Children's Books: Hostage heroism


Amid a summer riot, five teenagers take a civil servant hostage. William Sutcliffe's Concentr8 (Bloomsbury, £12.99) is set in a disturbingly recognisable Britain where the government has been unscrupulously doling out ADD drugs but has suddenly withdrawn supplies. Sutcliffe alternates between the voices of the listless lawbreakers, a journalist, a negotiator and a floppy-haired mayor.

The teenagers are held together by subtle loyalties that even they find confusing. There is political exposé; there is comedy and one hostage-taker even achieves a kind of tragic-hero status. This might just become a 21st-century YA classic. Age 13 up.

Dara Palmer's Major Drama by Emma Shevah (Chicken House, £6.99) is bursting with energy, helped by Helen Crawford-White's line drawings and Dara's excitable voice: she is "a teaspoonful of worried" and her "eyes are like squirrels singing karaoke to loud music in the middle of a riot". Not just a zany, school story, Dara also touches brilliantly on the insecurities of being adopted and looking different from your schoolmates. Age seven to 14.

Any kid who has ever drawn an imaginary machine will enjoy Frank Einstein and the Brain Turbo by Jon Scieszka (Amulet, £6.99). The third in a series about schoolboy scientist Frank, his robot sidekicks and his arch-rivals T. Edison and Mr Chimp, it condenses an astounding number of (age-appropriate) human-body facts, with diagrams (and even sign-language lessons), into a genuinely fun adventure for age eight upwards. Also don't miss Frank Einstein and the Electro-finger, in which Frank invents an alternative energy supply and explains more scientific concepts.

It was the eco-friendly biofuel that started it. A tiny part mutated - and the mutation multiplied - and from this came the people-devouring Fuzzy Mud (Bloomsbury, £12.99). Three children discover the mud and must try to escape to tell the world. Louis (Holes) Sachar's tale sounds creepy but is surprisingly unscary, since Tamaya, the heroine, remains deadpan-calm throughout. Will spark classroom discussions on bullying, the environment, genetic engineering and birth control. Age 12 up.

If you are in north London on September 12, you can show support for Barnet's libraries, threatened with shrinkage or closure, by joining the Children's March for Libraries, from East Finchley Library (10.15 am), via Church End to North Finchley (12.30).

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