For the lazy daze of summer, a choice of great new books for children: poetry, science, history, stories with an edge
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The Independent Culture

Bottomley the Brave by Peter Harris, illus Doffy Weir, Hutchinson pounds 9.99. Bottomley is a cat suffering from Walter Mitty syndrome: children will enjoy the discrepancies between his heroic account of a break-in and the pictures showing what really happened. Lazy and over-imaginative Bottomley may be, but he really does manage to foil the beastly burglars in the end. 4+

The Little White Hen by Phillipa Pearce, illus Gillian McClure, Scholastic pounds 9.99. A gentle, old-fashioned story about an old man living in rural bliss with a cockerel called Wake-The-World and a new white hen with a secret. 4+

Nothing by Mick Ingpen, Hodder pounds 10.99. When the family moves out of number 47, a tattered old soft toy is lies forgotten in the attic. "What have we here?" "Oh, it's nothing." Left alone, Nothing goes in search of his identity, in a haunting tale shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal. 5+

Millie and the Mermaid by Penny Ives, Hamish Hamilton pounds 10.99. Millie wants to learn to swim, but her great aunt, a lighthouse-keeper, is no use: she can't swim either. As Millie paddles in the shallows with her waterwings, she sees something glinting - could it be the tail of a mermaid? Bright seaside scenes and a jolly, fat aunty make this a rollicking read. 5+

The Day Gogo Went to Vote by Elinor Batezat Sisulu, illus Sharon Wilson, Little Brown pounds 9.99. Gogo (grandma) is determined to use her first-ever vote in the South African elections, despite being 100 years old and frail. Thembi, her great-granddaughter, helps her on what proves to be a memorable day for the whole township. A simple, inspiring tale with smudgy pastel drawings. 5+

The Wonder Thing by Libby Hathorn, illus Peter Gouldthorpe, Viking pounds 10.99. The wonder thing celebrated here is water, and Gouldthorpe's marvellous lino-cut pictures take the reader on a magical journey through ice, snow, rainbows, the bathtub and the ocean. Hathorn's prose is a bit effortful, though ("Through the lilting rainforests ... in the tangy sea"). 5+

Aunt Nancy and Old Man Trouble by Phillis Root, illus David Parkins, Walker pounds 9.99. The hideous individual in our main pic (left) is Trouble himself, and we all know how difficult he is to keep out of a house. Fortunately he meets his match with Aunt Nancy in this twisty American tale. 6+

Muffin Pigdoom and the Keeper by Paul Warren, Heinemann pounds 8.99. Muffin is a funny little creature with huge, flapping ears, red button nose and a tail. When an evil goblin, the Keeper, confiscates his father's tiny hoard of gold, Muffin pursues him through the woods and falls into all sorts of scary adventures. 6+

The Legacy of Uncle MacLaughton by Sylvie Chausse, illus Francois Crozat, The Amaising Publishing House pounds 3.99. Martin's uncle bequeaths his castle and its jewellery, armour and furniture to his relatives: all except his nephew Martin, who can simply "go boil an egg!" But when the egg Martin has to boil is a giant specimen which has lain for hundreds of years in the castle dungeon, it turns out that Uncle had a clever plan all along. 6+

The Little Prince and the Great Treasure Hunt by Peter Kavanagh, Macdonald pounds 4.99. More fun in castles when Little Prince goes to visit Uncle King John and Aunty Queen Mary: "What a dump this castle is! Not as good as our castle!" Then fearless Little Princess arrives and they set out to find the hidden treasure. With gags, games, mazes, hunts and puzzles to enliven the cartoon quest. 6+

Hidden Pictures by A J Wood, illus Nicki Palin, Templar pounds 7.99. Facts for nature-fans, accompanied by hyper-realistic animal drawings with secret camouflaged beasts for you to spot lurking in the background. Well, it baffled me. 6+

The Illustrated Father Goose by Shelley Tanaka, illus Laurie McGaw, Orion pounds 9.99. Father Goose is a 54-year-old Canadian inventor who wants to fly his bi-plane in formation with the migrating geese. A true story, seen through the eyes of his 11-year-old daughter Carmen, and tenderly illustrated. 7+

Banana Books from Heinemann (pounds 4.99) are designed for "newly fluent readers", and certainly writers of the calibre of Anne Fine, Malorie Blackman and Helen Dunmore ought to be able to tempt young readers to venture out alone. The colourful pictures help, too. In Blackman's Grandma Gertie's Haunted Handbag, an eccentric relative from Barbados brings her husband's ghost through customs; Dunmore's offering, Amina's Blanket, is a pious affair about Bosnian refugees. Finally, Anne Fine's brilliantly original Countdown concerns Hugo, who has been promised a gerbil if he can stay in an unfurnished room for seven hours with only three toys, some newspaper, a bottle of water and a plate of food. Hugo's father sounds a bit of a sadist, but Fine's wry tale is a small masterpiece of observation and humour.

