Children's books reviewed

Three boys from one family dived into this year's Christmas reads for us - but who came up holding the plum?
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The Independent Culture

I liked Felix and the Blue Dragon (Orion £9.99; Angela McAllister, illustrated by Mary Claire Smith). A little boy with the same name as one of my brothers is a prince who goes into a forest and finds a blue dragon. Felix and the dragon both go to their treasure chambers and bring out their precious things to show each other. The dragon tells all the animals of the forest to come by blowing his magic horn. Felix gets a huge flag which makes the wind sweep over the forest. After they have brought up lots more treasures, they each decide to get one special thing. Then they discover that the treasure belongs to both of them, so they decide to share it and be friends.

Happy Birthday Chimp and Zee (Frances Lincoln £12.99; by Catherine and Laurence Anholt), reminded me of my other brother. It's about two twin monkeys who wake up in the morning on their birthday and bounce and jump on their beds. Their mum wakes up and asks them what is making the shaking noise. Then the postman brings them birthday cards and their dad gives them their birthday presents, which are two scooters. But the biggest surprise of all is waiting for them right in the middle of Jungle Town. After lots of adventures, and a short cut through the Slimy Swamp, they find that all their friends have come to give them a birthday tea.

Another good book about monkeys is Little Monkey's One Safe Place (Frances Lincoln £10.99; by Richard Edwards and Susan Winter). Little monkey is having fun in the forest. He climbs and he jumps and he swings by his feet. But when he goes to sleep in the branch of a tree a big storm comes and he is very scared. Then his mummy tells him that he has one safe place. Not in a snake's hole, not near the river where there are crocodiles, not in the cave where there is a scary panther, but at home with his mummy.

There are some more scary things in Hieronymous Betts and his Unusual Pets (Frances Lincoln £9.99; by M P Robertson). Hieronymous is a little boy with a collection of strange animals - Slurp the slugapotomus, Screech the greater-spotted howler bird, Gobbler the sabre-toothed rhino-toad, Cuddles the porcupython, Growler the grizzly hare, Stinker the bog-hog and Oojamaflip the watchamacallit. But there's something even smellier, scarier, noisier, greedier, fiercer and stranger around - read the book to find out!

Then I enjoyed Louie and the Monsters (Scholastic £4.99; by Ella Burfoot). Louie doesn't like monsters but unfortunately the monsters like him! They follow him everywhere - upstairs, downstairs, even when he eats his lunch. They break his toys and they go in his den, so there's no space for Louie. But when he sends them away Louie is sad and lonely. He writes a sign on the gate saying "Sorry" and they come back to be his friends and have a party.

Felix Taylor (aged 13)

One book I really like is Storlax by Robert Jackson and Bubbi Morthens (Meadowside £10.99). It's about the epic journey of a salmon chief called Storlax and his fellow fish, whose clan are called the Hofsin. They go on an adventure from the sea to their home pool, travelling along a huge winding river, going up waterfalls and experiencing seal attacks.

I like the way it is written in three parts. The first is them setting off to go to the home pool, the second getting there, and the third going back to the sea. The illustrations are fantastic, especially the map inside the front cover. I think this would appeal to children over the age of eight - it's quite easy to understand - and I'll give it nine out of 10.

Another adventure book is Jacob's Ladder by Brian Keaney (Orchard Books £10.99). It is about a boy called Jacob, waking up in a field and being brought to a grey and boring city full of other boys and girls where he's forced to take a job picking stones. These are used to build houses where the children live. The strange thing is that he can't remember anything about his past. He then tries to escape, only to find out that he's actually dead and this is where children of his age-group end up after they die!

This book is quite short but very good. It's mostly about friendship and persistence. Probably for the 10+ bracket - slightly hard to understand - and I'll give it seven.

If you like detective stories, filled with clues and mystery, then Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett (with illustrations by Brett Helquist; Chicken House £9.99) is the book for you. It's all about a boy-girl team called Calder and Petra trying to find a famous painting by the artist of the title. This book is full of coincidences which all link up, with clever twists and turns. It's very well written with amazing chapter-by-chapter illustrations. This will suit readers of 11 and upwards - it's confusing at times - and I'll give it a straight eight.

The Foreshadowing (Orion £8.99) by Marcus Sedgwick (inset) is quite a scary item, as it's set at the beginning of the First World War. Seventeen-year-old Sasha has a terrible gift - she can see into the future. Her two older brothers, Edgar and Tom, cannot avoid the war and are called up. This is amazing stuff with cliff-hangers at the end of every chapter, making you want to read on. For the 10+ reader, as it's quite alarming and written in rather a complicated way. I give it nine.

Benjy Taylor (aged nine)

Alan Snow is a well-known illustrator of children's books. The Ratbridge Chronicles Volume I: Here Be Monsters (Oxford £12.99) is his first novel and it has very strong characters. It is about a boy called Arthur who is an "underling" who lives underground beneath the streets of Ratbridge with his grandfather William, an inventor. One night Arthur is foraging for food on the surface when he sees an illegal cheese hunt led by the evil Snatcher. Arthur makes Snatcher angry and he seals up all the holes that lead back below. Aided by three box-trolls (a kind of troll that lives in a box) called Fish, Shoe and Egg, a Cabbage Head and a man called Willbury Nibble, he gets back home and defeats Snatcher. I think this is a very good book with funny illustrations, and I give it nine out of 10.

Horrid Henry is a very bad and disgusting boy. In Francesca Simon's Horrid Henry's Wicked Ways (Orion £9.99) he's always playing tricks on his little brother, Perfect Peter, his parents and friends. This is a nice gift collection of 10 stories, with lots of extra things including "jokes not to tell Aunt Ruby". All very entertaining, but those of you with a lot of Horrid Henry on the shelf already might want to check that you haven't read them before. Seven out of 10.

Twins James and Amanda, in Heather Dyer's The Girl with the Broken Wing (Chicken House £6.99; illustrated by Peter Bailey), are nearly asleep in their attic one night when they hear a rapping sound outside. When they open the window a girl-angel called Hilary falls into the room complaining of a broken wing. They decide to help the angel but not tell their parents. Various adventures follow and Hilary saves James's life before returning home. An enjoyable book with a Christmassy theme, which I rate at eight out of 10.

The Winter Knights (Doubleday £12.99) is the latest instalment of Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell's fantastic Edge Chronicles, set in an amazing world which hangs over a precipice. Some of the other Edge books take place further inland but this one is set in Sanctaphrax, a city on top of a giant rock which floats tethered to the precipice, home to the ruling Knights Academic. It features a previous hero, a student knight called Quint who has to save the city from ancient feuds and the threat of eternal winter. This is a very good book with brilliant pictures, which gets my top mark of nine-and-a-half out of 10.