Fiction for older children – reviews

Suspense and charm (and chocolate) make a welcome return to kids' fiction, in wartime adventures and classroom squabbles

In a children's market near-dominated by ironic, knowing humour even for the under-10s, Shirley Hughes's suspenseful first novel Hero on a Bicycle (Walker £9.99) will appeal to grumpy parents' nostalgia as much as to every child's desire for a simple wartime adventure story. Set in the summer of 1944, it features 13-year-old Paolo, who lives with his mother and older sister Constanza in the hills outside Florence. Paolo's father, an anti-Fascist, is in hiding, and with the city occupied by Nazis, Paolo's night-time bike rides are a source of hope, adventure and danger.

Another new title, The Abominables (Scholastic £10.99) was also written by an octogenarian, Eva Ibbotson, one of the best-loved children's writers in the world. The story was found among her papers when she died in 2010, and introduces Young Lady Agatha Farlingham, the first person in history to befriend an Abominable Snowman. Lady Agatha ends up raising three Yeti children, Lucy, Clarence and Ambrose, and so it falls to her to rescue her charges from humans who want them for fur coats. Funny and sweet, ideal for reading aloud.

Nostalgia repackaged is likewise the theme of Frank Cottrell Boyce's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again (Macmillan £6.99). From the author of Millions and Framed comes this sequel to Ian Fleming's original, endorsed by the Fleming family. In the 21st-century version, Chitty has become a magical flying camper van, and the Tooting family set off for Paris and Cairo, cunningly covering some geography lesson territory en route. Hugely entertaining, innocent fun, and packed with lively illustrations from Joe Berger.

For older children, Annabel Pitcher's My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece (Orion £6.99), new out in paperback, is an original, warm and subtle exploration of grief. Jamie, 10, lost his sister Rose five years ago and has never cried for her, because he doesn't know how to. Now his mum has run off with the man from the support group, his dad has started drinking, and Jas, Rose's sister, has turned 15 and dyed her hair pink. A complex, beautifully drawn story infused with dry wit.

Kate Saunders's The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop (Scholastic £6.99) – "chunks of magic in a nutty adventure" – is a rip-roaring adventure story. Oz and Lily's family inherit their great uncle's house. And guess what? The shop beneath used to be a confectioner's, where the world's greatest chocolate-makers once brewed chocolate to make you fall in love, to make you thin, to bring you happiness or hope. No wonder someone's after their secret recipes. Magical and inventive fun.

Saving the funniest and the best till last, Barry Loser: I Am Not a Loser (Jelly Pie £5.99) is from the Mr Gum school of writing and illustrating: hugely enjoyable, surreal chaos from the notebooks of Barry Loser, the schoolboy anti-hero desperate to take revenge on crocodile-faced creep Darren Darrenofski. The review of the eight-year-old boy in our house who devoured it in two days? "Can I keep it to give to a friend?" Best recommendation you can get.

Contributor

Viv Groskop

The GuardianTramp

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