BOOKS FOR CHILDREN; EASTER FUNNIES

After the chocolate has melted or been gobbled up, Easter books will still be around to enjoy. We select a few of the best for all ages
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PICTURE BOOKS

The Magic Boot by Remy Simard, illus Pierre Pratt (Annick pounds 4.99). The boot and its pair are donated to Pipo, a little boy whose feet won't stop growing. All the prerequisites of the traditional fable are in place - long-suffering mother, good fairy, terrifying ogre, jealous rival - and in "a little country where people are very poor" Pipo, who "could win a race without even moving", triumphs over adversity. The real star of the piece is the illustration - magic realism in fantastic Mediterranean colours. Perfect early reading practice.

Spider School by Francesca Simon, illus Peta Coplans (Orion pounds 8.99). Kate's first day at her new school is a disaster: she wakes late, her mum rushes in and shouts at her, she can't find her uniform and has to put on her old clothes instead. But this is as nothing to the horrors of the place itself - "It did not look like a nice school. It looked like a dungeon." Kate's new teacher is a gorilla who shouts "No toilets at this school" and "No books here", and sits at her desk in pearl earrings reading comics. This frisky read-aloud book may reassure anxious new bugs of four and five.

Reader's Digest Bible for Children, by Marie-Helene Delval, illus Ulises Wensell (Reader's Digest pounds 12.95). Don't be put off by the "Timeless Stories" sub-title - this potentially pi-jaw volume is in fact a compendium of the Bible's most exciting bits. Remarkably, Delval has managed to simplify the text without losing the grace and balance of the King James words, and without sanitising the more brutal tales. The pictures (which render everyone with enormous noses) are dramatic enough, and will keep tinies interested this Easter.

Wagons West! by Roy Gerrard (Gollancz pounds 8.99). This feisty tale of high adventure on the American Plains is told in a rhyming doggerel full of pioneers-o lingo, with folks moseying, varmints do-badding, and wholesome vittles all round. We begin "way back in 1850, when Americans were thrifty", and follow a band of hopefuls on the wagon trail out to Oregon with Buckskin Dan, via Fort Laramie. There's a PC twist: our heroes do battle with a set of "bandits" on behalf of their Native American friends. The illustrations are splendidly robust, and this will appeal to boys and girls equally.

Smoky's Special Easter Present by Dorothea Lachner, illus Christa Unzner (North-South pounds 9.99). Our inset bunnies shown on these pages are taken from this seasonal treat, and girls of five or so will love it. When Smoky, a pet rabbit, goes to town to buy something for Emma, he encounters smarmy shop assistants, sympathetic tramps and terrifying traffic. The story is slight but amusing, and the exuberant pastel illustrations are drawn from a bunny's-eye view as Smoky is mistaken for the Easter Rabbit and then for somebody's dinner. Good for reading together.

Fairy Mischief by John Talbot (Andersen pounds 8.99). The ins and outs of the enchanted sprite world are explored thoroughly here. We've got them all - the Lunch Box Fairy, who eats your scram before you can get to it, the Pocket Fairy, who pinches Dad's keys and hides them, and the Scary Fairy, who raises the hairs on your neck when you're watching Dr Who.

Kip: A Dog's Day by Benedict Blathwayt (Julia MacRae pounds 8.99). Kip the sheepdog's almost impossibly idyllic life (cats and cows smile fondly as he gives chase) is disrupted by unforeseen events at the village show. A brief foray on the wrong side of the tracks is soon forgotten, however, as Kip proves his worth back at the farm. A wonderfully vivid and action- packed picture book, full of sunlight, daffodils and ducklings.

The Pirate and the Pig by Frank Rodgers (Viking pounds 10.99). Captain Peg Leg faces mutiny from the nastiest crew on the seven seas when he decides that his pirating days are over. Kept below deck, he is helpless to prevent the Jolly Rotters as they fatten up his beloved pig Matey for their Christmas dinner. It looks as if everything's gone horribly wrong, but life at sea is notoriously unpredictable. Inventively illustrated, from rolling-eyed pirates to an impromptu Christmas tree made from rope and seaweed.

