'Tis Jolly to be flies

By Angela Kiverstein, September 24, 2009
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Matthew Buzzington is a normal 10-year-old boy — except he has a superpower. He can turn into a fly. Well, he really, really believes he can. He just has to try a bit harder. Andy Stanton brings the inventiveness of his Mr Gum books to a simpler format for The Story of Matthew Buzzington (Barrington Stoke, £4.99). Will Matthew perfect his superpower, defeat the bully Pineapple Johnson and save his school from robbers? A metamorphic fable about self-belief and pineapples, for beginner readers of all ages.

In Zvuvi’s Israel, by Tami Lehman-Wilzig (Kar-Ben £5.99), our guide pays a flying visit to the key sights, from the Wall to Dolphin Reef, including such lesser-known attractions as Haifa’s Maritime Museum and the Canada Center ice-skating rink in Metulla. Zvuvi would get on well with Matthew Buzzington, since he and his companion Zahava are flies. See if you can spot your onomatopoeic tour guide in Ksenia Topaz’s detail-packed illustrations. An effective first guidebook for ages five to 11, although there is something unsettling about a holidaymaking fly checking out a falafel stall.

Flies have a cameo role in Al Capone Shines My Shoes, by Gennifer Choldenko (Bloomsbury, £6.99), where Jimmy, one of the jailers’ kids living on Alcatraz, is collecting performers for his fly circus. But his friend, Moose, has bigger things on his mind. Al Capone, VIP convict on the island, has helped Moose’s autistic sister Natalie gain a place at a special school — and now it’s payback time. Blending fact and fiction, Choldenko peoples the island with eccentrics ranging from Willy One-Arm, the mouse-befriending convict, to the warden’s spoilt-brat daughter. Captivating, for age 10 upwards.

Thomas the Tank Engine has a Jewish-authored predecessor, a schoolgirl feud in the Chalet School series recalls the Reichstag fire and, in The Hobbit, “Bilbo’s redemption from his dull, smug complacent life by the dwarves is an eloquent metaphor for the impoverishment of western society without Jews”. British Children’s Fiction in the Second World War by Owen Dudley Edwards (Edinburgh University Press, £29.99) is full of such insights. This is no nostalgia trip, but a serious, 700-page scholarly analysis, from a social-history rather than a literary perspective. Prior knowledge of Biggles, Bunter, Blyton and co. is an advantage.

    Last updated: 11:12am, September 24 2009