CHILDREN'S SUMMER SPECIAL / Paperbacks for the beach: . . . or anywhere you want to take them, from first rhymes to teenage fiction

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PICTURE BOOKS

The Boy Who Was Followed Home by Margaret Mahy & Stephen Kellogg, Puffin pounds 3.99. Robert is irresistibly attractive to hippos, but 43 of them on the lawn is going too far. Time for the Yellow Pages. Deadpan comic fantasy with a surprise ending.

Look Closer by Brian & Rebecca Wildsmith, OUP pounds 1.95. A pocket-sized I-spy exploiting the small child's gimlet eye for tiny moving things - caterpillars, ants, ladybirds. One of a cheap and charming series.

Alfie's Feet by Shirley Hughes, Red Fox pounds 3.50. One dependable perennial (Hughes) tackles another - buying that first pair of shiny wellies. This illustrator's secret is the blend of cosy, incident-rich domesticity with just enough impishness to give it bite.

The Puppy Book by Camilla Jessel, Walker pounds 3.99. Facts of puppy life, from birth (squelchy) to walking, weaning and tail-wagging. Educational, but 70 photos of adorable little labradors make this a risky present for a dogless, or even just petless, child.

Custer by Deborah King, Red Fox pounds 3.99. Allegedly true tale of how General Custer, the lonely farm horse who thought he was a cow, found friendship and learned to enjoy a good gallop. With large, sentimental, painterly

illustrations and - given the Black Beauty factor - a sure-fire storyline.

Doing the Garden by Sarah Garland, Puffin pounds 3.99. Everyday story of suburban life, featuring that panicky spring trip to the garden centre and Mum's impulse buy almost too big to get home. Few words but splendidly funny and eloquent pictures.

The Calypso Alphabet by John Agard & Jennifer Bent, Picture Lions pounds 3.99. Subtract the words that need no translating (volcano, Xmas, giddy-up, work-song) and this glossary is decidedly thin, though the vibrant illustrations do catch the Caribbean mood, and the one proverb offered - 'hurry-hurry make bad curry' - is a useful addition to anyone's repertoire.

The Wizard, the Fairy and the Magic Chicken by Helen Lester & Lynn Munsinger, Picturemac pounds 3.99. What this cautionary tale about the dangers of rivalry and the virtues of co-operation lacks in subtlety it makes up for in wacky illustration, notably an entirely spherical pink fairy.

The Big Sneeze by Ruth Brown, Red Fox pounds 3.99. Farmyardery can usually charm even the most city-hardened small child. Here, lushly golden illustrations and minimal text re-work the 'old woman who swallowed a fly' theme when a dozing farmer's sneeze triggers a catalogue of mishaps.

Mabel and the Tower of Babel by John Ryan, Lion pounds 3.99. God's reaction to the architectural manifestation of man's vaulting ambition? 'Whatever is that extraordinary little pimple down there?' Sassy rendering of the Bible story from the creator of the eternally popular Captain Pugwash.

A Near Thing for Captain Najork by Russell Hoban & Quentin Blake, Red Fox pounds 3.99. Inspired silliness. Tom, fooling around as usual, invents anti-sticky and a jam-powered frog; the headmistress arm-wrestles; swede-and-mutton slump is served for lunch. Great for reading aloud and with some serious and challenging vocabulary slipped in among the daftness.

At the Crossroads by Rachel Isadora, Red Fox pounds 3.99. In a South African township a group of black children await the return of their fathers, who have been away for months working in the mines. Dazzlingly suggestive double-page pictures and simple story, with a distinct anti-materialist subtext.

The Midnight Moropus by Joan Aiken & Gavin Rowe, Simon & Schuster pounds 3.50. A lame boy, his pony, a midnight excursion to a haunted waterfall . . . Gently thrilling adventure to bridge the gap between picture books and 'proper' reading, with pointed text and atmospheric illustrations.

STORY BOOKS

Harry, Mari & Squib and the Mystery of Miss Tree by Jana Hunter, Puffin pounds 2.99. 'Fighting crime. Keeping the streets clean. It's my job.' Sharp debut for a supercool schoolgirl sleuth and her We-Solve-It Detective Agency, here on the trail of a 'kidnapped' teacher. Young readers will appreciate the daft humour, more precocious ones the Marlowe spoofery. (Up to 10)

Wellington & Boot by Humphrey Carpenter & Jenny McDade, Piper pounds 2.99. Krystle's dad is a parvenu millionaire builder; Keith's is a down-on-his-luck garden gnome salesman. Meeting in ghastly Wibberley-on-the-Wold, K and K overcome their mutual antipathy to help save the town's threatened Victorian theatre and its amiable ghosts. A pacy comedy with a heavy-handed take on class stereotypes. (8 to 12)

