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Easter books for kids: the polar-bear prince and the firebird

From a modern-day 'Chicken Licken' to the teenage 'Fifty Shades of Grey', Susan Elkin finds the most imaginative books for youngsters this holiday

Susan Elkin
Saturday 23 March 2013 21:00 GMT

Two weeks' school holiday – especially if the cold and wet weather continues – are an ideal time to get your toddlers, teenagers and in-betweeners reading and listening to stories.

For tinies, try Lesley White's The House Rabbit (David Fickling £11.99) with its pretty pale green and lilac, chatty, busy illustrations. It's a cumulative, "Chicken Licken"-style repetitive story about a rabbit who fears that the house is falling down. It includes plenty of splendid, vocabulary-enhancing verbs such as "streaked", "tottered" and "padded". Nat the Cat's Sunny Smile by Jez Alborough (Doubleday £11.99), who has fun with rhyme here, is another anthropomorphic story, about a cat calling, repetitively, on her friends.

The Naming of Tishkin Silk by Glenda Millard (Phoenix Yard, £5.99) is a lyrical story set in Australia, which would read aloud well to a child progressing through primary school. A baby in a large, moderately Bohemian family has died suddenly in infancy. Self-blaming Griffin is the next youngest. Eventually he contrives a way to help his grief-stricken family. In East of the Sun, West of the Moon (Frances Lincoln, £9.99), Jackie Morris attractively retells a traditional story (think "Beauty and the Beast" followed by a quest with a surprise ending) about a girl who comes to love a polar bear which turns into a prince.

Realism for primary-school children floods through Laura Dockrill's Darcy Burdock (Red Fox, £5.99) whose narrator is an appealing, sparky, diary-writing, 21st-century child sustained, when the going gets a tad tricky, by the power of stories and narrative. Elsie, the narrator of Jacqueline Wilson's Queenie (Doubleday £12.99), relies on stories for solace too, when, back in 1953, she finds herself in hospital with bovine tuberculosis, neglected by her appalling mother, and worried sick that her lovely Nan will be too ill to look after her. Wilson, as entertaining as ever, is meticulous about period detail. The historical background is also well drawn in The Victory Dogs by Megan Rix (Puffin, £9.99). I learned a lot from this carefully, plausibly plotted (just about) story of the dogs lost and found and sometimes trained for search and rescue, during the Blitz.

Still in historical mode, but for a slightly older age group, is Smuggler's Kiss by Marie-Louise Jensen (Oxford, £6.99). Its protagonist, Isabelle, is a gloriously feisty heroine – not really believably so, for the 18th century, but that doesn't matter. She has experienced something nasty (we're kept guessing about exactly what right to the end) which leads to an attempted self-drowning and rescue by smugglers. The characterisation is delightful in this exciting, adventure story; especially that of the bear-like Jacob and the enigmatic, dishy Will.

Back in the present, two books about identical twins, grief and friendship should appeal to younger young adults. Me Myself Milly by Penelope Bush (Piccadilly, £6.99) gives us the story of twins Milly and Lily and their single mother. It's a searingly honest, poignant first-person account which keeps the reader intrigued for 150 pages. And I certainly didn't see the narrative surprise coming. Lexiland by Suzanne Moore (Simon & Schuster, £6.99) covers similar territory. This time, the focus for the bereaved twin is the formation of a new friendship at school with the mysterious Lexi.

And so to books for those mid-teenagers. William Sutcliffe's The Wall (Bloomsbury, £12.99) is a powerful account of life in a city divided by religion and a wall. (Sutcliffe is never specific, but we are clearly in the Middle East among warring Jews and Arabs.) Joshua, 13, penetrates the barriers, and thus meets Leila. It's a disturbing and thought-provoking book which simmers with heat, anger and fear, and I loved the symbolism of the olive grove for peace.

For a complete contrast, Dance of Shadows by Yelena Black (Bloomsbury, £6.99) is set in a claustrophobic New York ballet conservatoire. Students are rehearsing Stravinsky's Firebird. Sinister, supernatural happenings gradually beset Vanessa, who is afraid she will simply disappear like so many dancers before her. This is the first part of a trilogy.

Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz (Puffin, £6.99) is different again. This time we're in Los Angeles. Colin has Asperger syndrome and a bent for solving mysteries. The book is wittily didactic and earnest, so, although the main text is third-person, it feels like something Colin might have written himself.

And finally, to Irresistible by Liz Bankes (Piccadilly, £6.99) which is about a sexual relationship between Mia and the rather wooden Jamie, who is supposed to be a teenage take on E L James's Christian Grey (minus the S&M) with a whiff of Messrs Darcy and Rochester. Actually it's pretty mild stuff, with lots of simmering looks and no full sex until page 182. Bankes is much better at characters such as decent Dan and voluble Gabriella. And if all stepfathers were like Jeff, the world would be a much happier place.

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