A thing I have noticed in conversations with some other parents about whether or not their children read is how much morality they, (the parents), probably unwittingly, attach to this. If your child reads it is a good child, if your child doesn’t read, it is – if not exactly bad, then somehow less good. It’s a bit like the wrong-think around the eating or not of green vegetables. “Do your kids read?” takes over in later years from that friendship-ending query “Do your kids sleep?” and it’s all just so stupid.
And a waste of time worrying about. Like fruit and green vegetables, books and reading ought to always be available but beyond that, it’s not your problem. Early-years reading to your children is pretty non-negotiable but later on they’ve really got to decide for themselves. Children who don’t like reading early on might really get into it later. Or they might never get into it and just be much better and more interested in any number of other equally intellectually diverse, important or helpful things. For example, the comedian Michael McIntyre claims to have read only six books all the way to the end.
I can get my knickers into quite a twist about this. Maybe it’s because I dislike and disapprove of the book Matilda so much. I find the fetishisation of the precocious child a bit distasteful – a high IQ, or whatever you want to call it, is only a quirk of nature like very lustrous hair or the ability to beatbox. The books slobbers over Matilda so much for this random set of abilities, thus implying all the other children are frankly garbage. What message does this send to children? Unless you are an intellectual prodigy you are worthless. Doesn’t the Unabomber have an IQ of 160+? I bet he’s an avid reader. I’m sort of on Mrs Wormwood’s side in all this.
Here are things that my children don’t, won’t, cannot do: ride a bike (Kitty); play in a swimming pool for hours (both); play on a trampoline for hours (both); sing, dance, act or play any sort of instrument except the drums (Sam); play with their friends for hours at the weekend; play with each other for more than 5 minutes before hitting, kicking, hair-pulling; do Lego without throwing it across the room and screaming oaths after 15 minutes; build anything. I’m sure there’s loads of other stuff.
But, yes, they both read – all the time.
Though, let’s get real, Kitty is the reader – less so Sam. He’s just forced to do it because the rest of the family is always reading. He would much rather be playing sport literally all day or be face-down in his iPad. Kitty finds a comfort and predictability in books that she doesn’t find in the real-time world, which is probably down to some neurodiversity that we have only really scratched the surface of.
And, she’s not reading Black Beauty or Little Women or Lord of the Flies. She reads the avalanche of pulp fiction that is churned out for young readers these days, which she is very lucky to have, by the way, and it’s not that it isn’t improving or good. I think I probably would have read a lot more when I was younger if there had been as much good stuff as there is around right now.
I remember my mum, probably at a loss for anything else to do with us when we were little, taking us to a book shop in Muswell Hill about four times a year. There was only ever the freaking Borrowers, Stig of the boring Dump and Tom’s Midnight stupid Garden on offer. No wonder my generation were still gobbling up Harry Potter well into our twenties.
Anyway, I’ve gone completely off my point. If your children don’t read my advice is, don’t fret about it. Reading is not a moral issue and is certainly no sort of predictor of adult contentment. If your children don’t read I bet they’re very good at something else and who is to decide what set of interests or talents ought to command our respect? Fuck you, Miss Honey.
Having said all that, these are the books that my children have enjoyed. I have always hesitated to make a list of these books because – see above – I don’t want you to go out and buy a whole load of books on my recommendation for your children, which they also refuse to read. On the other hand, you might also have some readers who burn through books at a high rate and need constant suggestions like frantically tossing oak trunks into the fires of Mordor.
Adventures in Time series by Dominic Sandbook – The Second World War
This is an absolutely brilliant series and I am 2% in love with Dominic Sandbrook anyway because of The Rest is History podcast. I just finished reading this book, (although it is aimed at 11-14 yo), and it was amazingly gripping and for the first time in my life I have a proper grasp of what happened in the Second World War and will no longer confuse the D-Day landings with the evacuation of Dunkirk. Other books in this series are to follow – The First World War, Alexander the Great and other titles are also available. This is a really good book to buy this Christmas for a niece, nephew or godchild of about the right age. Don’t fret that they might already have it – it’s the thought that counts and this is a good thought.
