If I had to pick the single activity I get most excited about, it is watching the children’s emerging reading skills, and the new worlds that open up to them as their literacy and understanding develop. Sharing books with them is nothing short of magical. And it opens up all kinds of conversations we wouldn’t otherwise have, as well as developing all kinds of thought processes, reasoning skills, emotional understanding…the thing about reading is, well, it’s so diverse.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, nor is it a “10 favourite books of all time” type of list, the idea of which paralyses me (how to choose from so many amazing, clever, imaginative, informative, enchanting books, and what of the books I haven’t even encountered?). It is simply a list of the books we are enjoying together at the moment. This is not advertising (the publishers of these books don’t know I exist); it is just me and my children enjoying books.
L (aged 5 years 2 months):
- The BFG by Roald Dahl
This is a book that has really caught L’s imagination. I would go so far as to say it is his favourite. I am amazed he isn’t scared by the child-eating giants, but he isn’t. So, what does L love about this book? I think it has a bit of everything – the humour of “whizzpoppers” couldn’t fail to appeal to a five year old boy, the excitement of the secret Giant country. The idea of mixing dreams appeals to the scientist in him, who loves to know how things work. The rescue element and the small child who saves the day, the triumph of the small, kind giant over the larger, bullying ones appeals to his sense of justice. he also loves the made up language since he is just starting to explore word-play. Despite the child-eating, this isn’t a bloodthirsty book, it is at all times funny, imaginative, clever…can you tell I like it too? Roald Dahl’s imagination does it for me. And the fresh-ness of his books thirty years after their writing – they are like no others. I love the way the BFG takes Sophie seriously, and her sensitivity to his feelings. It is a charming story even for grown ups.
2. Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon
L and I agree to disagree on this one. To him, they are hilarious books, and the early reader ones he can read himself without too much effort, which is just about the only thing I like them for. To me, Henry is rude, selfish, hurts other people, does dangerous things, and not only gets away with it but is rewarded.
I don’t think L is going to become Henry by reading these books, but I do question the way they present Henry’s behaviour as funny and fun, do not explore the impact on other people and the consequences of the behaviour. And also the way things L is currently positive about (reading, school, fruit and vegetables) are presented negatively. The relationship between henry and his parents also bothers me, in that there is no love or respect shown, just exasperation on his parents’ part and disobedience on Henry’s. Some may say I’m taking it all too seriously, I reserve the right not to agree! L is enjoying these books and often asks for them, and whilst I wouldn’t ban them I do try to encourage other books instead, and hope his Horrid Henry phase will be short lived.
3. You’re a Bad Man Mr Gum by Andy Stanton
We both love this. And will definitely be buying the rest of the series. It has humour we can enjoy together, and we both laughed out loud. This book has a very quirky sort of humour but it is incredibly clever and well, hilarious. The language in the book is challenging, and introduced L to metaphors and similes, some of which are really abstract – Mr Gum’s carpet, for example, is “the colour of unhappiness”. but mostly I liked the fact that this is a completely different style of book to anything L has read before. It isn’t dumbed down, and i think it will appeal to him for years.
4. The I Wonder Why collection
For a boy who is full of questions, these are perfect. We have made good use of “why do leaves change colour in autumn” recently, and the question and answer format of these books has stimulated L’s curiosity even further. I like books that give children credit for some intelligence, and don’t shy away from concepts that are difficult to explain. Even N (3) has got something out of the explanations even if she doesn’t understand them fully – yet I think an 8 or 9 year old would get something out of these books too.
5. The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton
Politically correct they are not, but we love a bit of Enid Blyton.
6. Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
I don’t often say it, but this is a boys’ book. It must be. L and his dad love it, and although I feel disloyal to Roald Dahl when I say this, I find it boring. Personally I don’t see in it the imagination and humour I love so much in Dahl’s books – I see only long, detailed descriptions of car engines. Perhaps it is the relationship between Danny and his dad that makes the book so appealing to L? Isn’t this the kind of parent every little boy would love to have (one who can give unlimited, undivided time and attention, one who thinks up crazy and amazing experiments and activities, one who can live up to their hero-worship?) – perhaps it is the dream-fulfillment of a small boy being able to drive a car and save the day? Or the excitement of sneaking around in the woods at night doing something forbidden? Whatever it is, it lit a spark in L, and for that I love it.
7. Stig of the Dump by CIive King
A confession – I haven’t read this! However, L has, with Daddy – and he loves it. According to L “Stig is a boy like me and he lives in a rubbish dump and he has a friend called Barney” – the idea of having a secret friend who lives a different and exciting life seems to appeal to L. Another adventure story, which we love, and one that was instrumental in L beginning to enjoy chapter books, so we think this is a winner.
8. The Children’s Illustrated Encyclopedia (Orpheus Books)
A collection of 20 information books, from which L absorbs information like a sponge. There are so many children’s encyclopedias out there but I love these for the following reasons:
They are concise and age appropriate without dumbing things down. Some of the information is complex, but it is accessible and interesting, with illustrations that add a lot to the explanations.
