarian, Mrs Allan, is the only adult perceptive enough to notice that Siobhan is being bullied. She arranges for Siobhan to accompany her on a visit to the county Resource Centre to borrow books and artefacts for project work on the Celts and this leads to Siobhan’s discovery of the legend of ‘Siobhan of the Seven Valleys’ and, more importantly, a plaid pin in the form of a coiled snake, mysteriously not catalogued by the librarians, which gives her the power to face down her persecutors. The first part is one of gritty realism; Siobhan’s mum is a single parent working all hours to make ends meet and one of the supply teachers is a fully paid up member of the school of hard knocks tendency. The move into the supernatural is smooth and, finally, Mrs Allan is wise enough to ensure that the power of the snake is not abused. You learn a lot about the Celts on the way as well.
`Jets’ continue to entertain with their lively mix of text and illustration. Nora Bone (A & C Black, 0 7136 3700 5J4.99) is a mangy police dog, the creation of Brough Girling and Tony Blundell, who goes about her business totally oblivious to the mayhem she’s causing. You almost get two stories in one here as Nora’s own tale of her actions is set against the reality in the pictures; so
whilst Nora’s handler is getting an ear-bashing from the Chief Inspector and being given one last chance to keep the dog in check, our heroine is saving his briefcase as she thinks she’s found a bomb only to realise it’s his sandwich lunch which she cheerfully demolishes. Needless to say Nora inadvertently covers herself in glory at `the last chance’ and her place in the force is secure. The publishers are right to give writer and illustrator equal billing as, at their best, `Jets’ display a total integration of words and pictures.
Whilst on `Jets’, and at the risk of accusations of sycophancy, I must mention Chris Powling’s latest, Harry Moves House (A & C Black, 0 7136 37013, £4.99) in collaboration with Scoular Anderson. I feel that this is the best of the Harry books so far as the storyline provides for some quite splendid visuals including the estate agent’s details quickly followed by Harry’s own, more truthful version. The pleasantly chatty first-person style and judicious use of repetition help to make this an eminently approachable book for early readers, especially any who have gone through the traumas of moving house.
The next few lines might get a bit repetitive so apologies in advance but I really can’t see any way round it: Louise’s invitation to a birthday camp-out causes a Big Problem for Mark in Jacqueline Wilson’s Mark Spark in the Dark (Hamish Hamilton `Gazelle’, 0 241 13379 3, £3.99) as Mark, the bravest boy in the school is afraid of the dark. Great Gran understands his worries and engineers an excuse and a replacement treat for him. Night time concern for the safety of his blind Great Gran eventually leads Mark to confront and conquer his fears. Warm observation of the adult-child relationship, and the section dealing with Mark’s bedtime worries will touch a chord with many youngsters.
I started with a new author so I’ll finish with another. Anna Trenter has made an encouraging debut with A Hairy Story (Hamish Hamilton `Gazelle’, 0 241 13394 7, £3.99). Any parent who names their daughter Rapunzel must be a few seeds short of the full packet and this is certainly the case with the dad in this story who spends all his time gardening (including talking to his roses) whilst poor Rapunzel has to stay at home reading an encyclopaedia to give her `Strength of Character’ and teach her to `Think for Herself’. The plot revolves around the girl’s determination to go to her friend’s party when she should be studying and, would you believe, her incredibly long hair is central to the plan. Rapunzel goes to the party, has a great time and finally comes to an understanding with dad about how she should spend her weekends.