Books For Children: Older Fiction

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Unquiet Spirits by K M Peyton, Scholastic pounds 4.99. Oooh, summat's up at Good Graces, the Jacobean mansion on't edge o't moor! There's gorgeous young Simon, unhappy scion of the Tempest-Gallinules, possibly gay; Temp, his mean, irascible father; exiled teenage narrator Madeleine, pining for Hackney until she claps eyes on Simon; and there are the ghosts of the young sempstress (in the cottage) and her evil mistress Agnes (in the bridal chamber). A bit gushy, but a keen sense of atmosphere is maintained. SF

2 Smash! by Robert Swindells, Hamish Hamilton pounds 10.99. Ashraf and Abida and Stephen and Colleen are two sets of brother and sister, and best friends, but when two white 13-year-olds mug a seven-year-old Asian girl and leave her unconscious, racial tensions split the boys into two factions. Ashraf joins a vigilante group, while Stephen is sucked into Blackout, a fascist gang. By the time he realises its true nature, he's too afraid to leave. Despite being set in a bizarre alternative reality where the expletive of choice is "flipping" or "bollards!", and there's a deceased young Muslim writer called Hanif Qureshi, this is an exciting, timely and complex story. SF

2 The Amazon Box, Ron Moody, Robson pounds 14.95. The Trevelyan family are chosen to embark on an adventure in the Brazilian rainforest by unknown forces, linked to a mysterious Amazon box. Accompanied by Princess Zaraida, a native Indian princess; Alpheos Valkinspein, intrepid explorer; Whisky Joe, butler and part-time jungle guide; and two gamekeepers, they set out to unravel the clues carved on the box. Good inevitably engages with evil, but their perilous mission seems more like a Sunday afternoon treasure hunt with a homily on the sanctity of virgin rainforests and native cultures thrown in for good measure. DG

Out of the Mouth of Babes by Dennis Hamley, Scholastic Press pounds 5.99. A tragic story revolving around three children born into vastly different social circles whose lives become linked. Julian Claverhouse has everything: money, success and arrogance while Gary Brady has nothing, only a stepfather who subjects him to a childhood of abuse and torment. Grizelda Grissom makes up the unlikely trio and is the catalyst for the dramatic finale. A thought-provoking tale that tackles the topic of class head-on. CW

Voices in the Wind by Robert Westall, Macmillan pounds 10.99. A last and very fine collection from Westall, who died in 1993. Despite the spectral book jacket, these tales aren't just about the supernatural: the first, "The Shepherd's Room", is a grim and claustrophobic tale about two holidaying schoolboys trapped by a blizzard in a hut, who end up wanting to kill one another, and there's no occult element at all. In "Cathedral", a young girl is trapped in that hoary old ghost-story cliche, a church at night, yet the outcome is resolutely humanist and agnostic. "The German Ghost" is more straightforwardly chilling. As the soldier protagonist points out, "if it wasn't a ghost, it was something worse." SF

Scribbleboy by Philip Ridley, illus Chris Riddell, Puffin pounds 3.99. "Scribbles scribbled by the most scribbledacious and scribblefabulous scribbler in scribbledom" have transformed the grey concrete area where Ma Glamrock, Pa Punkrock, Ziggy Fuzz and a host of others reside. But Scribbleboy has disappeared and gradually the area is returning to its former gloomy self. In a desperate bid to maintain scribbledom, Ziggy Fuzz and Bailey Silk set-up the Scribbleboy fanclub. In Ridley's fast and frenetic tale, now out in paperback, where children learn to cope with parents leaving home, vivid characters are enhanced by superb illustrations. CW

2 Switchers by Kate Thompson, Bodley Head London pounds 9.99. Kevin and Tess have powers beyond the dreams of mere mortals. They have the ability to change into any animal - living or extinct - after only a moment's concentration. As the two children go on a fantasy adventure they develop a friendship and respect for each other that overcomes their initial doubts and fears that the issue of class has raised. An enchanting tale that stretches from Dublin to the Pentagon and takes the imagination even further. CW

Angela and Diabola by Lynn Reid Banks, Collins pounds 9.99. An hilarious account of a set of twins, one a paragon of virtue the other the devil incarnate! From the moment she is born, Diabola causes trouble at every turn until her mother ends up in jail and her father is forced to restrain her under lock and key. Despite Angela continuing to be her parents' pride and joy, things go from bad to worse as we follow the twins progress to the disturbing conclusion. For anyone with a wicked sense of humour. CW

2 Hob and the Pedlar by William Mayne, Dorling Kindersley pounds 8.99. An uncategorisable gem: it looks like a children's book but I found it taxing myself. Hob is a household sprite who lives under the stairs and puts things right. The Pedlar sells him to a family where everything is awry; something very mysterious lurks at the bottom of the pond and no-one can utter the word "egg". Cosmic, crazy, with amazing, inventive language (there's a SlyMe living in the drain: "Hello, SlyYou"). I'm hooked. SF

2 Pig-heart Boy by Malorie Blackman, Doubleday pounds 9.99. Cameron Kelsey desperately needs a heart transplant to stand a chance of living to his 14th birthday. But nothing could prepare him for the offer he is made to be the first person ever to receive a pig heart. A sensitive and informative story that provides a vivid insight into transgenics and xenotransplantations (the process of transplanting the organ of one species into the body of a different species) and still manages to squeeze in the inevitable guinea- pig and piggy in the middle jokes. CW

Reviews by Suzi Feay, Diona Gregory and Chloe Walker