Mega reading for the children

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Megamind mania hits the book stores this month, with the big Megamind movie release backed up by plenty of tie-in books.

Born on a distant planet and sent to Earth as a baby, Megamind (Will Ferrell) has grown up to be the most brilliant super-villain the world has ever known. Unfortunately, he’s also the least successful. Over the years, Megamind has tried to conquer Metro City in every imaginable way. But each attempt has ended in failure thanks to the caped superhero known as Metro Man (Brad Pitt).

If you’re keen to let your kinds follow in his footsteps, you can try out Megamind in 3D: Born to be Bad Activity Book (Bantam, £3.99), a bright and breezy, megacolourful little book. The children will race through it in a few minutes, but, heck, you can count it as reading and they will have had a good time.

Slightly more stretching, though it’s being generous to call it a novel, is Megamind: The Novel. It smacks of being just a touch hastily written, but it romps along inventively and good-naturedly for £4.99 (Bantam, seven to nine-year-olds).

For slightly older readers, there is a reissue of a modern classic, the middle volume of Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy, a series which really does combine wit with vivid imagination.

As ever, it’s the asides and the footnotes which get you giggling, but as part of the bigger picture, the middle volume is perhaps the most impressive in its depiction of just how power can corrupt, taking a decent young lad away from the nobler path he’d envisaged.

Two years have passed since the events of The Amulet of Samarkand and the young magician Nathaniel is rising fast through the government ranks. But his career is suddenly threatened by a series of terrifying crises.

A dangerous golem makes random attacks on London and other raids, even more threatening, are perpetrated by the Resistance. Nathaniel and Bartimaeus travel to Prague, enemy city of ancient magic, but while they are there uproar breaks out at home and Nathaniel returns to find his reputation in tatters.

Can he rescue it from his Machiavellian adversaries in the government bent on his destruction? The curious thing is that he ends up being just as Machiavellian as they are.

(Corgi Childrens, £7.99, 12 and up).

It’s a great read, but it’s perfectly possible to feel a bit magicianed-out these days, with the booksellers throwing so many wizards and magical creatures at us. If so, reach for the rather simpler pleasures of Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome’s s classic in a new edition (Red Fox, £7.99, nine to 11 years old)

It’s a book which, from the standpoint of adulthood, seems to capture so much of what childhood is - or should be - about. From the child’s perspective, it’s simply a cracking good read - with the added bonus of a good laugh at the unfortunate Titty’s name. More innocent times, indeed.

John, Susan, Titty and Roger sail their boat, Swallow, to a deserted island for a summer camping trip. Exploring and playing sailors is an adventure in itself but the island holds more excitement in store. Two fierce Amazon pirates, Nancy and Peggy, challenge them to war and a summer of battles and alliances ensues. If you read it as a child, you’ll want to read it again. And then you can let your children read it too.

Also released this month is The Inheritance Almanac: An A to Z Guide to the World of Eragon by Mike Macauley (£7.99, Doubleday Childrens, 12 years and up).

Christopher Paolini’s internationally bestselling Inheritance series is an undisputed fantasy phenomenon, which has sold millions of copies in dozens of languages around the world, and has sparked the imaginations of countless children and adults.

The Inheritance Almanac comes billed as a “fascinating companion to the series” - and probably it is. But you can’t help feeling it’s also someone somewhere cashing in. Of course, it carries the answers to all sorts of Eragon trivia, but all of the answers are actually in the books themselves. Isn’t it better to let the original books be your companion?

A surer bet is The One That Got Away in junior edition, a fine piece of writing by Chris Ryan (£6.99, Red Fox, nine-11 year olds).

The publishers put it in their “Children’s Life skills & personal awareness, general studies” category, which sounds like a sure way to kill all interest stone dead. Maybe that sums it up in general terms, but more importantly, it’s simply a great read.

The heroic, real-life personal account of Chris Ryan’s most famous mission, The One That Got Away, is now reworked for a new generation. Some authors just write about it. Chris Ryan has been there, done it - and here is the gripping real-life tale . . .

During the Gulf War in 1991, Chris Ryan became separated from the other members of the SAS patrol, Bravo Two Zero. Alone, he beat off an Iraqi attack and set out for Syria. Over the next seven days he walked almost 200 miles, his life constantly in danger.

Of the eight SAS members involved in this famous mission, only one escaped capture. This is his story . . . and it’s definitely worth reading, provocative, vivid and conspicuously well written.

The same - in a very different way - goes for Boys Don’t Cry by Malorie Blackman, a remarkable writer with an authenticity and understanding all her own (£12.99, Doubleday Childrens, 12 years and up). Blackman explores the unchartered territory of teenage fatherhood.

You’re waiting for the postman - he’s bringing your A level results. University, a career as a journalist - a glittering future lies ahead. But when the doorbell rings it’s your old girlfriend; and she’s carrying a baby. You’re fine to look after it, for an hour or two, while she does some shopping. Then she doesn’t come back and your future suddenly looks very different.

Malorie’s dramatic new novel will take you on a journey from tears to laughter and back again.

A rather more thudding read is Monster Blood Tattoo 3: Factotum by D. M. Cornish and not just because it comes in such a thumping great volume. It’s just that the world of monsters is a world starting to get rather too familiar.

Not all monsters look like monsters. Some everyday folk are the worst monsters of all . . .

Rossamund Bookchild’s lamplighting career has been brought to a dramatic close. Now he is faced with a new life as personal servant to Europe, an elegant and powerful monster-hunter. As Rossamund settles into his new home, he finally discovers the true story of his origins, a story that must remain hidden if he is to survive in a land divided by the conflict between men and monsters.

A good, strong story, but haven’t we all been here before in the past few years, one way or another? Originality these days means probably not writing about monsters.

A much better read, if you’re looking for something chunky, is Four Tales by Philip Pullman, (£14.99, Doubleday Childrens , nine to 11-year-olds).

Four Tales brings together Clockwork, The Firework-Maker’s Daughter, I Was A Rat and The Scarecrow And His Servant; four stories that showcase Philip Pullman’s unique imaginative talent. Drawing on the rich tradition of fairytales, the collection will amuse, engage, thrill and delight.