I firmly believe that a good book is a good book, whatever the age or stage of the reader… an excellent picture book can be just as exciting for an adult as a chapter book can be riveting for a preschooler. There are books that are treasures that you don’t mind reading over and over again… these are the literary gems. But when you head for the book store or the library and you are faced with thousands and thousands of books, where do you find the treasures. In the sea of all that is plastic out there, there are books that will inspire and transport anyone, no matter what age group they are aimed at.
Our young readers are on a journey, and in the same way they will one day drive a car – frightening as that is to imagine. Nowadays children begin with a ride-on, they move on to training wheels… and finally they are riding bikes. For years they are riding bikes and then suddenly they are lurching around on Vespas and eventually they make it to the mini-van. Well when I was younger, we had a trike that was pretty much good enough for all the neighbourhood kids to grow up on and somewhere between eight and ten you received a “brand new second hand” bike that lasted you through high school.
I am going to sound like I come out of the dark ages, and my children believe I do, but when I was a child learning to read was pretty much like learning to ride a bike, you messed around with ancient “Janet and Johns” until you found your footing… you lurched around with “Beginner Readers” and little Golden Books, that have become classics and firm favourites in their own rights… and suddenly somewhere between eight and ten you launched into Enid Blyton, ventured on to the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and after that you were a reader… and that was it, you were launched as a reader and were free to wade your way through the library shelves with little or no guidance. Eventually you ran out of reads in the children section and for a brief few weeks you browsed the “half a shelf” of teen reads before you made it onto the adult reads in the library.
Now the children’s section of the books store was a shelf. Just one shelf, in a dark corner of the store, where nobody would step on you… because nobody was going there. I have to commend my parents on finding good books – I have no idea how they did it, in an era before book catalogues and the internet and there was no “searching for good books for kids…” they managed to find favourites again and again and again… they had a sixth sense. Not all of us are so lucky. Book stores have changed somewhat – from a pokey little corner – to a vast section of vibrant books, the children’s corner in a book store, while a treasure trove can be somewhat overwhelming… How do you discern the difference between a good read and a passing fancy, something that will fire up your kids imagination and have them dying to read more and the thousands of books that are really just candy… sweet, passing and well after the first nibble pretty tasteless… This post is really about the books that we have found to be the best of the rest, but first how do you choose a good book… word of mouth is a good place to begin.
There is so much more to books than reading, but we seem to live in a world where academics count for so much more than a love of books. When it comes to reading there are at least three steps in the process: the ability to read, actually move your eyes across the page and interpret the code of letters; the ability to listen and understand the language and rhythm of a fine story wether it is your inner voice or someone else reading to you; and finally comprehending and interpreting the story, what are the nuances… “who did what, how did it make me feel?” These are all necessary skills that we are aiming to develop in our emerging readers, unfortunately so much emphasis is placed on the final skill… because it is measurable and can be tested, that a swath of children are being left behind – either because they haven’t developed the first two skills well enough or for example, they are excellent at listening but there comprehension skills are poor. The goal in our home has been to create a love for books and reading follows, really it does – eventually. Some of our kids read fluently at four and others stumbled into reading long after they reached double digits, it is safe to say… don’t agonise over the reading skills so much as working on the loving of books skills…
Around here… it is books before reading, listening skills are just as important as comprehension… and I can tell that a book has been read and loved by the tattered appearance, long before my kids have written pages of book reviews or answered comprehension questions about it.
