Bullies, knights and aga sagas

NEW FICTION
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Dad on the Run by Sarah Garland, A C Black pounds 5.99. Colour Jets are supposed to be lively and enticing for kids who are starting to enjoy reading alone, and this story certainly lives up to the brief. Mack and Beano's dad is a househusband while mum high-flies at the office. With an anorak over his pyjamas and his feet stuffed into fluffy slippers, dad drives the kids to school; after all, he won't even have to get out of the car... will he? Needless to say chaos ensues, with the scantily-clad dad getting into more and more embarrassing scrapes, while the kids try to help. Cartoon-style pics underline the comedy, and the lanky Beano is a delightfully resourceful hero.

The One-Day Millionaires by Hazel Townson, illus David McKee, Anderson pounds 7.99. Inventor Arthur Venger returns with a miraculous new potion: Gift- Juice, or G-Juice, one drop of which makes people 100 times more generous. Suddenly grumpy adults are handing out tenners to beggars, but when two conwomen move in, Venger and his schoolboy sidekicks realise they haven't thought through the implications of his brilliant invention. A funny and fast-paced story for fluent readers.

The Thwarting of Baron Bolligrew by Robert Bolt, Cape pounds 9.99. A rollicking tale of dragons and knights errant from the playwright who died recently; fast-paced fun for those who love scrumptiously archaic terminology. Sir Oblong fitz Oblong (the bizarre nomenclature - a hobgoblin called Jackie? - grows on you) is a tediously do-gooding knight; while everybody else just wants to feast and hunt and play on the battlements, he will insist on helping the poor. So the king dispatches him to the Bolligrew Isles, there to do battle with the forces of evil. A versatile book to read aloud or alone; Mark Robertson's excellent line drawings add extra interest.

Bullies Don't Hurt by Anthony Masters, Viking pounds 9.99. A sympathetic look at bullying from the unusual perspective of the bully, though the victim is a weak teacher rather than a child. Alistair Hall, whose work has slid since his mother remarried, leads a gang, but finds controlling the Rat Pack's unruly egos is almost as stressful as being a victim. This is a tough tale of an inner-city school with language ("you pissing little know-all", "evil little sod", "poofter") to match, but there's a twist when it's revealed that Ali himself is being bullied, in a much more sinister way. Bleak, but gives hope to anyone in that phase when your best friends keep turning nasty.

Twice Times Danger by Enid Richemont, Walker pounds 8.99. This spirited adventure story for girls has two children (and dog) uniting to solve a crime that baffles the police. Cornish girls Becca and Daisie despise the "emmets", or holiday visitors, until pampered, wealthy Dita turns up with her au pair. Dita and Daisie are almost exact doubles, and Becca becomes increasingly sidelined as the two swap clothes and identities in a bid to fool the adults. But a holiday game turns sinister when one of the girls goes missing.

The Ashton Affair by Ann Thwaite, Scholastic pounds 6.99. Another tale set in an idyllic village, this has adult Jan looking back at the events of nearly 20 years ago when the return of her mum's old flame Piers Morley to his family home, Ashton Hall, threatened to break up her parents' marriage. Piers's daughter Claire, Jan and her friend Fisher form the Maxerley Club (motto: out and about), which starts off as a game of hiding and tracking in the woods, but becomes a way of spying on the adults. Not so much L P Hartley as Joanna Trollope for young teens.

Thief! by Malorie Blackman, Doubleday pounds 9.99. Lydia Henson is being set up at her new school: someone's put the school sports cup into her locker, and when her best friend falls in front of a car, Lydia's accused of pushing her. A freak storm whirls the unhappy Lydia from the present- day Yorkshire town Tarwich to the bleak, nightmarish Hensonville of the future, where Night Guards roam and barbed wire has replaced neat gardens and houses. There's rather an abrupt lurch from school realism and family squabbling to tense sci-fi, but this is a gripping tale.

Visitors for the Chalet School by Helen McClelland, Bettany Press pounds 12.99 (ISBN 0 9524680 1 8). Chalet School fanatics have always been tantalised by the terms Elinor M Brent-Dyer didn't write about. McClelland's research for her biography of the author suggested that Brent-Dyer was considering a book chronicling just such a "lost term". The book, to follow The Princess of the Chalet School, was never written, but the notes ("English schoolgirls visit Brisau ... medical studies, Rattenburg expedition, Juliet in London") gave McClelland the idea. In a later book, Head Girl of the Chalet School, Rosalie Dene gives a prefects' report about the missing term ("No floods. No kidnapped princesses") which thankfully steered McClelland away from the mountain rescues, murderous lunatics and train crashes which plague the other books. There's a featured girl, Patricia Davidson, who hopes that Joey Bettany will help her realise her dreams of being a doctor, and all the usual obsessions with the weather and gorging ("delicious spicy soup ... Blaubeeren Torte with whipped cream and finally plates of Viennese honey and nut biscuits"). McClelland has a wonderful knack for period detail, coming up with Elinor-esque party games, songs, slang. Perhaps it's rather too well-written and knowing to be truly Elinor. "Fragile pale green cups seemed to float on the tray like waterlilies" indeed.

Comments