Roboskool by Jon Blake, Puffin pounds 2.99. Delicious, easy-read little fantasy in which Guy returns to school to find it taken over by roboteachers, Headmaster Hedges replaced by the thundering Calculus and the pupils reduced to yes-boys. Radiohead, Major Domo et al may be mean machines, but they're also pretty stupid: 'What. Is. Footballmatch?' Naturally, Guy is happy to show them. (7 to 11)

Chocolate-covered Ants by Stephen Manes, Piper pounds 2.99. A tale about a boy who doesn't believe people eat ants until his brother proves it. The book's American provenance shows in every demotic line, but the story scores high enough on the Yukkometer to seduce reluctant readers. (Up to 10)

Herbie Whistle by Martin Waddell, Puffin pounds 2.99. Simple, amusing short stories with an amiably gauche hero; integral illustrations: ideal for the the beginning reader. (6 to 9)

Alfred Mouse by Caroline Dinan, Faber pounds 3.50. 'I'm not a garden mouse, I'm ALFRED] Tell your granny to put her glasses on, Ben.' Engaging illustrated story about a lonely small boy who finds a mischievous talking mouse in his bedroom chimney. (6 to 9)

The Suitcase Kid by Jacqueline Wilson, Yearling pounds 2.99. Gripping, funny and sensitively written Children's Book Award winner about coping with parental divorce, in which 10-year-old Andy shunts between two homes and finally comes to terms with the step- parents and ready-made siblings she never asked for. (8 to 12)

The Princess in the Pigpen by Jane Resh Thomas, Lions pounds 2.99. Time-travel romance in which a certain 17th- century English Princess Elizabeth is transported to modern Iowa, where she finds a shocking shortage of ladies-in-waiting and endless scope for misunderstanding about penicillin, farthingales, and democracy. Exciting, amusing and historically informative. (9 to 12)

Forbidden Doors by Susan Price, Faber pounds 3.99. 'I forbid you to open this door . . . Will you open it, even so?' Delectably shivery, distinctly folkloric short stories about the revelations vouchsafed to inquisitive souls who do dare to open that door. (11 and over)

Seal Secret by Aidan Chambers, Red Fox pounds 2.99. William's boring Welsh holiday looks up when he meets bully-boy Gwyn and resolves to free the seal held captive in a cave. Sharp-paced, cleanly written escapist tale of the shy-boy-turned-modest-hero variety, with obligatory ecological twist. (9 to 12)

The Camera Obscura by Hugh Scott, Walker pounds 2.99. No mistaking the moral of this story about put-upon Spindletrim Tom and his magic-assisted revenge against the school heavies, but the wonderfully atmospheric, vigorous and inventive quality of the prose lifts this pacy tale far above the usual level of didactic writing. (8 to 12)

Low Tide by William Mayne, Red Fox pounds 3.50. This novel may have everything: an exotic location (New Zealand), history (a turn-of-the-century setting), romance (a shipwreck), a clash of cultures ('civilisation' versus Maori values), nail-biting adventure and the lit cred needed to win the 1993 Guardian Children's Fiction Award. Outstanding. (10 to 13)

TEENAGE FICTION

The Burning Baby by John Gordon, Walker pounds 2.99. More tales of the supernatural, but these have deceptively ordinary contemporary settings that add to the sense of real menace, and a sometimes alarming concentration on untimely death. Strong meat, but never gratuitously nasty.

The Empty House by Claude Gutman, trs Anthea Bell, Penguin Plus pounds 3.50. A Polish family flees to Paris during the war, only to find that even France is not safe for Jews. This is 15-year-old David's gripping, moving, shocking account of life as an outcast and of the courage of those who try to help him. Spare, beautifully written, grown-up stuff.

Dear Nobody by Berlie Doherty, Lions Tracks pounds 3.50. Touching, honest, unputdownable novel about teenage love, unplanned pregnancy and hard decisions, written from the points of view of both the main protagonists. An excellent, unpreachy read, well deserving its Carnegie Medal.

The China Coin by Allan Baillie, Puffin pounds 3.99. An original setting - modern China - for this intelligent, fast-paced Australian adventure mystery that takes its young heroine, Leah, to Tiananmen Square during the bloody rebellion of 1989.

Tasting the Thunder by Gary Paulsen, Pan Piper pounds 3.50. Brief, self-consciously macho but compelling American rites of passage novel about a 16-year-old boy who runs away and joins the circus, then does some really serious growing up.