Se7en + 1 of the Best of the Rest
Reading together as a family, provides a shared memory and builds a family culture… there is nothing like adventures taken together… through the pages of many, many books, to create a connected family history. We have chosen a collection of our best books to read as a family. There is only one rule when it comes to family reading… the reader has to love what they are reading. Just because a book is a classic, or labeled as the best book ever, let alone brilliant… doesn’t make it a good fit for your family, if you don’t enjoy reading it. I don’t read picture books or chapter books that I don’t enjoy reading – it shows and it spoils it for everyone. That doesn’t mean that all books, that look a bit tricky or that you don’t like the look of, should be avoided. When I come across a book that I am struggling with I look for a fabulous audible version, with great readers… and use that. Turns out there are a lot of books that I thought we could never get through that we have all enjoyed, when read by a professional. Anyway… here is our collection of must be Family reads…
#1. Ride-ons – Board Books
The thing about board books is that there are millions of them… and just because they have an “educational stamp” on them doesn’t make them good… in fact there is a massive and overwhelming market of “blech” out there. You can’t go wrong if you pick the classics. The good ones are very very good and you should be quite happy to read them again and again yourself. These are the books you will learn off by heart… nothing like a little repetition!!!
- Sandra Boynton: The Going to Bed Book.
- Julia Donaldson: The Gruffalo.
- Sam McBratney: Guess How Much I Love You.
- Helen Oxenbury and Michael Rosen: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
- Giles Andreae: Giraffes Can’t Dance:
- Eric Carle: The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
- Bill Martin Jr.: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.
- Usborne Books: The That’s not my… “almost anything under the sun” series: These are all delightful in their own right. Owning all of them would be a bit of an overwhelm, but one a week from the library is perfect.
#2 Trikes – Picture Books
In this category, if you like one then you tend to like them all… so we look for collections. I am not including all the millions of once off picture books and the absolutely must own picture books that one has to read in one’s life. These are collections that our family enjoys over and over again.
- Jean De Brunhoff: BonJour Barbar: I remember Barbar as a small child and really wanted our kids to have the same memories…
- Ludwig Bemelwans: Mad About Madeline – The Complete Tales. It is impossible not to love Madeline and her lilting French Rhythm!!!
- Robert McClosky: Make Way for McCloskey: McClosky needs no introduction either. If you are looking for books that create memories, then these stories are exactly right.
- Shirley Hughes: The Big Alfie and Annie Rose Storybook: Because Alfie and Annie Rose are just the cutest and most typical kids, and all of the stories end with a pot of tea.
- Mick Inkpen: The Mick Inkpen Treasury: Because Mick Inkpen’s stories are simply the best, sweet in a delightful way and honestly you just want to climb into his books.
- Valerie Thomas: Winnie The Witch Collection: This is funny and rhyming and bright… along with a whole lot of unintentional errors of the magical kind… our kids just love this witch!!!
- Ronda Armitage: The Lighthouse Keeper: The very details of life as a lighthouse keeper are revealed in these books – pure delight!!!
- Mairi Hedderwick: Katie Morag: A sweet gal, living on a remote Scottish Island and her life and times…
#3 Training Wheels – Easy Readers
- P.D. Eastman: Go, Dog Go: Just one of our favourite books ever.
- Dr. Seuss: All of them: You can’t go wrong here!!!
- Laura Joffe Numeroff: If you Give A Mouse a Cookie: We love and adore these books and could read them all day every day.
- The Berenstains: The Classic Berentstain Bears: Look out for the older editions, the more modern ones can be very twee and full of blessed little thoughts… but nothing beats The Bear Scouts or the Big Honey Hunt.
- Peggy Parish: Amelia Bedelia: Everyone loves the nutty Amelia Bedevil, who takes everything literally… and makes a number of funny mistakes along the way. Nothing like a little humour to encourage a new reader.
- Alex T. Smith: Claude… We love and adore Claude, an affable and lovable dog. funny and enjoyable for kids and hysterical reading for children of every age.
- Edward Ardizzone: The Tim Books: An adventurous boy that does adventurous things on the high seas. These are not easy ‘easy readers” but all my beginner readers have enjoyed working through these.
- John Ryan: Captain Pugwash: It is a mistake to exclude the comic book, or the “semi-comic” book… children love reading comics and literally thousands of graphic novels have passed through our house. They get read, and the goal is reading… enjoy it.
