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By Vince Crossauthor

A selection of books that focus on the theme of growing up

Ways to Live forever by Sally Nicholls (Marion Lloyd/Scholastic, £7.99 PB)

Suitable for: boys; girls; older readers

Find a girl called Eva and marry her. Then, even if you can’t live forever, at least you can live for Eva!’

Sam has leukaemia. During his last months, he writes a diary, asking the most difficult questions about life and death, balancing for himself the possibilities of science and religion. Encouraged by his family and his friend, Felix, he gets to do most of the things he wants to before he dies, including running up a down escalator, kissing a girl and flying in an airship.

Sally Nicholls has precisely captured the contents of an 11-year-old boy’s head in all its humorous, list-making splendour. Use this as catharsis, as explanation, as a very touching story in its own right, but make no mistake – it is heart-rending stuff. Have the tissues at hand, and maybe monitor the reactions of young readers. This Waterstone’s Children’s Book Award 2008 winner is that powerful!

Someday Angeline by Louis Sachar (Bloomsbury, £4.99 PB)

Suitable for: boys; girls; younger readers; older readers

Angeline is born a genius, or as her classmates put it, a ‘freak’. This, plus the envy of a socially-challenged teacher, Miss Hardlick, threatens to make her life a misery, until she befriends another misfit, Gary, who has a great line in bad jokes. His teacher, Mr Bone (actually a lady teacher – Miss Turbone – get it?) is much nicer than Miss Hardlick. She’s pretty too, and since Angeline is a constant source of perplexity to her garbage-collector, single dad, Abel… OK, you’ll have worked out where that bit of the plot’s going, but there’s also deeper stuff happening. It’s written in uncompromising American English, but don’t let that put you off.

Born to Run by Michael Morpurgo (HarperCollins, £10.99 HB)

Suitable for: boys; girls; older readers

This surprising and enchanting tale portrays the theme of growing up through the life of a dog and his owners. Without dodging the necessary doggy detail (the star is a greyhound called Best Mate), much of the interest comes from the children and adults who temporarily find themselves his owners – first Patrick, then Becky, and finally the elderly Joe. There’s a strong ‘Black Beauty’ feel to the plot, as the beautiful and speedy Best Mate survives a succession of canine perils until his starring role in a satisfying conclusion involving a demo by the inhabitants of an old people’s home threatened by closure. This is classic Morpurgo – writing that’s clean and uncluttered, and a story which engages from the off.

Zack Black and the Magic Dads by Annie Dalton (Barrington Stoke, £4.99 PB)

Suitable for: boys; girls; younger readers; older readers; reluctant readers

Zack’s mum suddenly finds she isn’t happy being single anymore. Fortunately, Zack stumbles across the mysterious, dreadlocked, Great Shaboosh who points him towards a website promising introductions to ‘Magic Dads’. A number of the potential dads subsequently discovered prove, amusingly, not to meet his mum’s specifications, but with the aid of his new friend, Josie, Zack discovers a real Magic Dad right under his nose. A great, whimsical read from Annie Dalton who gives her characters sufficient street attitude to make them appeal to all but the most image-conscious children.

I Am a Cloud, I can Blow Anywhere by Jonathan and Shirley Tulloch (Egmont, £6.99 PB)

Suitable for: girls; older readers; more able readers

Mulumbe, a girl on the cusp of puberty, lives in what could be rural Zimbabwe. Famine threatens and there are manifold personal dangers, including an unwanted arranged marriage. Buoyed up by her store of folk wisdom, however, Mulumbe proves equal to all life’s challenges. The storyline takes her clandestinely across a border to what sounds like Johannesburg, allowing the reader to encounter urban Africa as well. This may or may not be an absolutely balanced view of contemporary southern Africa, or the easiest read, but it’s a very worthwhile book nevertheless. Competent older girl readers will feel real anxiety for Mulumbe’s fate throughout.

Visit the ‘Giveaways’ section for a chance to win all of these books!

Relax Max by Sally Grindley (Orchard, £4.99 PB)

Suitable for: boys; girls; younger readers; older readers

Fictional author, DJ Lucas, corresponds with young fan, Max, in the third of this series, swapping jokes and dispensing wisdom on family life and writing. Well-judged humour.

Ruby Rogers Get A Life! by Sue Limb (Bloomsbury, £4.99 PB)

Suitable for: girls; older readers; reluctant readers

Frothy fun. The fourth in a series about Ruby, her (sometimes) best friend, Yasmin, and their friends. Sue Limb has a famously sure touch, and the story rollicks along on a wave of current girl speak.

The Legend of The Worst Boy in The World by Eoin Colfer (Puffin, £4.99 PB)

Suitable for: boys; girls; reluctant readers; reading aloud

Witty tale of Irish life. Will is the second of four children, and feels his problems aren’t always properly explored. Granddad listens and gently expands Will’s horizons. Family life affectionately drawn.

River Song by Belinda Hollyer (Orchard, £5.99 PB)

Suitable for: girls; older readers; more able readers

Jessye wrestles with the domestic chaos caused by her one-time hippie mum in contemporary Maori, New Zealand. The blending of traditional values with modern life is atmospherically portrayed, though perhaps the second half of the book unravels too easily.

Dani’s diary by Narinder Dhami (Corgi Yearling, £4.99 PB)

Suitable for: girls; older readers

Nice cultural detail from the author of Bend it like Beckham (Hodder, £5.99 PB) contrasting Dani’s contemporary childhood with her grandma’s experiences arriving in 1960s Britain from India.

Vince Cross is an author, composer and audio producer. Long ago, he taught RE to anyone who’d listen in a boys’ comprehensive school, before swapping one sort of head banging for another to become a professional musician, playing in bands, writing music for TV and running a recording studio. His books include The A Club: The Blogs of Abi Goodenough (Lion, £5.99 PB), and Blitz: A Wartime Girl’s Diary (Scholastic, £5.99 PB). The latter will be part of a re-vamped My Story series to be published in May 2008, together with Vince’s new book, Princess of Egypt (Scholastic, £5.99 PB).

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