Books: When I was a little boy

Children's writer Brandon Robshaw delivers his verdict on the latest story books - but will the children agree? `Australian identity' novelist.
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The Independent Culture
OLECAT CAFE by Sam Llewellyn (Walker pounds 6.99), is based on a simple and rather silly premise: Jack is a budding chef who can't cook, and Anna fancies herself as a wildlife expert but is unable to identify any animals. As a child I'd have been seriously annoyed by the implausibility of this. I would not have worried about a talking polecat, nor the unexpected appearance of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, but there's no way I could have accepted a would- be chef so bad at cooking that he put dog-food in a sandwich, or a would- be zoologist so clueless that she mistook a badger for a fox.

Hannah, 7: "I think the story is good and funny. Jack and Anna are brother and sister who go into a cafe run by a polecat. The customers are all animals. They all use knives and forks except for the Chinese pheasant who uses chopsticks. It is a lovely story and the pictures are nice too."

A Touch of Wind is the third in Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore's Mad Myths series (Puffin pounds 3.99). As a child I would have enjoyed the mythological element but I wouldn't have thought much of the characters. Well'ard is a bore, Andy and Eddie are indistinguishable and Perce - well, like most girl characters these days she is "feisty", which means rude, scornful and inclined to violence.

Leila, 10: "I enjoyed this book because it is funny and the idea is good. It explains things well, so I didn't get confused. My favourite character is Perce because she is funny, sensible and always corrects people if they are wrong. The four children are on a school trip at Bogmouth on Sylt when they find Odysseus washed up on the beach. He has a sword and a bag of winds. But he has a problem. A witch is chasing him. He takes the children on an amazing adventure, which I felt involved in."

The Big Clash is the 12th book in Rob Childs' Big Match series (Corgi pounds 3.50). Chris Weston, goalie of Danebridge School football team, is put off his game when his absentee father returns to the area. The writing style is simple and cliches are employed wherever possible. (This wouldn't have bothered me when I was nine.) I'd have enjoyed the football bits most and hurried through the family relationship bits in between.

Owen, 13: "This was very easy to read - I read it really quickly. It was quite funny when his Dad was shouting at him from the touchline. Not all of the story was finished, like it doesn't tell you how Danebridge did in the cup. I expect you have to read the next book to find out. I'd read another book by Rob Childs."

The Horribly Haunted School by Margaret Mahy (Hamish Hamilton pounds 10.99) concerns one Monty Merryandrew, who is sent to the Brinsley Codd School for Sensible Thought to be cured of his belief in ghosts and, naturally enough, meets a ghost there. I enjoyed the wit and energy and the quirky humour: Monty's Dad is a Government Philosopher who works at the Department of Despair and his mother is bidding to become Jigsaw Champion of Great Britain. There is a quote from Hamlet to spot on page 40. The plot has several strands, which are expertly tied together in the finale. I would have loved this book as a child and I love it as a grown-up. Of all the books reviewed here, this is the one I'd most like to have written.

Isabel, 9:"It was a bit slow to get going - it took him three chapters to get to the school. But I liked the way it was written - it was very detailed, The plot and storyline were very good. I guessed some of what was going to happen - I knew his Mum would win the competition. The characters are imaginative: I liked his friend Lulu, who's a ghost who lives in an old car. I liked the drawings, too."

The Lottie Project by Jaqueline Wilson (Doubleday pounds 9.99) has proper characterisation and a proper plot - several, actually. It's written in the first person by Charlie (short for Charlotte) Enright, interspersed by excerpts from an imaginary Victorian diary she is writing in the persona of Lottie, a maidservant; the diary reflects events in her own life. The trick of writing as a child is not easy to pull off, but Wilson does it triumphantly. Charlie is another feisty character, but a convincing, fully rounded one; and towards the end she partially repents of her fierceness and discloses a softer side. As a boy, I think I would have been put off by the insistent dissing of boys and men well before that point. But if I'd been a girl I'd have loved it.

Megan, 12: "Jaqueline Wilson's other books are fun to read and you never want to put them down, but this one was confusing , the way her history project is just slammed in the middle of all the chapters! I also don't see why the book is called The Lottie Project because 75 per cent of the book is about her and Jamie Edwards and her Mum not being able to find a job and finding a boyfriend. I'd give this book a 6 out of 10."

8 Brandon Robshaw's latest book, `Georgina and the Dragon' is available in Puffin at pounds 3.99.

8 Thanks to Megan, Isabel and Owen Glover and Leila and Hannah Chaker

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