Author: Nayana Chakrabarti, Parenting and Education Editor
I think it’s high time that we put a dangerous reading myths to bed: kids don’t read. Kids might need encouragement to read but nothing pays off so well as persistence. While it is true that we are now in a better position than ever to bring home all the gadgets that our pockets can muster and children have a wealth of things in their lives which compete with reading…Children, in general, are not averse to reading for pleasure at all. I think as adults and especially as parents and teachers, we do them a big disservice when we make sweeping statements that undermine burgeoning confidence.
Once children have met the right book, they are hooked. Or indeed, booked!
I haven’t been a tweenager for close to 30 years now so I feared, while researching this article, that I’d be too out-of-touch and my suggestions for the ‘right book’ would be too teacher-y. So I asked a panel of experts from across my classes for some advise regarding contemporary books, or books which are trending right now! My experts are aged between 7 and 10 and these suggestions below, come from them. These are their ‘right’ books. I hope some of these will prove to be right for your family too. Please note that the books are in no particular order.
Marge in Charge, Isla Fisher
Australian actor Isla Fisher balances her Hollywood career, marriage to Sacha Baron Cohen and motherhood alongside a flourishing career as the author of the popular ‘Marge in Charge’ series where a whacky babysitter creates havoc and invites adventure wherever she goes. You might be reminded of Mary Poppins but that’s no bad thing. My expert panel found Marge hilarious.
Tom Gates, by Liz Pichon
The ‘Tom Gates’ series by Liz Pichon are world-approved page turners. With his heart in the right place and an ability to keep on and carry on getting up to no good, Tom Gates is a storyteller extraordinaire. I’ve been wisely advised that the books are hilarious both in English and in German.
Books by David Walliams (of which there are many)
David Walliams is not only a well-known comedian and judge of variety shows, he’s also a very popular author of children’s books. Books such as Gangsta Granny, Fing, The Beast, Billionaire Boy, The World’s Worst Parents, The World’s Worst Teachers, Bad Dad are all incredibly popular. Combining both illustrations with prose, Walliams is keen to adopt the mantle of Roald Dahl. In fact, this is a comparison that is often made on his book jackets. Walliams also wrote the the story ‘The Boy in the Dress’ which works well as a gentle introduction to gender expectations, fluidity and stereotyping.
However, I should mention that he is considerably less popular with parents, and teachers. Adult readers have expressed concern that his books are cruel and filled with negative racial stereotypes. There have also been concerning allegations about him. It hasn’t diminished Walliam’s popularity but it has certainly cast a shadow. I would approach these books with caution.
The Trials of Apollo, Rick Riordan
A fantasy, Greek-mythology inspired pentalogy set in the same world as Percy Jackson, I’m told that the Trials of Apollo stand up will in their German translation. The same – one member of my expert panel who happens to be a Greek mythology enthusiast tells me – cannot be said for the Percy Jackson books which apparently is best read in English. The series follows the misadventures of Apollo, who has been transformed into a mortal as a result of his punishment by Zeus.
Magnus Chase, Rick Riordan
Another series from the Rick Riordan mythology universe, Magnus Chase is a novel series about the ‘Gods of Asgard’. Immensely readable, the books are very popular tweens and young teens alike.
Percy Jackson, Rick Riordan
I promise you that Rick Riordan is not sponsoring this blog post (if wishes were horses, eh?) but I couldn’t not include Percy Jackson, could I now? In fact, many have argued that with Percy Jackson (and the subsequent multiverse of books he has created), Riordan is responsible for sustaining young people’s enthusiasm for reading by bringing Hollywood-esque drama, action and adventure to the sober and staid world of prose fiction.
As a parent, I have found that if I set my personal feelings about Riordan aside, I can definitely vouch that his books and style have led to lots of interesting conversation at home. My eldest’s head is filled with Greek and Norse mythology. I’ve made the most of his enthusiasm by reading books in parallel. I’ve turned to Stephen Fry’s Mythos and Heroes, Madeline Miller’s Circe and ‘The Trials of Apollo’ as well as ‘A Thousand Ships’ by Sarah Haynes and last, but not least, Neil Gaiman’s Norse Gods. While my 9 year old’s mythology know-how far surpasses mine, it’s good to have something to natter about at home.
Books by Roald Dahl
How does one even begin to qualify Roald Dahl’s books and the value that they have brought to not only our children’s lives but also the value that they brought to our own? When today’s tweenagers was lyrical about books such as Matilda, The BFG, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Fantastic Mr Fox and The Witches…Well, you do truly appreciate how timeless his works are.
A word of caution: when or indeed, if reading, it is important to remember that Dahl was a man of his time. Some of his themes haven’t aged well. If for example, you are looking for diversity and representation in children’s literature, don’t look for it in Dahl. Some topics can also be terrifying for more sensitive children. I’ve known some children to be truly upset by the way the Wormwoods treat Matilda and for others to be terrified of the BFG and the other giants.