They are comprehensive, with a good general and varied overview of the world.
They are reasonable in cost, and are often on offer.
But my biggest reason – L loves them, and they have been a fantastic introduction to non-fiction books, and really broadened his reading horizons. This is another set he will use for years and I am sure his sisters will after him.
9. .Fright Forest – Elf Girl and Raven Boy by Marcus Sedgwick
This adventure story has gripped us all – so much that I borrowed it to read in bed one night, and N came to sit quietly in her bedroom doorway to listen to L’s story, until invited to join in. The illustrations remind me of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, and they make the book even more engaging. There is a mystery about Elf Girl and Raven Boy (not least because we never discover their real names, or where they came from) – and we are all intrigued by the fact that they live in the forest.
Elf Girl and Raven Boy are brave, loyal, good, and quirky. I love the fact that a tiny girl and a slightly odd boy with a rat for a friend can be heroes and heroines. And I love the friendship between them. The characters in this book are never one-dimensional, and the story is gripping. A favourite!
N (aged 3 years 1 month)
1. Rainbow Magic Series by Daisy Meadows
i think N likes the idea of these as much as the books themselves, possibly more, but if you ask her what her favourite story is this is what she will tell you. I think they are a bit cynically marketed, and no great works of literature, but they work – little girls love ’em. Read one and you’ve read them all – crisis in fairyland, two little girls help the fairies to avert disaster. But they are harmless, and anything children enjoy reading as long as it’s not overtly damaging is fine by me.
2. The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child by Julia Donaldson
Now these are just lovely. One of those bestselling children’s stories where the hype is justified. We love everything about them – the rhymes, the clever and humorous story, the beautiful illustrations. Both L and N knew these off by heart before the age of two, and still enjoy them now. Even baby F loves the pictures and the rhyme, and listens quietly. Children of different ages can enjoy together, which is always a plus. There are also other wonderful Julia Donaldson books including A Squash and a Squeeze, Room on the Broom, and Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book – we love them all but The Gruffalo is still our all-time favourite.
3. Just Imagine – by Pippa Goodhart and NIck Sharrat
This is a book that N was sent for her birthday, and has been read over and over already. It really stimulates her imagination (the book invites the reader to imagine a world of different realities) and there is so much to talk about in the detailed illustrations. I think it will also be a lovely starting point for role play and storytelling too.
4. Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem
Lovely, charming stories that I remember nostalgically from my own childhood about the adventures of Wilfred the mouse. They are so sweet and the illustrations really make the books prefect. I think they inspire a love of nature, and I still love to imagine a whole world of teeny little mice drinking from acorn teacups. They fit beautifully with the changing-seasons crafts and activities we have been doing at home too. These are on my must-have list for any little child, particularly one like N who adores animals.
5. The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss
The most famous Dr Seuss is a firm favourite with N. She finds the naughty cat and his sidekicks, Thing 1 and Thing 2, hilarious. The language and rhyme is great, and there are simple words (cat, hat) that N can begin to read herself, and she loves having an active role in reading the story. But the language is also advanced enough to extend her vocabulary and keep her interest. DIssection aside, it is fun, and engaging.
F, aged 7 months
1. That’s Not My… by Usborne Books
These board books tick all the baby boxes – bold illustrations, texture on each page, durable (chewable) pages that little hands can handle, the perfect size, and lots of repetition. The textures make reading a sensory experience, and engage her well. She loves the repetition and knows what to expect.
2. Pretty Baby / Cheeky Baby
Now, I can’t find these online even on Amazon, but I think this may be a link to second hand sellers. If these are out of print, I can’t think why because they are great. maybe it is the sexism of having a “cheeky” boy book and a “pretty” girl book, which hasn’t bothered my children since my boy has been pretty and my girls cheeky – I have read both with either gender.
F loves looking under the flaps to find the baby, and the mirror on the last page in which she can see the cheeky or pretty baby (“it’s you!”) delights her.
3. I’ll See You in the Morning by Mike Jolley
This beautiful, touching book made me cry the first time we read it. It is basically an extended goodnight to a little baby, with reassurance that a parent is nearby and everything is cosy and safe. It has been a bedtime favourite and a part of the bedtime routine, with soft and calming pictures.
4. The “Amazing Baby” Books
Perfect even for the tiniest baby, these books have a theme for everyone – starting from baby faces, and a black and white book, and moving on to lullabies, clap and sing, and “my mummy” / “my daddy”, this is a brilliant series which really taps into what babies like and want in a picture book. Hours of entertainment.
N.B. it’s also worth mentioning that all three have loved listening to longer stories as babies, even before they could understand the story – this is particularly true of rhyming stories like the Julia Donaldson ones.
As I said, this isn’t an exhaustive list and I’m sure it will grow with us!