#4 Skateboards – Emerging Readers
This is a group of books that is fairly new on the scene, written by vibrant author/illustrators and the illustrations are an integral part of the story. These books have as much to look at and explore as they have to read. Many folk think of this group of books as “reluctant reader books” honestly, reluctant reader is a hugely negative term and enough to put any reader right off. These books will inspire your children to simply love books and if they don’t love reading they will glean enough from the illustrations to love the books. If they do love reading then the illustrations will inspire them to knew heights.
- Stephan Pastis: Timmy Failure: Oh Timmy, is a detective and a most amusing failure… the illustrations are hysterical and integral to the story.
- Chris Riddel: Goth Girl… Anything by Chris Riddel is fantastic, but the Goth Girl series is our favourite, favourite.
- Astrid Lindgren: Pippi Longstocking:
- Megan McDonald: Stink:
- Geronimo Stilton: The Series: My kids have loved Geronimo Stilton, whenever they find one in the library they grab it with zeal.
- Dick King-Smith: All of his books: Contain the sweetness of childhood and a love of animals. Some of his books will overlap up into chapter books, but they are so wonderful that once you have read the first chapter or two you will persevere onwards.
- Kathleen Duey: The Unicorn’s Secret Series: This book looks very girly, it is about unicorns after all… it isn’t girly at all and if you have child into breathtaking suspense, mystery and adventure… then they will love these.
- Enid Blyton: Famous Five Full Colour Short Stories: I know, I know… technically this post has to have Enid Blyton… and technically her books are chapter books, but this is a new series… reinventing the Famous Five for the emerging reader… we love them.
#5 Bike – Chapter Books
- Sam Angus: Soldier Dog, and more… these books are just such great war stories. We love Sam Angus, right up there as our favourite family read-alouds and we always end up exploring the story behind the story and digging deeper.
- Michael Morpurgo: Absolutely Everything: This is just a brilliant writer, for children, that adults can enjoy too. Be warned he is talented in digging up emotions, as he writes and you will find yourself living and experiencing things that you never thought you could, through his books.
- Enid Blyton: Features Again: Between the Island of Adventure, Malory Towers, and The Folk of the Faraway Tree… basically my childhood defined. Her books are being relaunched with new covers and illustrations… and this is the one time that I would say, get the update. I didn’t remember quite how outdated and politically incorrect some her earlier books were and after having read with versions with my kids and found myself editing as I read the earlier ones… Just get the latest ones – they are newer and your kids will prefer them.
- Roald Dahl: Danny the Champion of the World or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: There is something about Roald Dahl that is charming and magical. The movies tend to be somewhat dark… but the books have an appeal to children of all ages.
- Cressida Cowell: How to Train Your Dragon.
- Trenton Lee Stewart: The Mysterious Benedict Society: Superb, one of the best series ever…
- Michael Bond: Olga Da Polga: Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear is about to do a whole resurface, along with a movie launch… but we really like his little guinea-pig, Olga Da Polga.
#6 Scooter – Teen and Young Adult Readers
I recently wrote about the ins and outs of teen reads, it seems to be a section of the library where parents “fear to tread…” I can encourage you to dive right in, especially if you are out of practice with reading. These books are engaging, they have to be – they are competing with screen time, and if they can’t grab and keep their readers’ attention then they will never be read. Dive in and enjoy, you will be pleasantly surprised.
- Markus Zusak: The Book Thief: As with most book/movie deals… leave the movie and read the book. This one is a keeper.
- Anthony Horowitz: Alex Rider:
- Deborah Ellis: The Breadwinner Collection.
- Christopher Paolini: Eragon: This is a trilogy of four books… I know. They are fat, and fantastic. Once you begin you will be lost as you wonder through the pages!!!
- Cora Harrison: The Debutantes: The series is pure loveliness. Her characters are so well presented, you feel like you know them and in fact they become friends. Her books always end too soon, you want to stay in the story for longer.