The Nodland Express by Anna Clarke, illus Martin Rowson (Macmillan pounds 8.99). A magical mystery trip all the way to bedtime when two small children, a bear and a penguin, set off to Nodland by train. Rowson's dayjob as a searing political cartoonist (and creator of our own Pantheon) is manifest in such vividly horrible creations as the slavering wolf, green witch and ugly frog, but not to worry - they are all put off the train before it reaches its cosy destination. Clarke's fun text is complemented by charming visual jokes, like the train's In Case Of Emergency Break Glass case, with a toothbrush and paste inside.

The Crow Who Stood on His Beak by Rafik Schami, trs Anthea Bell, illus Els Cools and Oliver Streich (North-South pounds 8.99). This delightful story owes much to Rudyard Kipling and his tales of how the world began. Little crow, who hears of the peacock and his extravagant tail, cannot rest until he sees this phenomenon. Little crow is the latch-key offspring of a single mother, and is deemed a Bad Influence by the crow equivalent of Neighbourhood Watch, but his encounter with the king of birds redeems him. Fabulous illustration and subtly comical text make this a dead cert. STORY BOOKS Tales of Heartease Wood by Neil Philip, illus Tracey Williamson (Hazar pounds 4.99). The first four in a new series stress domestic virtues ("There's No Place Like Home", "Make Do and Mend") as a family of red squirrels find their ancestral home menaced by a pack of thuggish greys called Bugloss, Vetch and Spurge. All this anthropomorphic husbandry is very reminiscent of Grahame, with the grey squirrels standing in for that nasty underclass of weasels. Charming illustrations, though. 4+

Nettie the fairy features in four books by Lynda Britnell (Orion pounds 2.50 each). The books are miniature, but Nettie herself is a strapping wingless fairy with big feet, too large for the traditional toadstool. Curiously, in A Name for Nettie, she already has wings, and in How Nettie Got Her Wings she already has a name, so these are not for junior logicians. Sweetly illustrated by Joanna Walsh. 5+

"Life is like wandering blindfold through a minefield," thinks Buzz Beecham, a pupil at Marie Lloyd Comprehensive. Docile Buzz falls in with foul Fingers Valentine, leader of a gang of tiny terrors in Sticky Fingers by Roger Collinson (Anderson pounds 8.99). The sophisticated sense of humour, and phrases like "conspicuously boisterous" point this rollicking tale towards more confident readers. 7+

The title of The Stories Huey Tells by Ann Cameron (Gollancz pounds 8.99) makes Huey sound like a fibber, but he's not - just your average imaginative six-year-old. His parents are far from average: when Huey's early morning attempt to make banana spaghetti results in a burnt mess, Dad comes down and makes fresh banana pasta with cream. More realistically, Dad also has wise words for Huey's nightmares. Rose-tinted - but there's nothing wrong with that. 6+

Where once kids' fiction was thronged with orphans, today's stories feature the ubiquitous one-parent family. In The Survival of Arno Mostyn by Sarah Garland (Collins pounds 8.99), Arno uses all his detective skills to work out why his mother has suddenly ditched her glasses, started wearing make- up and tights. But soon something even more disturbing happens, when a valuable Celtic artefact goes missing. Witty, fast-moving, comic. 7- 10

According to the Oxford Witchionary, a bathday is "A witch's birthday, the one day in the year when witches are supposed to have baths". Even so, Lil and Gert Twitch are opposed to the notion of personal hygiene in The Twitches' Bathday by Roy Apps (Macdonald pounds 3.99). The day is filled with misunderstandings as the grubby twosome do anything to avoid washing. Carla Daly's illustrations are suitably louche. 6+

Harvey the St Bernard, in well-earned retirement from the Mountain Rescue, is back in the thick of adventure in Harvey on Holiday by Terrance Dicks, illus Susan Hellard (Piccadilly pounds 6.99). He gets involved in a plot to kidnap the Royal corgis at a sinister inn run by a couple who are almost too Scottish. The heavy accents, adorable canine hero and mildly exciting plot make this an amusing tale to read aloud. 6+ FICTION 11+ Fat Chance by Leslea Newman (Women's Press pounds 3.50). When a teen magazine says 13-year-old Judi Liebowitz's 7lbs too heavy, she spirals into self- disgust, denial and bingeing. On top of the usual teenage pressures, she has to navigate the food demands of the Jewish year. On Rosh Hashanah you eat something sweet, grease is de rigueur for Chanukah and on Yom Kippur you get to fast - yippee! - though Judi blows it afterwards with bagels and noodle pudding. And her Mom swears by fatty chicken soup: "Jewish penicillin". Then skinny Nancy Pratt shows Judi a secret way to stuff and lose weight. Excellent; entertaining without being flippant.

