A Question, a Plea, a Wondering? – Books for New Readers

A blog post, but also a question, a plea, a wondering. How do you help your child, a comparatively new reader find books that work for them? Books that inspire, enrich, maybe support or educate, books that encourage, books to help them thrive?

My son has just turned 8. I taught him to read myself, and I’m now teaching sister (Usborne Very First Reading series, if anyone is asking). Teaching a child to read is a thrilling, frustrating, beloved experience, and despite the setbacks and the struggles, one I do (slightly secretly) cherish. But now he can read. And read he does, though he naturally gravitates to non-fiction (Egyptology, mythology, biography) and to any book that catches his artist’s imagination – a book he can draw from. I’ve been on the hunt for some months now for the next book to help him on his journey as a reader. Books that will delight. Books to make him giggle. Books, most of all, that make him want to read and keep reading. It’s what we’re all looking for, isn’t it? The bookworm parents who feel we’ll have gifted our child our most precious possession if we can show them how to love reading.

Maybe it comes easy to some, maybe it’s harder. There are the hits and the misses and the ones you wonder why you wasted your money. The endless gratitude to librarians. And the ones that seem great but you’re sure they didn’t ‘get’ most of it. Do you get any feedback? ‘What do you think?’ I ask. ‘How does it make you feel? Is it funny, exciting, sweet?’ ‘It’s good,’ he says. I should be grateful for any scrap.

I’ve worried that his obsession with mythology will make anything less than world-shaking seem small, uninteresting. How does it feel to read Norse myths and then at school be asked to write about your weekend? (Spoiler: no, we didn’t visit Jotunheim or fight any frost giants.)

I have a shelf-full of books I’m collecting for them, books I loved as child, books I saved from my childhood, books that look really fun (and I might read first), books I think/hope/wish will appeal. Honestly, I know he’s not ready for most of them yet. We inspect them together, read the backs. The print is too small, he says. I put them back and steel myself for patience.

Some of our more successful recent ventures:

Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister? By Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Jen Khatun, Candlewick Press, 2020 – the latest, and being consumed at quite a pace. He loved the Prince Veera and Suku series, so I spotted this. I wasn’t sure if he’d be keen on a book about a girl getting a new baby sibling, but my son calls his grandparents Paatti and Thatha just as Sona does, and this seems to have struck a chord. (He even asked tonight if there was a Sona Sharma 2 – I’m calling that a win.)

All of the Magic Tree House, Jack and Annie books, especially now the Merlin Missions, by Mary Pope Osborne, Random House – these may be a massive seller, but I’m thinking it’s for a reason. Jack and Annie are engaging, believeable siblings, the messages are sincere and reasonably subtle, and the adventures are fun and well-researched – there’s lots to learn and enjoy with Jack and Annie so we keep coming back. It helps that both Jack and my son wear glasses.

The Questioneers by Andrea Beatty, illustrated by David Roberts, Amulet Books – we loved meeting Ada Twist and Iggy Peck and their friends, so these chapter books were an obvious next step. They have all the sweetness of the picture books, and they’re really funny too. We’ve read four of these so far. Let’s hope Aaron Slater gets a chapter book of his own soon.

Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, Chronicle Books – a recommendation from a friend, these are becoming popular with both, I read them to the 4 year old, then hand them on to the 8 year old. Fortunately there seem to be plenty in the series!

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, Little Brown, 2009 – this was a gift from my son’s school, and a big hit. We read it together, taking turns, a page or so at a time, as we often do. The combination of adventure story and interwoven folktales is magical.

If you like others, I’m always keen to know!

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