Bruno Bettelheim held that violent fairy-tales acted as an outlet for the inexpressible rage of infants. But the hero of Horrid Henry and the Tooth Fairy by Francesca Simon (Orion pounds 8.99) finds his rage all too expressible: " 'I hate you!' shrieked Henry. He was a volcano pouring hot molten lava on the puny human foolish enough to get in his way" - this being his irritating younger brother, Perfect Peter. Adversaries also include Cross Colin, Prissy Polly, Pimply Paul and Weepy William, so Henry's not so horrid after all. 8+

Flashbacks from A & C Black (pounds 6.99) enable confident young readers to "take a journey backwards in time". In Julie and the Queen of Tonga, we zoom back to the Fifties and Coronation day, when the enormous Queen Salote of Tonga sat in an open landau in a downpour, beaming and waving, while the British upper classes skulked by in their covered coaches. Along the way there's unobtrusive fact-packing about the War, rationing, old-fashioned sweets and television in its infancy. The relentless Royalism might prove puzzling to today's kids; Tony the lodger is the only visible republican, and even he unbends at last. 9+

Tom in Jay Edwards' The Challenge (Watts pounds 7.99) has enough problems for several books. His mother died of Aids, now his brother is dying too, and he lives with an awful foster-sister, Katie, and copes with the prejudice of teachers who call him "the Aids kid". But it turns out Katie's not so bad after all. Honest without being too worthy, this is saved by its unpretentious style. 9+

"History writers have been known to exaggerate / invent 'facts' / tell whopping great lies," says Terry Deary encouragingly in Who Killed Kit Marlowe? (Watts pounds 7.99). Boy actor John and urchin Ellie team up with Will Shakespeare himself for a bloody, enjoyable and painlessly informative dive into the Elizabethan underworld. 9+

Finally, more of the wonderful Anne Fine. "I'm not a total lame-brain. Nor am I intergalactically stupid," begins the beguilingly cheeky Chester Howard in How to Write Really Badly (Mammoth pounds 2.99). A rollickingly funny and sympathetic look at (would you believe) the subject of dyslexia, it makes you want to kidnap a child to read it out loud to. 10+ Suzi Feay

Summer Can't Choose by Katherine Applegate, Pan pounds 2.99. School's out and lucky Summer Smith is off to Florida in search of the 3 S's: sun, sea and sand. Not to mention the big G - guys. She can't make up her mind between Diver, her mysterious night-time visitor, Adam, the rich ex-love of her cousin, and Seth, a "new guy"; kind and sweet, but unfortunately already taken. A prediction from the tarot cards that one of the three is Mr Right, another represents mystery, but the last spells danger, raises the stakes of holiday romance. An addictive Mills & Boon-style escape into the teenage American world of MTV, Ben & Jerry's frozen yoghurt and guys with cute butts.

The Trokeville Way by Russell Hoban, Cape pounds 12.99. Nick Hartley, on the threshold of 13, is edging into the world of grown-ups and grown-up problems. Head-butted by the school bully, he develops not only a large lump on his head, but also a heightened sense of reality. Through an initiating jigsaw puzzle of a watercolour landscape that he buys from an ex-magician down-and-out for pounds 2.42, he enters the world of Trokeville. This is a dream- like landscape controlled by his mind, where he keeps bumping into people - his mother and father, the girl he is in love with and even the bully who got him into this mess. Learning about pain, loss and facing up to life, Nick feels he's "not ready for this grown-up stuff". "Neither are the grown-ups," replies his mind, "but that's life." By the end, though, dream meets reality and Nick takes a happy step into the adult world. An impelling book that will grip teen and adult readers alike.

A Fate Totally Worse Than Death by Paul Fleischman, Walker pounds 8.99. Life is like, totally awful for Danielle, Tiffany and Brooke. Cliffside High's newest arrival, the wholesomely beautiful Helga, has captivated the "Huns", the ruling clique of males. Their surgically-enhanced noses seriously out of joint, the three girls plot her removal. But it proves more difficult than their last job - the "suicide" of Charity Case, another intruder on their boyfriend territory. Strange things are happening to their bodies and they think Helga has something to do with it. A high school spoof reminiscent of the film Heathers which turns the world of Beverly Hills 90210 on its head.

Skinny Melon and Me by Jean Ure, Collins pounds 3.99. Clearing out the cupboard is one of a diary's uses, according to Cherry's English teacher. The mental cupboard, that is. Psychoanalysis enters the classroom. The diary of Cherry Louise Waterton, aged 11 years and two months (sounds familiar), chattily spring-cleans her troubled home life. A new stepfather and "curried compost heap" school dinners inspire her diary entries and cartoons, until the arrival of a half-brother leaves the cupboard bare and she puts down her pen. Not very original, but readable all the same.

The Cockatrice Boys by Joan Aiken, Gollancz pounds 10.99. Terrifying creatures have a taste for school botany classes, grannies in their flats, Christmas trees, carol singers - and they're hungry. Cockatrices, Snarks, Flying Hammerheads:a monster army has invaded the country and forced the thinning population underground. But now a volunteer corps is preparing to fight back. Can they win the battle for Britain? A fantastical comedy - and a brilliant sequel to Aiken's classic The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Sarah Henry