Dork Diaries by Rachel Renée Russell
Dork Diaries follows its 14 year old protagonist Nikki Maxwell and chronicles her multiple misadventures. The series strikes a chord with its young readers because it talks about growing pains and the trials and tribulations of not fitting in. Written in diary format, there are illustrations and doodles aplenty.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney
Translated into German as ‘Greg’s Tagesbuch’, this series of books is immensely popular all over the world. Coupled with doodles and cartoons, it is written in diary format. Fans of the series are drawn to its irreverence and humour. Greg, the protagonist, is an eternal underdog and the fact that is he not typically macho appeals to Jeff Kinney’s young audience.
The Train to Impossible Places, P.G. Bell
Packed with adventure and magic, this book is written in language with appeals to the 7 to 9 year old age group. Following Suzy’s journey to Impossible Places, readers become acquainted with “fuzzics” rather than physics while becoming deeply engrossed in a plot that is filled with twists and turns.
The Good Thieves, Katherine Rundell
Set in 1920s Manhattan, this is a good old -fashioned swashbuckling adventure. It is fast paced and full of the kind not thrills and spills that will keep the 8-10 year old age group entertained. The novel contains themes such as grief making it emotionally resonant. At the same time, it also focuses on self-sufficiency and self-belief. The protagonist, Vita, is tenacious and clever. As female characters in chapter-books go, she is thoroughly refreshing.
The Island At The End of Everything, Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Written in absolutely exquisite poetic-prose, the novel follows Ami as she has to find her way back home, to her mother in the face of challenges set by a dangerous and malicious government.
Kiran Millwood Hargrave has also written for adults and thus, when my son was reading ‘The Island At the End of Everything’, I reached for ‘The Mercies’, a novel about suspected witchcraft in the 17th century, set on the Norwegian island of Vardø. Our discussions at home revolves, for awhile, around challenging but enticing vocabulary as well as our desire to escape lockdown and visit the incredible places that we were reading about.
Aliens Invaded My Talent Show, Matt Brown
Set in a school called Dreary Inkling, the novel is about Eric Doomsday who finds out, the hard way, that the judges of the school talent show are actually grisly, invading aliens. My 9 year old was about halfway through reading this one before he began to beg me to get him the rest of the books in the series (Killer Vending Machines Wrecked My Lunch) which I think, is about as good a recommendation as any!
Jemima Small Versus The Universe, Tamsin Winter
This sensitive and warm boom focuses on important issues such as body positivity and self-image in a manner which is not heavy-handed. Jemima Small is physically the opposite of her name and used to trying to shrink herself according to the space that society, her family and her peers will offer her. She tries to balance her increasing self-awareness with her growing confidence. However, the journey is not easy.
Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
The conceit goes that Artemis Fowl is descended from a long line of criminal masterminds. He is a prodigy himself. He stumbles into the world of folklore and fairies when he kidnaps fairy Holly Short. How do things unfold after that? Well, you must read it to find out! Like any adventure novel worth its salt, Artemis Fowl is all about the triumph of good over evil.
Helpfully, there is also now a Disney adaptation. For reluctant readers, I find that the promise of being able to watch the movie after reading the book engenders a spot of enthusiasm!
The Boy At the Back of The Class, Onjali Q Rauf
An incredibly moving tale about the journey that one child takes in order to be reunited with his parents. I defy you not to have tears in your eyes at one point or another. This story tackles big ticket issues such as immigration, the global refugee crisis, identity as well as friendship. The German translation was faithful, I’m told, to the original text and my 9 year old enjoyed it so much that he read it in both English and German.
Wonder, Racquel Jaramilo
Written after her son met a child with facial difference, Wonder is a deserving international bestseller. Auggie wins hearts and minds and is an incredibly credible protagonist. As with ‘The Boy At The Back Of The Class’, this is a book that you must read together, or perhaps one after the other. I’d suggest letting your child read it first though. It’s been my lived experience that when my child feels he knows more than me about books, his appetite and enthusiasm for reading increases!
Harry Potter, JK Rowling
As far as the world of childhood reading is concerned, Harry Potter continues to make waves. The series continues to bring in new readers and in truth, the series is widely credited with forging a new generation of readers.
However, many are concerned about JK Rowling’s recently much publicised views on trans issues, with regards to trans women, in particular. There is currently a lot of debate surrounding how Rowling and her opus should be viewed under these circumstances. There is also a lot of debate surrounding the issue of whether it is possible to separate the author from their art. As much loved and universally popular, the Harry Potter series is, I would advise proceeding with caution.
Are you enjoying our content? We would love to hear your opinions in the comments sections. Stay tuned for more resources, our editorial panel is talking about – vacation ideas, mental health, nutrition, wellness, back to school, recipes, and activities for children. Stay well and stay with us!
To read posts from September, click here