Hottest reads for summer
So, the family has devoured all 766 pages of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in a single sitting and now, with the summer holidays stretching out before you, everyone’s sitting, twiddling thumbs and wondering what on earth to read next. Perhaps this isn’t quite the scenario in your household, but here are just a few of the other fantastic books published recently for children and there’s little danger that any of these will take your holiday luggage over the weight limit.
For Babies and Toddlers
LUCY Richards’s Cuddly Cuffs (Little Tiger Press, 3.99) is a set of four invitingly soft and colourful cloth books, each sporting a Velcro-fastening strap with which to attach them to baby’s wrist. The quirky rhymes and comic illustrations in Funky Farm, Jolly Jungle, Silly Sea and Busy Bugs will make adults chuckle too and these bright, chewable little books are even machine-washable. Lift-the-flap books never used to last long in a toddler’s eager grip, but publishers are making them of tougher stuff and today’s novelty books stand up well to the most enthusiastic handling.
Lara Jones’s Poppy Cat is a popular character with pre-schoolers and there’s plenty for them to discover in Poppy Cat’s Happy Day (Campbell Books, 6.99), a large-size board book with 40 flaps to lift. Poppy plays with her friends, goes shopping and helps Big Cat bake a cake. There’s even a game of hide-and-seek at the end.
With its tabs to pull and wheels to turn, We’re Going on an Aeroplane by Steve Augarde (Ragged Bears, 8.99) is just the thing to keep young, first-time flyers occupied. They can even push levers in the cockpit and bring the plane in to land. This is a light-hearted, reasonably accurate look at air travel, although if you’re on a budget flight you might be plagued by questions about what happened to the "film to watch" and "food to eat" on your plane ...
Hurrah for two new Rory Stories by Andrew Wolffe and Tom Cole. In Rory and his Great Idea and Rory and his Flying Friend (Keppel Publishing, 4.99), the ever-resourceful redhead and his wee dog, Scruff McDuff, once again find magic and adventure in Sandy Bay. Cole’s bright, clear illustrations are redolent of the Scottish seaside and Wolffe’s straightforward stories are a treat to read aloud.
For 4 to 7-year-olds
"DAE Sweetieraptors eat broon rice? Naw! Jeelie beans an chocolate mice" is the irresistible gambit of Sweetieraptors: A Book o Scots Dinosaurs , the latest Scots language title from the splendid Itchy Coo imprint (6.99). Author Susan Rennie and illustrator Julie Lacome have discovered 15 previously unknown dinosaurs from the sweetieraptors of the title to clartydactyls, dreichosaurs, shooglypods and mair! Rennie’s rhyming couplets are great fun to read aloud and Lacome’s charming illustrations make the meaning clear, even for non (or lapsed) Scots speakers.
Another must for performance is Lynley Dodd’s Scarface Claw (Puffin, 4.99) all about the leanest, meanest cat in the neighbourhood. Small readers will soon be chanting the words along with you, relishing the adventures of Hairy Maclary’s sworn-enemy and expanding their vocabulary mightily with such lines as "wicked of eye and fiendish of paw". Meanwhile, down on the farm we find the relaxed and happy Fat Cat (Collins, 4.99) written by James Sage and illustrated in fine, flamboyant style by Russell Ayto. In this story of rivalry between three farmers, Big and Bluster bicker, but modest Farmer Smarts is quietly confident that his cornfield is the best. In fact it’s "ginger peachy". When mice invade their cornfields, Bluster and Big invent a ridiculous array of mechanical mousetraps, which, of course, the mice cheerfully ignore. But Farmer Smarts has something much more efficient. He has Fat Cat.
Pippa Goodhart’s Slow Magic (Red Fox, 3.99) is an altogether quieter, more reflective tale about rural life. The magic of growth, the changing seasons and where wool comes from are all explained in an accessible way as Polly watches her Grandpa slowly turn tiny grass seeds into "something to keep you warm". Polly gets impatient as most children would, but she’s delighted by her jumper, "grown from grass seed", when it finally arrives. Even better for the summer holidays, there are related activities at the back of the book.