- Teri Terry: Slated: You couldn’t have a list of the best of teen reading without a little dystopian… and this trilogy is our absolute favourite. Simply the best of all the rest. There was a year between each publication and the suspense and waiting for each book to arrive was killing!!!
- Terry Pratchett: Hundreds of them: Let’s just say… prolific… and loved.
#7 Driver – Adult Reads…
These are an eclectic collection of books that really define our language and cutural literacy, the sort of books that you might get to read in literature class, and otherwise never ever get around to reading them. Honestly, don’t be afraid of them… pick one and give yourself a couple of months and read a little each day and before you know it you will have conquered them. It helps to have a strategy and a plan, else you will never ever get round to them… but the best strategy happens to be: Just start. These are not all by any means adult books and my teens have read quite a few of them… these are just books that you might want to venture into yourself during that time of day when you want your kids to be reading on their own. These books are all classics for a reason, read “very very good!” Once you get into them you will fly and you won’t want to stop and wait for other folk to be listening..
- Harper Lee: To Kill a Mocking Bird: Because everyone everywhere needs to read this thought provoking book.
- Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre: Because it is my favourite book ever.
- Charles Dickens: Great Expectations All Dickens is wonderful, but Great Expectations is a really good place to start. Otherwise A Christmas Carol is a brilliant seasonal read that can get you straight into the heart of Dickens and not feel overwhelmed.
- Margaret Mitchell: Gone with the Wind: Because an epic is an epic… and sometimes you need to read an epic!!!
- John Bunyan’s: Pilgrim’s Progress: We read this as a family, and I was surprised at how much even our littlest guys got from it… it is a great read. Not an easy start but once you are into it you will fly.
- John Le Carre: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold: If you are ever going to read one fat and fabulous spy book then let this be it.
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Sherlock Holmes, The Collection: Sherlock Holmes needs no introduction, but if you like Sherlock Holmes then you are going to love the lesser known and fabulous French man, Arsene Lupin.
- Frank Herbert: Dune: Because who knew that life on a sandy desert planet could be totally and absolutely intriguing.
#8 Minivan – Just Good Family Reads
This is one area of reading that we get asked a lot about. Family reading time is somewhat idolised in our world, something that most folk aspire too but they don’t have time and worse they just don’t know what to read. We read aloud at most meals… we have conquered many a chapter while waiting for the slowest person to finish up.
- A.A.Milne: The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh: These stories are far to good to be read just by children. There is something in A.A.Milne’s writing that is writing for the adult reader, as much as the child listening.
- E.B. White: Charlotte’s Web: I love this book, and how it draws the readers in… you get so caught up in the story that you quite forget that your heart is breaking for a spider. Pure family fun, there is a lot in this book for everyone.
- Frances Hodgsen Burnett: The Secret Garden and The Little Princess: We loved these stories, they had us sitting on the edge of our seats to see what would happen.
- Lucy Maud Montgomery: Ann of Green Gables: Oh just begin these already, so fun and everyone will enjoy Anne… she is the character of characters.
- C.S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia Boxed Set: If you haven’t read these, then begin slowly and surely. We are listening to the audible version right now, and though we have read them before there is nothing quite like hearing these stories again and again and again. The comfort food of books!!!
- J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I thought my little folk would battle with this and just intended to read it with my older kids… but somehow the little folk got in on it and they literally lived and breathed their way through the Hobbit… it was definitely a case of more, more, more.
- Gerald Durrell: My Family and Other Animals. If you are looking to laugh and laugh and laugh…
- Arthur Ransome: Swallows and Amazons: I knew I had to read these to my kids, but kept putting it off because the series is so long, silly me. We have loved them. There is a lot of technical sailing stuff in there, our kids just absorbed it all, on the way to following the adventures of these children as they sail from one escapade to the next. We began them this year, we got through the first couple with a book or two in between and we will be going the distance next year. By the time we start the next one we will all be desperate to follow along.
And that’s it… a galactic list of bazillions of books that must be read…