Easter parade: A round-up of new books perfect for holiday reading

From picture books for little ones to thrilling novels for teens...
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The Independent Culture

There is plenty to fill the Easter holidays of small children this year. Caroline Jayne Church's board book Here Comes Easter! (Scholastic, £5.99) features five hidden Easter eggs, making it an excellent choice for parents who have forgotten to buy any for their own family. Its simple text rhymes and cheerful pictures sometimes include contrasting textures for infants to feel for themselves.

Also highly diverting, Melanie Walsh's My Green Day (Walker, £10.99) is exactly the sort of picture book that successfully answers the climate-change question, "So what can I do about it?" Illustrated with great daubs of primary colours, it comes up with 10 green actions well within the reach of any ordinary home, with a text for older readers who want to know more. Some clever paper engineering helps deliver a message that is both fun and timely.

Gregory Rogers' extraordinary The Hero of Little Street (Allen & Unwin, £10.99) is a wordless picture book teeming with the sort of action that cries out for repeated viewings. A small boy, escaping from a gang of bullies, first slips into London's National Gallery and then takes refuge in a Vermeer painting of 17th-century Holland. Many adventures later, he comes back to reality, now accompanied by a fierce band of dogs to see off any opposition. This feast of a book has to be seen to be believed.

Quieter in tone is Michael Morpurgo's It's a Dog's Life (Egmont, £5.99), illustrated by Patrick Benson. His pictures describe a day in the life of a sheepdog, as told by the canine himself, and their loving depiction of rolling green hills, dry-stone walls and domestic animals make this book irresistible.

Michael Foreman's illustrations for Janet Charters' The General (Templar, £11.28) first appeared nearly 50 years ago. This new and sumptuous anniversary edition is a reminder of the precocious brilliance of his early work, with each page a triumph of colour and design. The story of a famous general increasingly drawn to peaceful solutions remains as topical as ever, and should not be missed.

For eight- to 12-year-olds, Mick Fitzmaurice's Morris MacMillipede (Andersen, £4.99), illustrated in black-and-white by Satoshi Kitamura, is consistently jolly with accompanying, often hilarious, pictures. Paul Cooper's Pigs in Planes (Puffin, £4.99) contains four Joke Cards that can be detached for giving away or swapping. Subtitled "The Chicken Egg-splosion", there is no danger of any pun shortages as Captain Peter Porker sets out to solve the mystery of an hen-ormous robbery. Sorrel Anderson's The Clumsies (HarperCollins, £4.99) is good fun, with Nicola Slater's drawings joyously interrupting a story about the impact of talking mice on the life of an already harassed office worker. Jenny Valentine's Iggy & Me and the Happy Birthday (HarperCollins, £4.99) is also recommended. Her short stories, just the right length for a quick bedtime read, are wittily illustrated by Joe Berger.

Kaye Umansky always offers laugh-aloud value; in Clover Twig and the Perilous Path (Bloomsbury, £5.99) Clover, living in the village of Tingly Bottom, finds keeping house for a cantankerous witch has its problems. Also consistently funny but with occasional Dahl-esque moments of cruelty to keep readers on their toes, Jamie Rix's The Incredible Luck of Alfie Pluck (Orion, £5.99) is a real find. Its story describes how neglected, 11-year-old Alfie becomes supernaturally lucky after ingesting a much-sought-after luck gene.

For an equally captivating but different reading experience, Jill Murphy's touching Dear Hound (Puffin, £4.99) tells how young Charlie sets out to find his missing deerhound puppy. Drawing on her own knowledge of what it is like to lose a dog, the author also provides the illustrations for this first work of fiction from her for 15 years following her fabulously popular Worst Witch series.

Jacqueline Wilson's Little Darlings (Doubleday, £12.99) tells the story of a girl's attempts to be reunited with a fading, married pop star who, unbeknownst to him, also happens to be her father. Events turn from tough to tender, with descriptions of urban poverty in one chapter contrasting with accounts of empty luxury in the next, and with Nick Sharrat's line illustrations expertly setting the mood.

For teenage readers, Helen Grant's second novel, The Glass Demon (Puffin, £6.99), is told from the point of view of a modern-day teenage girl temporarily and unwillingly relocated to a German forest while her image-obsessed, university-teacher father does research into some missing medieval stained glass. Witty instead of facetious, occasionally scary without seeming merely silly, well-plotted and beautifully written, it is everything a young-adult novel should be. Helen, please keep on writing.

Also excellent, Jason Wallace's Out of Shadows (Andersen, £6.99) is the latest lacerating addition to the boarding-school-as- living-hell genre. The establishment in question this time is in Zimbabwe, circa 1983; read on if you have the courage. The author attended a similar establishment at the age of 12, and gives every indication of knowing exactly what he is writing about.

Gillian Cross is an old hand at catering for this age group, and her Where I Belong (Oxford, £6.99) does not disappoint. Set in the current Somali diaspora in north London, it describes how different teenage exiles cope with a new culture, along with the sometimes dangerous demands made of them by their former country. A kidnapping and the bizarre but finally successful involvement of the high-fashion scene round off a fine story. Some similarly determined home-grown teenage characters turn up in Ally Kennen's Sparks (Scholastic, £6.99). Subtitled "How to Give Grandpa a Viking Funeral", it describes exactly that. Never mind the mounting unlikelihoods; this is enterprising writing of a high calibre.

The same is true of Mary Hooper's Fallen Grace (Bloomsbury, £8.99). Set in mid- Victorian England, this long novel explores the strange and almost unbelievably weird world of 19th-century mourning rites where 15-year-old orphan Grace, its gentle heroine, is forced to work for a dodgy firm of undertakers after almost starving to death as a London watercress-seller. At one stage she meets Charles Dickens, who might well have recognised some of the plot turns of this most satisfying read.

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