Enough to tempt kids away from the TV

From dogs to di­nosaurs, and hi­lar­i­ous to heart­felt, DANIEL HAHN takes a look at the best chil­dren’s fic­tion of the year

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

MAGIC Beans (David Fickling Books) is an an­thol­ogy of fairy tales re­told by a con­tem­po­rary writer. Each is per­fect for read­ing aloud over a few bed­times, and with won­der­fully told sto­ries by bril­liant writ­ers, in­clud­ing Alan Gar­ner, Linda New­bery, Anne Fine, Gil­lian Cross, Ber­lie Do­herty and Philip Pull­man, par­ents will love it as much as kids.

Em­phat­i­cally not for par­ents is Donut Di­aries (Corgi). At the risk of per­pet­u­at­ing gender stereo­types, it is for boys; full of jokes about, well, the things boys tell jokes about. It’s the jour­nal of Der­mot Milligan (with help from An­thony Mc­gowan), chron­i­cling the rigours of be­ing a 12-year-old dough­nut ad­dict in a new school. It is easy and plain­tive and very funny, and if you’re de­ter­mined to give the young boy in your life a book in his stock­ing this year, well this might be one he’d thank you for.

In Ian Beck’s The Haunt­ing of Char­ity Delafield (Bod­ley Head), we meet a young girl who lives a quiet life, suf­fer­ing from a mys­te­ri­ous “con­di­tion” but af­flicted, too, by a strange, strange dream. It’s an el­e­gant, at­mo­spheric tale, with frost and mys­tery and a bit of magic.

Let­tie Pep­per­corn in Sam Gay­ton’s The Snow Mer­chant (An­der­sen) isn’t al­lowed out­doors ei­ther, but every­thing changes when this odd thing called “snow” ap­pears in her world for the first time, cour­tesy of a vis­it­ing al­chemist. But why is this strange man here, and what does he know about Let­tie’s mother, who van­ished 10 years ear­lier? A tale of self-dis­cov­ery, fam­ily and friend­ship, it’s an in­ven­tive and ac­com­plished de­but.

Lost Christ­mas by David Lo­gan (Quer­cus) is set on Christ­mas Eve. Young Goose (real name Richard) lost his par­ents in a tragic ac­ci­dent, and now his dog Mutt, the one con­stant in his life, has van­ished. Goose isn’t the only one strug­gling, though – ev­ery­one, it seems, has lost some­thing that mat­ters to them.

Some­times dark, but with an in­evitably sen­ti­men­tal end­ing, this is a vivid and touch­ing book.

From dogs lost to dogs found, in my chil­dren’s book of the year. Be­fore her re­cent death, the inim­itable Eva Ib­bot­son had spent decades qui­etly pro­duc­ing fine books for chil­dren. Her last, One Dog and His Boy (Mar­ion Lloyd), is one of her best. In it, 10-year-old Hal and dog Fleck face a se­ries of chal­lenges and ad­ven­tures in or­der to be able to stay to­gether, de­spite the per­sis­tence of some ghastly grown-ups.

For any­one who hasn’t dis­cov­ered the ef­fort­less warmth and joy and pin-sharp wit that made Ib­bot­son great, this story of loy­alty and friend­ship is a must.

Some of my favourite pic­tures of the year are to be found in Won­der­struck, the new cre­ation of Brian Selznick (Scholas­tic), best known for his as­ton­ish­ing The In­ven­tion of Hugo Cabret, the ba­sis for the Martin Scors­ese movie, Hugo. Like Hugo Cabret, Won­der­struck uses both words and pic­tures, with par­al­lel nar­ra­tives. Ben, in the 1970s, gets the words, and a deaf girl called Rose, in 1927, gets the pic­tures. Struc­turally bold and vis­ually stun­ning, it’s ev­ery bit as good as its pre­de­ces­sor.

Frank Cot­trell Boyce, the award- win­ning author of Mil­lions and Framed, pub­lished Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again this year (Macmil­lan), the first au­tho­rised se­quel to Ian Flem­ing’s orig­i­nal, but my pick is an­other of his books, The Un­for­got­ten Coat (Walker,), a short, lovely story about two Mon­go­lian broth­ers who ap­pear at Julie’s Liver­pool school, en­tirely re-colour her life, and dis­ap­pear again overnight. It’s funny and full of heart.

From the Mon­go­lian steppes to In­dia, next, in Jamila Gavin’s retellings of “Sto­ries of Cre­ation and the Cos­mos”, Tales from In­dia (Tem­plar). With il­lus­tra­tions by Amanda Hall, these tales of Shiva, Ganesh, Kr­ishna and Hanu­man are gor­geously styled in Gavin’s ex­pert hands, and beg to be read aloud.

Francesca Si­mon’s The Sleep­ing Army (Faber) uses old myths, too, but does wilder, more an­ar­chic things with them. Si­mon is best known as the cre­ator of the hi­lar­i­ous Hor­rid Henry se­ries; The Sleep­ing Army is her first novel for older chil­dren, and it’s fan­tas­tic. When 12-year-old Freya blows on an an­cient horn on dis­play at the Bri­tish Mu­seum, she’s torn away from her own world (an al­ter­na­tive present in which Eng­land is a poly­the­is­tic coun­try wor­ship­ping the An­glo-saxon Wo­dan) and whisked off to As­gard, where she’s given a ter­ri­fy­ing mis­sion to save the ail­ing gods. It’s a snappy, en­gag­ing story with good laughs.

There’s a quest of a dif­fer­ent kind in Lissa Evans’s Small Change for Stu­art (Dou­ble­day) a small book about a small boy, and one of this year’s great de­lights. Stu­art Horten is 10, but tiny for his age. (The nick­name Shorten is un­for­tu­nate.) When his mother, a doc­tor, and his fa­ther, a crossword com­piler who uses words such as syl­van and per­am­bu­la­tion and matuti­nal, de­cide to move to the vil­lage of Bee­ton, Stu­art thinks the prospect rather grim. Un­til, that is, he finds him­self on the hunt for the work­shop that used to be­long to his great-un­cle, a ma­gi­cian. It’s a finely writ­ten book crammed with ex­cit­ing in­ci­dent and colour­ful char­ac­ters; some­thing quite spe­cial.

And fi­nally, for the older end of this age group, an­other story of the tran­sit be­tween gen­er­a­tions. A Grey­hound of a Girl is the sixth and best chil­dren’s book by the won­der­fully tal­ented Roddy Doyle (Mar­ion Lloyd). It in­tro­duces us to Mary, her mother, dy­ing grand­mother and long-dead great­grand­mother, a strong four­some who come to­gether for the book’s cul­mi­na­tion, an un­for­get­table road trip. It is lively and funny and ter­rif­i­cally read­able, but mov­ing and thought­ful about life and death, too. – The Independent on Sun­day

WON­DER­FUL WORDS: Frank Cot­trell Boyce and a funny tale that is full of heart. Francesca Si­mon, with her snappy, en­gag­ing

and, right, by Lissa Evans, which is crammed with wit and colour­ful char­ac­ters.

The Sleep­ing Army,

Small Change

The Un­for­got­ten Coat,

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.