The new Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman has declared her intention to use the role to ‘make reading irresistible’. But which books are guaranteed to entice reluctant readers, those that can read – but won’t?
We asked Marilyn Brocklehurst to choose ten irresistible reads.
‘It’s indescribably sad that some children choose not to read, even though they are perfectly able. We can’t MAKE children read for pleasure – all we can do is provide the opportunity, the atmosphere, the role model – and access to irresistible books. Libraries must be inviting and welcoming, and adults should refrain from saying ‘you must read more’ ‘that book’s too easy’ and ‘switch off that computer and read a book’.
Just one significant book might make a huge difference to a child’s attitude towards reading. Here’s my selection of essentials.
On The Way Home
Jill Murphy, Macmillan Children’s Books, 32pp, 978-0230015845, £6.99 pbk
Number one is that very first book you can read all by yourself. What a triumph it is when you realise you’ve made it through a whole book for the very first time. My son Tom’s triumphant first read-alone was Jill Murphy’s On The Way Home and I will never forget the delight with which he read it to everyone he knew. This lovely book has stood the test of time, with its repeated refrain, lots to explore in the pictures and a very satisfying end.
Herve Tullet, Chronicle Books, 56pp, 978-0811879545, £9.99 hbk
Number 2 is the book you discover and then want to share with everyone else: Press Here by Herve Tullet is a fantastic interactive and instructional book which engages absolutely every child who picks it up. The obedience with which children operate the instructions on each page is quite remarkable. Other great books for enjoying together – Where’s Wally, You Choose, Mixed Up Fairy Tales – also have that special ingredient.
Mr Gum series
Andy Stanton, illus David Tazzyman, Egmont Books, 192pp, various £5.99 pbk
Number 3 is the book that makes you laugh and laugh: The Mr Gum series is essential for every school library. Full of visual jokes, games with language and written directly at the reader, Andy Stanton’s books are addictive, deceptively clever and hilarious. Humour is a great element with which to entice reluctant readers. Check the Roald Dahl Funny Prize short lists for other highly recommended funny books.
One Dog and His Boy
Eva Ibbotson, Marion Lloyd Books, 288pp, 978-1407124247, £6.99 pbk
At number 4 is the quintessential children’s book that is read aloud to you, but then you insist on finishing it yourself because you have to know what happens: Eva Ibbotson wrote some wonderful books, but her most accessible and unputdownable story is One Dog and His Boy. It has all the ingredients of a perfect children’s story. There’s the unfeeling parents, the feisty girl, the seedy villain, a good chase with lots of tension – and loads of wonderful dogs. I’m very grateful for the existence of this terrific book. Nigel Hinton’s Beaver Towers has this power too and so does Lynn Reid Banks’ brilliant Indian in the Cupboard. Read the first four chapters of any of these books and the audience is hooked!
Tom Gates series
Liz Pichon, Scholastic, 272pp, various, £6.99 pbk
Steve Cole, Simon and Schuster Children’s Books, 320pp, 978-0857078704, £6.99 pbk
Nos. 5. ..and 6. The book that attracts by its format, and doesn’t disappoint:
There are some excellent graphic novels which are really popular amongst children who are otherwise reluctant to pick a book up. Not exactly graphic novels, but heavily reliant on terrific illustrations are two books that I wouldn’t be without. Steve Cole’s Magic Ink is packed with zany pictures and mad ideas, and written in this author’s engaging style. Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates series has already attracted a huge audience. Liz uses Tom’s drawing expertise to illustrate the day-to-day happenings in his life. Here the marriage of text and pictures is perfectly realised.
Anthony Browne, Walker Books, 32pp, 978-1406313291, £5.99 pbk
Number 7 is the book that reminds you that picture books are not just for young children learning to read. It’s crucial that KS2 classrooms have a range of fantastic picture books which children can explore, and which can be shared by able readers as well as children who are still acquiring the technical skills of reading. Authors like Shaun Tan, Jon Scieszka, Chris Wormell, Colin Thompson, Armin Greder and many more provide a great deal of pleasure, and David Wiesner and Jeannie Baker’s wordless picture books offer opportunities for endless discussion. Anthony Browne has produced wonderful picture books, but my particular favourite is The Tunnel, the text I have most enjoyed using with children.
Michelle Paver, Orion Children’s Books, 256pp, 978-1842551318, £6.99 pbk
At 8 is the book that draws you into another world: children who say ‘Reading is boring’ often mean ‘I can’t find a good book’ and may never have had the pleasure of being drawn so completely into a text so that it calls to you plaintively from where you have left it. Sharing that ‘other world’ is very special and sometimes it can be just one book that allows a child to recognise how it feels to walk alongside a character and breathe their air. Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver offers just this magical experience. It has to be the right book for the right child at the right time of course, but Toraq is a wonderfully realised character and the world of the Ancient Darkness series is vivid and compelling.
Tom Palmer, Barrington Stoke, 72pp, 978-1781122273, £6.99 pbk
9 is the book that allows you to access a great story and at the same time offers the opportunity to read more fluently. Tom Palmer is a champion for reluctant readers and works tirelessly to attract children – and particularly boys – to pick up a book. Ghost Stadium is thrilling from the very first paragraph. The combination of Tom and Barrington Stoke is perfect since this publisher has provided an excellent range of books to encourage children who are reluctant readers simply because they struggle with the practicalities of reading. Great authors like Bali Rai, Kevin Brooks, Anthony McGowan and lots more have also written engaging books for this series.
A Monster Calls
Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay, Walker Books, 216pp, 978-1406311525, £12.99 hbk
Finally, at number 10 is the book that makes you realise how powerful reading can be: squiggles on a piece of paper can allow you access into other lives, other worlds and leave behind something you might never forget. There could be any number of books in this category, and the engagement with a particular text depends on who you are and what sort of reader. Michael Morpurgo’s books tug relentlessly at the heart strings as does Elizabeth Laird’s Secret Friends, Morris Gleitzman’s Once, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Skellig, Junk, Tabitha Suzuma’s immensely distressing Forbidden, and many more. However I think Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls is a book which is particularly powerful, offering a compelling insight into human pain, while at the same time being life affirming and ultimately positive.
Marilyn Brocklehurst is a former librarian, the owner of the Norfolk Children’s Book Centre, and a regular speaker at education conferences and events for teachers.