The best kids’ books from todders to tweens

I love reading. I love reading myself, I love reading to my kids and they (and their friends!) love listening to me read. I’m pleased to say it’s rubbed off and my boys are often to be found buried in a book.

But what to read to kids? These are my experiences and recommendations. My introduction to children’s books wasn’t great and I felt distinctly downhearted. Once we’d got past the board books with a single word and picture (ball, dog etc) per page, the first books we tried were Usborne’s Apple Tree Farm books and Thomas the Tank Engine books. Boys love Thomas and his engine friends and for that reason, so do I. But the books?! SO boring. And Apple Tree Farm? YAAAAWWWN.

Then one day I picked up Monkey Puzzle. It was a perfect story with a simple start middle and end, it rhymed and the rhythm flowed beautifully. In short, it was amazing. At last, a book I could enjoy as much as the kids. This was our introduction to the wonderful world of Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler, the genius team behind The Gruffalo. We soon snapped up their entire back catalogue. The Gruffalo is a fabulous book, but in my opinion, it isn’t their best. For me, The Snail and the Whale beats it hands-down every time. I must have read it 100 times, but my voice still breaks and tears prick my eyes every time that whale gets washed up on the beach and the tiny snail saves him. Beautiful!

Then there’s Charlie and Lola, and all of Lauren Child’s fabulous books. Great stories, great characters and the pages are a delight to look at with their collages and varied typeface. The original, pre-TV Charlie and Lola books (Tomato, Bed and School) are the best though.

When they’re too old for picture books, where to go next? Two words – Horrid Henry. Well written, well observed and very funny. These books are brilliant and a chapter is just the right length for a bedtime story. Some parents don’t like them because children fail to see the irony of Henry – he’s the hero of the story and they think he’s cool, but it’s not cool to behave like him! Because the stories are so good though, especially for boys, I don’t let this worry me too much.

A bit older again, and it’s time for Jeremy Strong. I can’t describe how much I love Jeremy Strong. His stories are varied and cover everything boys are interested in or can relate to – there’s pirates, bottoms, a Pharaoh, dinosaurs, time travel and a pet monkey in pants. He has written something ridiculous like a 100 books, so one or two aren’t so great. The best are the stories about Nicholas and his family (My Brother’s Famous Bottom etc) and Killer Tomatoes. They are great to read aloud with lots of potential for silly voices. Although they are slightly more geared towards boys, I have read them to girls too and they love them just as much.

Andy Stanton is another genius with his Mr Gum books. The humour is like nothing else and appeals to 6 year olds to teenagers. Some people won’t get it, but if you do, you will love it! As it says on the back of You’re a Bad Man , Mr Gum (book 1) – ‘Mr Gum is a complete horror who hates children, animals, fun and corn on the cob.’ The most genius book of all is the 5th – Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear – a bear called Padlock and the fattest man in town in a hot air balloon. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Brilliantly.

Earlier this year, my dream came true. Ever since I had my eldest I have been desperate to share Harry Potter with them. Because my boys have their bedtime story together, I needed them both to be old enough. When they were 9 and 7 I decided they were ready for it. They disagreed. I had shouting and screaming. ‘NO! I don’t want Harry Potter, it’s boring!’ One page and they were hooked. Compared to other books we are used to, it is slow to read out loud. Eight months on, I am nearing the end of Prisoner of Azkaban (the third book for the uninitiated), but they have read on themselves and my eldest has finished the series. They love it and I have loved revisiting it with them. Even my youngest is hooked because she’s been watching the films with them. I can’t wait to read them to her in a couple of years, it’ll probably be time to start once I get to the end of Deathly Hallows with my boys!

Last Christmas my sister bought my younger son a couple of Beast Quest books. They have horrible covers, I didn’t want to read them. I asked my sister was she sure about those books?! Yes, she was. She’s a teacher, she knows that boys love them. She wasn’t wrong. He read both of them on Boxing Day. We bought him four more the next day and he polished all of those off in two days! I still haven’t read them myself, but I have to recommend them!

One author that was recommended to us that we haven’t got on with is, controversially, Michael Mopurgo. His stories are serious, moving and well-written, but they just didn’t suit my boys’ interests or my reading style. We have a couple of unread books on the shelf. Maybe they are more to girls’ tastes? I will try again with my daughter in the future.

My daughter – there’s a challenge. Will she/ should she like the same books as her brothers? She’s coming to the end of her picture book phase and it’s time to move on. We’ve dipped into Horrid Henry, but should I try something different? I can’t wait to try Jacqueline Wilson. She’s clearly marketed more at girls, though I suspect her stories would be suitable for boys too. My boys won’t let me buy any, even though they enjoy Tracy Beaker on TV.

There’s a whole world of fabulous children’s books out there. Find some that suit your kids (and you!) and get them interested in reading for life.

What books do you and your kids love??

Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. Its so good to hear about children who read rather than playing on the xbox! I have a son who reads for Britain. We have just installed a library in his new bedroom (I kid you not, it even has a ladder to reach the ceiling high shelves)! He is Harry Potter mad and re-reads the books time and time again. He loves Mopurgo. Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy was a big favourity with Percey Jackson up there as well. Brisingr: Book Three (The Inheritance cycle) by Christopher Paolini series were probably the 3 thickest books I have ever seen but he still finished them within the week. He has just started Plague (Gone) by Michael Grant and his other books (I think there are 4 in the series). He’s 11, not sure some of the content and language is appropriate !!

    I’ll have a look through his shelves and see what else he has on there.

    My younger daughter is not a big reader but I always loved the blue kangeroo books by Emma Chichester clarke and Dr Seuss books with her.

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  2. It’s great to hear about children reading, especially boys! Thanks for the recommendations, too.
    We loved Dr Seuss too – I love the rhythms and the tongue twisters – they’re challenging to read out loud, but very rewarding when you get them right!

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  3. i get you on the Apple Tree Farm stuff – but Huw loves them and I can’t help thinking that they’ll be great for him to read as a beginner. Reading this post makes me wonder how much my parents shaped what I read…. I always thought I was just allowed to choose my own books, and I know I was to an extent, I was let loose and could just decide as I liked, finding my own way. But I do now wonder how much they guided me too…. as you are guiding your own children. Food for thought.

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  4. My eldest loved Apple Tree Farm too and we read them to him a lot, but I was so relieved when I found something better and I didn’t have to read them to the others! Helping your kids with their book choices is all about keeping your own sanity. Don’t know if my parents helped with mine – maybe they did, they funded the majority of Famous Five books I read!

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