Smokestack Lightning by Laurence Craig, Walker pounds 2.99. Autobiographical 'teenage memoir' but with the spark, humour and narrative drive of a good novel. Craig, child of the man who ran the Wall of Death at Battersea Funfair, grew up to be a Sixties music freak: any teenager curious about the Stones - not to mention Howlin' Wolf - need look no further.

POETRY

Action Replay: Anecdotal Poems ed Michael Rosen, Kestrel pounds 6.50. A book of events too uneventful to record: a tomato squashed in the road; a bank account overdrawn; a letter returned - 'Dead. Address Unknown.' The risk is utter inconsequentiality, but these poems and scraps of conversation rarely leave the reader feeling 'so what?' Bold, funny and unusual anthology singing of unsung moments.

Gangsters, Ghosts and Butterflies ed Brian Patten, Piper pounds 3.99. Chatty, accessible, again largely anecdotal poems on everything from budgies and chewing gum to skylarks and river gods. The first five poems are by the old Sixties gang - McGough, Logue, Corso, Adrian Mitchell, Patten himself - but things unrelax after that with Betjeman, Dahl, Stevie Smith, etc.

Wordspells ed Judith Nicholls, Faber pounds 3.99. Highly traditional anthology, offering itself as a collection of favourites which 'sing and illuminate', but most at home with 'grim and gloomy' sea-sounds, St Francis and birds, nature at its stateliest. Among the best (and brighter) things are the epitaphs: 'Here lies what's left / of Leslie Moore. / No Les / No more.'

Shades of Green ed Anne Harvey, Red Fox pounds 3.50. Eco-anthology which sensibly recognises the conservation impulse long before the conservation movement (Blake, Herrick, Wordsworth and Chaucer are here) and that denunciations of pollution are less likely to move a reader than celebrations of nature in its pristine glory.

The Comic Shop by Norman Silver, Faber pounds 4.99. Poems for the upper-teen market or students who missed out on the Mersey Sound: light verse about condoms, camping, foreign holidays, suicide by Frost-light ('Now the woods are dark, / the woods are deep. / At the wheel / he falls asleep'). At best youthfully cocky and witty, at worst full of middle-aged leering nudge-nudgery.

NON-FICTION

I Am a Duck by Linda Bygrave and Louise Voce, David Bennett pounds 2.95. Nature studies for the very young: a day in the interesting life of a gleeful 'mummy' duck (on introducing her mate: 'His feathers are a different colour . . . he is showing them to me because he wants us to have babies'). Big, cheerful pictures vitalise each of the titles in the series (I Am a Frog/Rabbit/Butterfly). - Man-Made Wonders by Brian Williams, Hamlyn pounds 6.99. Children are constantly told what a mess we've made of the planet, so this is an uplifting reminder of the wonders we have created. Plenty of photographs to marvel at: China's Forbidden City, Moscow subways, the Lost Worlds of the Incas, Milan Cathedral. The texts are brief and informative. Do you know whose face the Statue of Liberty's was modelled on?

People at Work, Moonlight First Encyclopedia pounds 9.99. Volume eight in this clearly presented series has behind-the-scenes illustrations, from the floating vegetable markets of Bangkok to media technology, to illuminate the diversity of occupations through the centuries and around the world. Also includes quizzes and activity ideas.

The Living World, OUP pounds 12.99. Combining breathtaking photographs a la David Attenborough, with annotated graphics, fact files in the margin and an economic text, this is a user-friendly nature reference book. Includes an extensive section on how human biology resembles that of other animals, plus chapters on human evolution and (hold your breath) dinosaurs.

Just Look: A Book about Paintings by Robert Cumming, Viking pounds 10.99. Young children have a brilliant eye for peripheral detail and almost no recognition of the overall composition, or even the subject of a picture, so a postcard of the Arnolfini Wedding will be 'a picture of a dog' (the cross-eyed terrier at the couple's feet). They haven't yet learnt the conventions of framing an image, which tell you what you should be looking at. This is a glorious stage, when their own paintings have a freedom and boldness that may never be recaptured. Self-consciousness sets in all too soon. Then they want their pictures to be 'of' something, and often start to reject non-representational art (ironically perhaps, they think it's 'babyish'). This is the moment when some help with ways of seeing can be crucial. In his interesting how-to book, Robert Cumming makes a good stab at explaining many basic concepts of light, colour and composition (pictures that 'come out of the wall at you' or are 'like looking at the palm of your hand'). He cheerfully puts a Brueghel next to a Jaspar Johns, a Gainsborough next to a Schwitters: abstract art should hold no terrors. There are perception exercises and things to do, many of them quite difficult: listing the colours in a Velasquez, or drawing an outline of a Rembrandt head and shading it 'to make it look rounded'. Below, spot the subject.

(Photographs omitted)

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