• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Turning over a new leaf

The long summer break stretches ahead.

Whether you're off to some tropical palm-fringed beach, doing battle with the midges in the Highlands, or staying put at home, make sure the junior members of the family have a couple of good reads to tuck into. Here are a few tasty suggestions with very approximate age recommendations. Many thanks to Maia MacGilp and all the young readers from throughout Scotland who sampled some of these books and submitted their reviews to The Daily What News for schools, which is supported by The Herald.

The Great Dog Disaster

Katie Davies (Simon & Schuster, £5.99) 7+

Beatrice is a great dog in both senses but that isn't immediately apparent when this smelly, miserable, lazy Newfoundland comes to live with Suzanne. Efforts to turn Beatrice into a "proper dog" who enjoys walkies, catches sticks and the like are in vain.

It takes a flood and a near-disaster to prove that there is life in the old dog yet. Davies writes with terrific humour and frankness about the dynamics of family life and the power of friendship. Eccentricity (Suzanne keeps her adenoids in a piccalilli jar) is intercut with poignancy and wistfulness, while Hannah Shaw's zany line drawings help things along.

Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder: The End Of The World, Maybe

Jo Nesbo (Simon & Schuster, £5.99) 7+

This Norwegian author is best known for his adult crime fiction, but this is the third adventure in his extremely popular Doctor Proctor series about a mad scientist and his young assistants, Nilly and Lisa.

The translation retains a Scandinavian flavour in the syntax, so that it reads rather like a Norwegian who speaks excellent English, but that only adds to its charm rather than detracting from it.

The end of the world looms as Doctor Proctor and co, fuelled by lots of jelly, struggle to thwart an alien invasion with quirky inventiveness. Children will love the wacky humour, nail-biting cliff-hangers, weird characters and crazy inventions.

Tilly's Midnight Fox

Julia Green (Oxford, £5.99) 9+

Against the backdrop of a new house and school and her mother's difficult pregnancy, Tilly takes refuge in a secret, magical, moonlit garden with a wild fox and a shadowy new friend, Helen. Despite its contemporary and suburban setting, this story clearly draws inspiration from Tom's Midnight Garden and The Secret Garden. However, it has a beautiful lyrical narrative voice all of its own.

Here is clean, clear, accessible prose, delivered in short sentences that carry a strong emotional charge, reminiscent of David Almond's work. Tilly's anxieties are resolved in a satisfying ending.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making

Catherynne M Valente (Corsair, £9.99) 9+

"Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. That is why we close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble." This book would be worth reading if for no other reason than that it offers a feast of wryly observed, delicious writing but it is so much more. Like Oz, Hogwarts or Wonderland, it creates a magical world that sucks you in. September, aged 12, is rescued from her dull, lonesome life in Omaha and transported to Fairyland, where three witches charge her with retrieving their stolen spoon from the evil Marquess. September's real journey is from an egocentric child to a rounded empathetic young woman. Valente's take on this transformation is extremely perceptive. Funny and sad by turns, the story is packed with inventiveness and a truly memorable cast of characters, including Saturday, a small blue boy who can grant wishes, the wonderfully named Calpurnia Farthing, Queen of the Velocipedes, and Wyverary, the offspring of a wyvern and a library. Definitely my pick of this bunch. Perhaps Valente can fill the gap left by the death of Eva Ibbotson.

Hero On A Bicycle

Shirley Hughes (Walker, £9.99) 10+

A first novel from the creator of deeply moving yet unsentimental picture-book classics such as Dogger, Hughes brings the same talent to her story about an Anglo-English family living in Nazi-occupied Italy in 1944. While the father is away fighting with the partisans, Paolo, his sister Constanza and their mother Rosemary risk everything to help Allied soldiers. This story brilliantly conveys the fog of war, so not all the Germans are baddies. It is also a touching rite-of-passage story as Constanza blossoms and finds love. Warning: you risk splashing page 219 with your tears.

Dead Time

Anne Cassidy (Bloomsbury £6.99) 12+

An edgy, edge-of-your-seat thriller. Rose's mother and Joshua's father go out together one night and never come back. The two young adults are reunited several years later and begin to unravel the mystery after finding an encrypted notebook.

The killing of two of Rose's fellow students turns out to be not unconnected, although this plot twists so cleverly that it is hard to second-guess. It also asks some absorbing questions, including the hoary philosophical chestnut of whether murder is ever justified. The ending rather overstretches one's credulity, while failing to fully resolve the mystery, as this is the first in a series.

Velvet

Mary Hooper (Bloomsbury £6.99) 12+

Hooper takes us into the murky worlds of spiritualism and baby farming in Victorian London. Velvet, a street-wise orphan with a strong moral compass, makes an appealing central character. This author knows her stuff but never lets it impede her narrative, which races along, cleverly interweaving fiction with historical events.

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

104135