For 7 to 10-year-olds
FOLLOWING in the footsteps of such funny, feisty American heroines as Beverley Cleary’s Ramona and Paula Danziger’s Amber Brown comes the irrepressible Judy Moody created by Megan McDonald. In Judy Moody Predicts the Future (Walker Books, 3.99) Judy acquires a ring that changes colour according to the wearer’s mood and prompts her to make some unlikely predictions about her classmates and her teacher. McDonald’s stories are gently humorous, easy reads, but more fast-paced entertainment for fluent readers can be found in A&C Black’s Black Cats series. Boasting such authors as Terry Deary and Jeremy Strong, the series includes comedy, magic and ghost stories including the highly entertaining Spook School (4.99) by Sue Purkiss. Spook School is where ghosts learn to haunt, but Spooker’s problem is that he hates scaring people and things don’t improve when he’s given a brand-new house to haunt. Will Spooker fail his Practical Haunting exam or will he find a way to prove his ghostly credentials?
Frank and the Chamber of Fear (Puffin, 4.99) is Livi Michael’s second book about the adventures of Frank the hamster. Forget your cosy memories of Tales of the Riverbank though, there’s real tension as Frank battles to save his furry friends from the ghastly Vince, who has read that hamster fur is the new ermine and is rapidly turning pets into pelts. A funny, exciting read that also manages to impart a remarkable amount of factual information about hamsters.
Award-winning writer Catherine MacPhail is renowned for grittily realistic portrayals of inner city life for older readers. But she is also known for her wicked sense of humour and her latest creation, Granny Nothing (Scholastic, 4.99), allows her to flex her comedy writing muscles to hilarious effect. This tale of an appalling Glasgow granny’s attempts to get to know her estranged son’s family is full of slapstick and caricature, but executed with great good humour and balanced by MacPhail’s sharp eye for the ridiculous. Granny Nothing may look like a rhino and have the most disgusting habits, but she’s kind and generous at heart and is soon rescuing her grandchildren from cruel Nanny Sue and the school bullies.
For 9 to 12-year-olds
FIRST published in 1985 and recently reissued, The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea (Oxford University Press, 4.99) is a glorious epic fantasy, set in the world of Irish mythology. The Morrigan is an ancient and evil queen, hell-bent on destroying the world and only Pidge and his sister Brigit can stop her. Wonderfully readable, packed with quirky characters and 465 closely typed pages long, this should keep even speedy readers happily occupied for at least a few days of the holidays.
There’s yet more fun to be found in Alex Shearer’s new novel, Sea Legs (Hodder, 5.99). Eleven-year-old twins Eric and Clive really miss their single-parent dad when he’s away from home and as a steward on a luxury cruise liner he’s away a lot. So instead of spending the summer with their grandparents as usual, they decide to stow away on their dad’s ship. At first they have a whale of a time, but then things start to go horribly wrong as they find themselves caught in a web of increasingly ludicrous and complicated deceptions. Told by Eric (older by five minutes and therefore much wiser and considerably better looking than his brother), Sea Legs reads in places like a Marx Brothers’ film script and is full of the kind of daft jokes and puns that boys in particular adore.
But to quote comedienne Meera Syal, "life isn’t all ha ha, hee hee" and Lines in the Sand (Frances Lincoln, 4.99), a new anthology of stories and poems compiled in response to the war in Iraq, is a timely and heartfelt reminder of that fact. Nearly 150 authors and illustrators, including such splendid writers as Jackie Kay, Michael Rosen, David Almond, Julie Bertagna and Michael Morpurgo, responded to editors Mary Hoffman and Rhiannon Lassiter’s request for contributions that would communicate to young people the human cost of war and encourage them to aspire to a better, more peaceful world. All royalties and profits from the book will go to UNICEF’s appeal for the children of Iraq.