Young Legionary by Douglas Hill (Victor Gollancz, 1982) Serving as a prequel to Hill’s Last Legionary quartet, this fix-up novel follows a young Keill Randor (aged 12, 14, 16 & 18) through four challenges on his way to becoming a Legionary of Moros. Easy SF action escapism for middle-grade readers.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown dir. Bill Melendez (CBS, 1966) For the most part a stilted rehash of the comic strips, watchable only for the original and moodily evocative Flying Ace turned Downed Pilot animation. Commonly hailed as a masterstroke, the use of authentic child voices results in a jarring school-play amateurism.
Tintin in Tibet by Hergé; trans. Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Methuen, 1962) A straightforward travel adventure with a touch of mysticism and, unusually for Tintin, no antagonist (and no guns!). Although Hergé plays with reader expectations and includes plenty of slapstick, this volume carries a bleakness that appears reflective of his own inner turmoil.
One Hundred and One Black Cats by Stephen Mooser; ill. Quentin Blake (Scholastic, 1975) It’s hard to believe Mooser was paid for this early middle-grade reworking of the Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Adventure of the Six Napoleons’. It’s fun enough but overly simplified, blandly written and drained of mystery. Wholly unoriginal, save for Quentin Blake’s illustrations.
The Ring O’Bells Mystery by Enid Blyton; ill. Gilbert Dunlop (William Collins, 1951) This third ‘Barney’ mystery might easily have been written during a languorous English summer. The rustic idyll shines warmly from its pages and the adventure unfolds slowly, picking up pace only in the concluding chapters. A pleasant read enlivened by chaotic animals.
Sapphire & Steel, Assignment 5 by Don Houghton & Anthony Read (ITV, 1981) Different writers but the usual mix of otherworldliness and off-kilter intrigue as Sapphire & Steel investigate a 50-year timeslip with built-in murder mystery. The interdimensional operatives again prove remarkably ineffectual in employing their special powers, thereby stretching the story to six episodes.
Men, Martians and Machines by Eric Frank Russell (Dennis Dobson, 1955) A fix-up novel in which Russell’s characteristic humour is tempered in favour of fully realised SF space opera. Few who’ve read these four interlocked novelettes/novellas will ever forget their mixed-species crew, nor the ingeniously bellicose alien environments that Russell conjures for exploration.
The Exciting Adventures of Super-Grover by Emily Perl Kingsley; ill. Joe Mathieu (Western Publishing Company, 1978) Grover’s quasi-heroic alter ego was good for laughs on Sesame Street itself but falls horribly flat in this oversized Golden Book. The illustrations are passable but the stories are pure cardboard, reaching futilely for humour while lacking both imagination and basic craft.
Because a Little Bug went Ka-Choo! by Rosetta Stone [aka Dr Seuss]; ill. Michael Frith (Random House, 1975) Fun though inconsistent rhymed verse from Dr Seuss, illustrated in the Seuss style by Michael Frith. The story is a rambunctious demonstration of the butterfly effect, starting with a bug’s sneeze and ending in town-wide mayhem. The bopped turtle is a highlight.…
Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett (Victor Gollancz, 1987); audiobook read by Celia Imrie (Isis, 1995) Not the most substantial of storylines, yet a key work in the development of the Discworld. Pratchett sets Rincewind aside in favour of the far richer character Granny Weatherwax. In so doing he makes societal change a serious part of his worldbuilding.