The Doom Stone by Paul Zindel (Bodley Head pounds 8.99). Juvenile horror from Salisbury Plain: young American Jackson Cawley is visiting his anthropologist aunt, on secondment to the British Army to track down a mysterious beast which has been mutilating animals, and, lately, human beings, near Stonehenge. It's an intriguing mix of lore, gore and up-to-the-minute technology, as Jackson and Aunt Sarah take part in a thrilling helicopter chase with thermal imaging equipment. Brave Aunt Sarah and love interest Alma save this from being too Boy's Own.

Mad About the Boy by Mary Hooper (Walker pounds 8.99). Joanna is furious when her widowed father marries again, bringing a plump stepmum and bespectacled stepbrother into their cosy home. Joanna immediately begins a campaign of surliness against the interlopers. Hooper is good on the teenage propensity for cutting off noses to spite faces: "I contemplated the uproar, the fuss, the outrage and fury I'd righteously create if they tried to take my bedroom away from me. Unfortunately, though, they hadn't." Finally Joanna discovers even stepbrothers have their good points.

Jacqueline Hyde by Robert Swindell (Doubleday pounds 9.99). Good little Jacqueline finds a medicine bottle in her grandmother's attic and takes a sniff. One dose, and she becomes invincibly bad; she loses her friends, annoys her teachers, worries her parents. By the time Jacqueline realises she's hooked,the expression "no bottle" has taken on a whole new meaning. A surprisingly dark allegory about the dangers of "stuff that comes in bottles".

ANTIDOTE by Malorie Blackman (Doubleday pounds 9.99). Blackman catapults young Elliott into a world of paranoia and surveillance when his computer-whiz mother disappears after taking part in an undercover operation for pressure group ANTIDOTE ("Action Now Thwarts Immoral Destruction Of The Environment"). Can Elliott use his computer knowledge to find his mother and entrap the evil pharmaceuticals millionaire? A gripping techno-thriller.

NON-FICTION

Fantastic facts are the staples of children's books, no matter how poppy or sober the presentation. A&C Black's Science Mysteries (Sleep, Time, Language and Growing Older, all pounds 8.99) are high on the boggle factor. Lesley Newson helps (a little) to demystify concepts like relavity and spacetime. Language tells the story of the first experiment with speech, in Egypt 2700 years ago, when two infants were raised by a shepherd who couldn't speak. Their first recognisable word was bekos, the ancient Phrygian word for bread. Ergo, mankind's original language was Phrygian. Nice try, but it doesn't follow, say scientists now.

Jenny Bryan's Your Amazing Brain (Joshua Morris pounds 8.99) continues the "Look Inside" series, where overlaid coloured acetates reveal the intricacies of anatomy: in this case the human head. The eye can recognise 10 million shades of colour, the sense of smell is 20,000 times stronger than that of taste, and the skin on the fingertips is most sensitive to pressure (least sensitive is your bottom).

The popular Horrible Histories series (Terrible Tudors, Rotten Romans, etc) continues with The Slimy Stuarts by Terry Deary, drawings by Martin Brown (Scholastic pounds 3.50). An old Scottish law said that you could be drowned if you refused to support the Church. In 1685, 60-year-old Margaret McLauchlan and 18-year-old Margaret Wilson were tied to stakes on the beach at low tide. McLauchlan was placed closer to the water in the hope that the sight of her struggles would persuade the younger woman to recant. It didn't.

Robert Crowther's Pop-Up Olympics: Amazing Facts and Record Breakers (Walker pounds 12.99) is silly but irresistible. Turn the page, pull the tabs, and athletes sprint, vault, balance, cycle and row. At the back is your very own gold medal on a ribbon. But remember poor Vyacheslav Ivanov, who won a gold for single sculls in 1956. He jubilantly tossed his medal up in the air and it plopped into the Olympic Lake, lost forever.

With The Amazing Outdoor Activity Book (Dorling Kindersley pounds 8.99), budding Attenboroughs can build hides, watch birds, collect shells, identify animal prints, learn to track, and grow plants. An ingenious home-made device is the "Pooter", which enables the young naturalist to suck insects into a jar (not the YN's gullet).

