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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Quirky Kids' Series

All of these funny series feature oddball characters, and all are favourites of my youngest daughter (aged 8). All focus on a female lead character but are not 'girly' in the sense of pink and sparkly. I would happily give most of these to boys to read, with my only slight hesitation the Daizy Star series. All are also strong in terms of voice: most are first-person narration, and all characterise effectively using voice and dialogue. The characters all have funny sayings or catchphrases and/or are prone to hilarious turns of phrase.

Kes Gray's Daisy series
Daisy, the star of picture books, now has a series of younger reader chapter books about her too. All are called "Daisy and the Trouble with" something, and in each she's in (unsurprisingly!) some kind of trouble, which you usually don't know the details of until some way into the book. Each is narrated by Daisy herself, and she addresses the reader directly. She doesn't mean to get into these scrapes, but genuinely doesn't understand the implications of her actions at first. She's easy for kids to relate to and has a friendly, quirky voice. Daisy's 'troubles' are rooted in real life, but are quite extreme for children to delight in, not being things that normal kids would typically do.

Tamsyn Murray's Stunt Bunny series
Harriet Houdini is Stunt Bunny. She lives with the Wilson family as their pet and enters Superpets Live, a series of TV competitions for talented pets (a different competition is the focus of each book). Harriet also tells us her own story, and shares her thoughts about the competitions. Stunt Bunny, unlike Daisy, faces dangers in her stories: she is always at risk of being bunny-napped, and she has stiff competition from other Superpets.

Joanna Nadin's Penny Dreadful series
Penelope Jones, nicknamed Penny Dreadful by her father, also gets into scrapes based on real life. This is an anarchic funny series focusing on the Jones family and Penny's friends. Again, Penny narrates her own adventures in her distinctive voice and offers her own slightly off-centre views on things. These books are easier for their young readers to navigate, as each volume features three separate stories, rather than a single longer plot. In our house, these are current favourites for re-reading in bed as comfy blanket reads.

Kjartan Poskitt's Agatha Parrot series
In Agatha Parrot we have another less-than-perfect girl explaining her adventures to us. This series focuses more on Agatha's friends than her family, with the first in the series being school-centred and the second more of a family story. These oddball stories feature an introduction to the gang at the start of the book, which helps children to figure out who's who. Agatha's narration is also aware of the reader and she carefully contextualises events and people for us.

Maudie Smith's Opal Moonbaby series
This is the odd one out here, in that it's not a first person narration. It still belongs, though, as adjectives like madcap and zany apply to it as much as the others here. It's also the least real-world of these series, as Opal Moonbaby is an alien, and a lot of the humour here comes from Opal's misunderstandings of our world. Only Opal Moonbaby is currently available, but we have heard that there will be others featuring her human friends Martha and Robbie. I reviewed Opal Moonbaby in January.

Cathy Cassidy's Daizy Star series
Daizy Star is the only truly girly one of these series, perhaps because its audience is pitched slightly older (Daizy is in Year 6 and therefore aged 10-11, whereas Kes Gray's Daisy has her seventh birthday in Daisy and the Trouble with Zoos). This series focuses on the effects on Daizy as her father is going through a mid-life crisis which prompts and interferes with Daizy's various schemes for stardom. Again, Daizy tells us her own story and injects her narration with plenty of her own personal thoughts and feelings. School friends and other family members also feature in the stories, and Daizy has a personal nemesis in Ethan Miller, an annoying boy who her best friends both have a crush on.

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