Summer reading: Books for children: Fiction 8-12s: Beasts of field and kitchen-sink

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The Independent Culture
PETS, house-trained and otherwise, feature strongly in this season's crop of fiction for the 8-to-12s. Some children will have nightmares before they get even halfway through The Thing in the Sink by Frieda Hughes and Chris Riddell (Simon & Schuster pounds 7.99/ pounds 3.50): the Thing makes slurping noises in the overflow, its single eye watches from plugholes. But persist: the tale turns from a horror story into a comforting number in which Peter finds a magical companion and gets one over on teacher, Mum and spoilt little classmates.

In The Ghost Menagerie by Mary Hoffman and Anthony Lewis (Orchard pounds 7.99), another child wants a pet, but Alex's sister Carrie is allergic to fur. Enter a white mouse that works magic, and conjures up for Alex and Carrie's sneeze-free entertainment the ghosts of all the animals that once lived in the house. The beast-count rises, culminating in rhinos and elephants: fortunately the new lodger has a few counter- spells up his sleeve.

Muggie Maggie by Beverly Cleary and Anthony Lewis (Hamish Hamilton pounds 8.50) stars yet another pet. Maggie has the perfect spaniel, Kisser, perfect parents - all fondness and keep-fit - and a teacher who insists that every day 'will be a happy day'. Maggie takes a stand over not learning joined-up writing, then gives in. Er, that's it; all a bit cute, but if your child has trouble with joined-up writing . . . And illustrator Lewis again demonstrates his Ardizzonesque touch.

Jan Needle's Bogeymen (Deutsch pounds 8.99), a tale of bored city kids, has an anti-racist theme. Martin and his friends think the new black neighbours bite heads off chickens and boil people in pots, but there is a happy ending when they discover their mistake.

The Magnificent Nose and Other Marvels by Anna Fienberg and Kim Gamble (OUP pounds 6.95) features funny and outrageous stories of marvellous children: such as Lindalou, who is born clutching a golden hammer, by the age of two is demanding rosewood for her carpentry, and who builds a flying boat to take her family to Kathmandu; or Ignatius, whose magnificent sense of smell takes him from the family perfume factory to fire-fighting foreign adventures. There are friendly and colourful illustrations.

Jim Henson's The Storyteller (Boxtree pounds 12.99) is a beautifully produced volume of stories from the award-winning television series, written by Anthony Minghella, scriptwriter of Truly, Madly, Deeply. These are sophisticated retellings of European folk tales, from 'Sapsorrow', a version of 'Cinderella', to the strange Russian tale of 'The Soldier and Death'; vivid adventures in the imagination, resonating with powerful themes of death and love, good and evil. Darcy May's illustrations are enchanting and disturbing.

In Eleanor Spence's Another Sparrow Singing (OUP pounds 7.95), 12-year-old Courtney and her younger brother Keith move with their mother to a seaside town when their parents separate. The title refers to a wounded sparrow that would have survived its injuries if it had been sustained by the sound of another sparrow singing - a metaphor for the children's plight, as companionship and a sense of belonging heal the hurt of their losses. A satisfying mixture of the poetic and the everyday - caravan parks, chip shops, damp days by the sea.

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