If you chuckled over Diana Hendry's Harvey Angell, with his electrical love-energy and "eyes that might have been green and might have been blue and might have been grey", you'll enjoy meeting him again in Harvey Angell and the Ghost Child (Julia MacRae, pounds 9.99). This time the enigmatic Harvey adds fizz and merriment to an unpromising seaside holiday in a haunted house on the gale-torn shores of Fife, gently prodding young Henry Oddity into solving the mystery of a restless ghost in the attic, and into understanding that individuality is something to be proud of rather than feared.
Ann Pilling's latest ghost story The Empty Frame (Collins, pounds 9.99) is also about laying ghosts to rest but it is authentic rather than fantastical. Based on a true story of a haunting, and with a sensual feel for place, the book establishes a convincing counterpoint between the fate of an abused little boy in Tudor times and a modern child betrayed by his parents.
In her half-comic, half-horrific Angela and Diabola (Collins, pounds 9.99), the tale of twins who are good and evil incarnate from the moment they are born, Lynne Reid Banks moves into doppelganger mode. How the ultimate goody-goody and the scariest child ever invented eventually even out their differences is both a roller-coaster ride through improbability and a weird caricature of family life. This is compulsive, oddly worrisome reading.
Suzanne Fisher Staples's Daughters of the Wind was an unforgettable novel about the life of a nomad Arab girl. Her troubling new book Storm (Julia MacRae, pounds 9.99) is just as authentic but considerably darker. Billed as a latterday To Kill a Mocking Bird, it starts as a beautifully observed rural idyll as a white boy and a black girl grow up together on the Chesapeake Bay seaboard. But when the union leader who taught them fishing is found murdered, their friendship is all but torn apart as the cruel realities of prejudice prevent the truth emerging. All the best efforts of young Buck Smith can't win justice for the doomed heroine Tunes, "graceful as a falcon, with her gold-and-black eyes snapping" and prematurely cynical with loss of innocence.
I used to find reading Rosemary Sutcliff, greatest of 20th-century children's historical novelists, like stepping into a time machine. Decades later, I can still hear echoes of The Eagle of The Ninth in my head: the chink of mail, the tired beat of the legionaries' feet (Oxford has just republished it at pounds 5.99). Although she died in 1992, she was then two-thirds of the way through the second draft of Sword Song (Bodley Head, pounds 12.99). Lovers of her books will revel in this gift from the grave, transcribed by her cousin Anthony Lawton and edited by her long-time editor Jill Black. Reminiscent of The Shield Ring, it brings the Norse invasions of north-west Britain vividly to life with the story of 16-year-old Bjarni, exiled for the accidental murder of a monk from a Norse settlement at Ravenglass. It takes a three- year odyssey in Ireland and the Western Isles before he finds an inspiring mentor, atonement for his sin - and, of course, true love.
Finally, a glorious romp of a book which I somehow missed last year. Alan Temperley's Harry and the Wrinklies (Scholastic, pounds 4.99) was shortlisted for the 1997 Whitbread, and is now out in paperback. After the sudden death of his unlamented and selfish parents, Harry Barton is despatched to live at Laggs Hall with an eccentric pair of Scottish great-aunts. When Aunt Florrie rams down the accelerator on the way home from the station and the hidden Ferrari engine in their battered old Mercedes kicks in at 150 mph, we know that Harry is in for a better time than he ever had in 11 years of Hampstead life with his wicked nanny Gestapo Lil.
The aunts turn out to head a splendid gang of exotically talented and criminal pensioners who systematically rob the rich to give to the poor. But before Harry is halfway trained in lockpicking, wrestling and the finer points of philanthropic bank robbery, Lil reappears, this time in alliance with the beastly Colonel Priestley, a treble-dyed villain and the aunts' arch-enemy. Fast and furious fun: Temperley is a talent to watch, and I will be queuing up for a copy of Ragboy, Rats and the Surging Sea due out in May.
Illustrations clockwise from top: day of the pigs in Mouse Creeps by Peter Harris and Reg Cartwright (Reed Books); the baby fruit bat heroine of Stellaluna by Janell Cannon (David Bennett Books); soldiering on in The Iliad and the Odyssey retold by Marcia Williams (Walker Books, pounds 5.99)Reuse content