The Diary of a Wimpy Kid
I mean, do I even need to mention this series? Sam has read each book 40 times.
The Treehouse Series
Another one that everyone will have heard of. I think they are crushingly dull, unfathomable, weird, but my children like them.
The Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens
Extremely readable, very, very brilliant and clever series of murder mysteries for 10-13 yo set in a girls’ boarding school in the 1920s.
Noughts and Crosses series by Malorie Blackman
This is for older readers, probably 10yo + and tackles quite adult themes, in my view. Kitty loved them all.
The Hunger Games
Again, for older readers. I read the first one and thought it was alarmingly violent but Kitty says that the first Hunger Games is her favourite book, ever. (Although Kitty does tend to fob off questions like “What’s your favourite…? with the first thing that pops into her head.) And children are able to cope with quite high levels of violence in fiction as their empathy is still so nascent.
Kay’s Anatomy and Kay’s Marvellous Medicine by Adam Kay
These are very funny and totally informative for the young scientist in your life. Or any child – I don’t think we are really taught enough about the basic principles of our own bodies and, like, how antibiotics work and stuff.
Glory Garden series by Bob Cattell
For cricket nerds only, but if you’ve got a son – or daughter – who likes cricket, this is a non-toxic-masculine series about a hilariously crap local cricket team that will satisfy their love of bowling stats and unfathomable cricket plays with a lot of chat about batting order and LBW.
The Adventure series by Willard Price
A very old-fashioned, very long series of books (Amazon Adventure, Underwater Adventure etc.) about two teenage brothers who are somehow free to go on totally bananas round-the-world adventures where things happen like they go fishing and somehow catch a shark, which lands in their boat and they have to heave it back into the sea etc. These were written a while ago and there is quite a lot of morally ambiguous behaviour towards animals and indigenous people, but I believe that it’s actually quite important to encourage children to confront former attitudes about stuff like that, discuss it and reject it. Sam was read these books as bedtimes stories, rather than reading them independently, so those discussions could be had as we went along.
The Captain Underpants series
Again, I found these really not interesting, but Sam dug them all
Maze Runner series
Kitty read the books and watched the films. Both seem to offer diminishing returns, but wasn’t it ever thus with any series other than Toy Story?
The surreal but elegantly-plotted and fun series of graphic novels about a dog’s head grafted onto the body of a policeman. It makes sense in the cartoon.
Ultimate Football Heroes series
A series to try out on your child if they are super sporty with no interest in reading whatsoever, and you would quite like them to read one book? Maybe just once? These are biographies of famous footballers like Messi, Ronaldo and, I don’t know… Ryan Giggs perhaps. All written with the style and panache of a match report but perfectly harmless.
Garfield Fat Cat compendiums/Peanuts
There is absolutely nothing wrong with reading strip cartoons. When I was little we had one Peanuts collection, Peanuts Classics, and I read it over and over again. I also had a subscription to Garfield magazine, which came out fortnightly. Giles says he’s not sure he read a proper book until he was about 14, up until then just gorging on strip cartoons and The Beano. We have what feels like a hundred “Fat Cat 3-pack” Garfield collections and a whole load of Peanuts books. There is a huge amount of philosophy, humanity and – obviously – humour in a decent strip cartoons and honestly I’d rather my children were reading that than some of the crap that gets churned by actors who think they can write, full of pathetic fart jokes.
These are some more titles that Kitty, (and occasionally Sam also), has enjoyed – a quick read of their descriptions online will tell you if your child will like or is suited to these.
On A Sunbeam by Tillie Waldren, They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera, Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, Frostheart series by Jamie Littler, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth, Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, A Girl Called Justice series by Elly Griffiths, Afterlove by Tanya Byrne, Lumberjanes (multiple authors), The Last Kids on Earth Series by Max Brallier, Ruby Redfort series by Lauren Child, Shirley and Jamil Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz.
How about you? Have your kids read any good books lately?