BOOK REVIEW / Children's Books: Happy families and rare pigs: Maureen Owen on the best books for children

FOR ALL that the choice is so wide, show an adult a pile of books for seven- to 12- year-olds and they are likely to choose the ones fondly remembered from their youth. Who hasn't longed to recapture the magic world of fantasy which Ursula Le Guin once described as 'A vast and beautiful national park'? From the time their children are about seven years old, parents would do well to look out for new books. By the lavishly gifted William Mayne, for instance, who started writing for children in 1953 and is still producing some of the best books to be found. His latest, Hob and the Goblins (Dorling Kindersley pounds 8.99) about a house spirit who tidies away things like scraps of quarrels and pieces of spite before moving on to the sterner stuff of evil magic, is perfect for a good eight- or nine-year- old reader. While Low Tide, also by Mayne (Red Fox, pounds 3.50), is an exhilarating adventure story set in New Zealand at the turn of the century.

For seven-year-olds starting to read by themselves, a superior example of the large print and simple but satisfying story formula is Triffic: A Rare Pig's Tale by Dick King-Smith (Gollancz pounds 3.99). Taking advantage of her rarity value, Triffic, the new piglet at the Rare Breeds Centre, stages a series of disappearing tricks.

James Marshall, American author, illustrator and devastatingly funny story teller, died in 1992. Rats on the Range (Hamish Hamilton pounds 8.50) is a fine example of his witty style and, unfortunately, his last book. Out of eight stories it is hard to pick a favourite, but 'Fairweather Pig', in which the playground show-off leaves school and gets fired from every job due to a mixture of vanity and greed, had two seven-year-olds with very different tastes hooting with laughter.

Animal stories in the eight- to ten-year-old range have developed great authenticity. Rak: The Story of an Urban Fox by Jonathan Guy (Julia Macrae pounds 8.99) is a book which raises important questions while reading like a thriller. Rak and his mate Shi live on a railway embankment untroubled by man, whose waste bins provide easy pickings, until they are captured and 'freed' into the countryside by well-meaning people. With his mate soon run over by a car, Rak's struggle for survival makes a gripping read.

Although Jacqueline Wilson deals in social realism, her books have a fresh and friendly approach and she receives hundreds of letters from children. In the Bed and Breakfast Star (Doubleday pounds 8.99), Elsa and her family are all jammed into one room in a run-down bed and breakfast hotel for homeless families. Elsa blots out the present by dreaming of becoming a star and, unlikely as it seems, gets her big chance. In contrast, Tree House by Gillian Cross (Methuen pounds 7.99), is a warm and touching happy-families story. Magic flourishes when two brothers discover a 100-year-old tree in the garden of their new house.

In Greek Myths for Young Children (Walker pounds 9.99) Marcia Williams takes eight of the better known myths and illustrates them in cartoon form. This works better than you might think with Pandora, for instance, portrayed as a spoilt harpy while the text tells the story. Strong stuff. Bible stories have also made a come-back recently with a number of lavish editions. So are we seeing a religious revival in the world of children's publishing, or is it just a case of going back to basics for some good stories? The Children's Illustrated Bible retold by Selina Hastings, (Dorling Kindersley pounds 14.99) is illustrated by Eric Thomas with maps and pictures along natural history lines. One image shows an Egyptian basket which 'Moses's mother would have found easy to make out of papyrus reeds'.

The Kingfisher Children's Bible retold by Ann Pilling ( pounds 12.99) also covers both Old and New Testaments in story form with colour pictures. With the story of Moses called 'The Baby in the Basket', the keynote is fresh simplicity. In Stories from the Bible retold by Martin Waddell (Frances Lincoln pounds 9.99), the tone is more aggresive; Moses's mother, we are told, 'wasn't going to let any old Egyptian kill him'. Take your pick.

With a selection of over 15 modern classics reprinted by Puffin this Easter, nostalgia victims should have little to complain about. Most will suit children from the age of eight upwards and all are priced at pounds 3.99. First published in 1958, Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce has stood the test of time with the magical story of the boy who opens the door to an enchanted garden when the clock strikes 13. The Mouse and His Father by Russell Hoban, about the perilous adventures of two clockwork mice, has survived to become a cult favourite, while Clive King's tale of an eight-year-old boy who embarks on some hair-raising adventures with a stone age man, still ranks as one of the best time-shift fantasies.

The best of the new paperbacks include The Snow-Walker's Son by Catherine Fisher (Red Fox pounds 2.99), about a magical journey through dark regions ruled by an ice-witch and The Children Next Door by Jean Ure (Scholastic pounds 5.99), which combines realism with eeriness in a story about the hidden secrets of a seemingly ordinary family.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all