More caring nature lore in Shirley Felt's Trees (Tango pounds 11.99), another pull-tab, lift-flap offering. The squirrel leaps, the nuthatch scampers, an acorn germinates and apple-blossom attracts a bee. Coo, did you know a tree can lose 600 litres of water on a hot day?

The Children's Encyclopaedia of Birds (Gollancz pounds 10.99) has none of this trickery but will feed any bird-lover hungry for facts. Jinny Johnson's beautifully illustrated text features over 100 fascinating birds. Action drawings show how the gannet plunges vertically into water from as high as 30m.

Dipping into Jason Page's Kids Rule the Internet (Bloomsbury pounds 3.99) is a bit like eavesdropping. "The adult brain is just not suited to technology ... adults worry that their beloved children (er, that's you) will surf off into the cyber-sunset and discover rude pictures of people with no clothes on, info on how to make bombs and drugs, and other such things." Tell your drongo parents about Net Nannies, Page advises. "If you are sensible, the Net is a friendly and safe place to be." And we all know there aren't many of those left for kids.

SPORT

Gordon Goes For Glory by Leon Rosselson (Hodder pounds 2.99). "Stick Insect" Stanley has a thing or two to teach Gordon and the football team: "The trouble with you ... is you just play football with your feet. But you need brains to play properly." With Stick Insect as manager, and a girl to help, West Side Wanderers become a side to reckon with - and learn some lessons in life, too. For solo readers gaining confidence.

For slightly older readers, Rob Childs launches a new football series with Soccer Mad (Corgi Yearling pounds 2.99). Luke Crawford and his Sunday League team are in focus in an excellent story detailed enough to please the most devoted fanatic.

Skateboard Tough (Little, Brown pounds 2.99) is by Matt Christopher, the doyen of sports fiction for children. A little US-orientated, perhaps, but these sporty mini-thrillers are exciting. When Brett rides "The Lizard", a board mysteriously found buried in a box, he can perform amazing stunts - but he realises that something, well, strange is happening.

In Matt Christopher's other new title, Wingman on Ice (Little, Brown pounds 2.99), Tod dreams of a new hockey stick - but it brings problems with it. Christopher uses the game as a full-scale moral education: parental relationships, sibling rivalry, true grit, right 'n' wrong - it's all there. But don't let that put you off.

The Fastest Bowler in the World by Michael Hardcastle (Faber, pounds 9.99). A stream-of-cricket-consciousness for the truly obsessed. Young pace bowler Nick Freeman proves himself to his team and their surly coach. He sounds more like a commentator than an 11-year-old, but this well-observed and absorbing book is sharp on details (such as the difference between good bowling and terrorism). For once it's Mum who provides parental support and inspiration (admittedly, she bats for England).

Dick King-Smith updates Hilaire Belloc with some new cautionary tales, Dirty Gertie Mackintosh (Doub- (leday pounds 9.99). His sly couplets relish retribution for smelly Gertie, snooty Gwendoline Trench-Mortar, Willie White (who won't go to sleep) and Bobby Jobbins, whose hobby gets out of control. He isn't as sadistic as Belloc, though, and these transgressing tots (entertainingly sketched by Ros Asquith) get off lightly.

Custard Pies: Poems That Are Jokes (Macmillan pounds 3.50) delights in awful puns, surreal images and rude thoughts. Editor Pie Corbett fields Matt Simpson ("Rosie's are red, Violet's are blue, / Out on the washing line, open to view!") and Ian Macmillan, whose "Names of Scottish Islands to be Shouted in a Bus Queue When You're Feeling Bored" ("Yell! Muck! Eigg! Rhum! Unst! Hoy!") is surely one for adults too.

John Foster's Standing on the Sidelines (Oxford pounds 7.99) pushes more pious sentiments: "There's a price for the eggs you eat, / It's the hens that have to pay"). There are some effective nature poems, and well-meaning stabs at huge emotions. Life is not quite so serious in Joan Poulson's Girls Are Like Diamonds (Oxford pounds 7.99), where homelessness, babysitting and boyfriends rub along with cheerful female supremacy. The child with a PC father ("He won't buy this / won't buy that / no CFC sprays / no Kit-Kat") has at least got her pri- orities right: "There's an endangered species / here - see! / and who's carrying / placards for me?"

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