What should children read?

Some personal favourites – but what about you?

I’m starting some children’s book clubs this winter and would love your thoughts on what to select for the reading list.

I live in such an amazing rural community which has not only been welcoming and supportive, but has also enabled me to create the kind of environment necessary to write full time.

As summer draws to a close, I’m aware that the winters here are very quiet and the nights are long. Perfect for writing – but not always so great for the local children. So I thought I’d give something back.

The local bookshop was thankfully looking to start some children’s events and has agreed to host the book clubs. So, we’ve a lovely, comfy room, with hot chocolate, brownies and wall to wall books – now all we need is to choose the reading list!

The aim is to encourage and nurture a joy of reading through a a range of stimulating and exciting books. I’m thinking a mix of genres, formats and styles. The books on offer should excite, inspire and challenge; but reading is such a personal experience, I don’t want the list to be completely coloured by my own preferences and opinions.

This is where I need your help.

The book clubs will be for 10 – 12 and 12+ age groups and will run weekly. I’m planning six week blocks, and thinking of covering 2 books per six weeks (depending upon the reading ability and enthusiasm of the group, this may change). At first, the books will be chosen by me but as I get a feel for the group, I’ll give choices and put it to the vote. Of course, as time goes by, the children can also make suggestions. But there has to be a starting point.

As a child, I was an avid reader and would read every minute I could. I’d read anything and everything. When I was ten I was diving into classics such as The Railway Children and Secret Garden, Robinson Crusoe and Huckleberry Finn. I moved on to Dickens and the Brontes, probably understanding very little but enjoying it immensely. The language, the rhythm; that’s what attracted me. By the age of twelve I’d skipped to Lord of the Flies and Stephen King; I wanted gritty content, and I wanted to look cool.

I still love reading – and, writing children’s fiction, I also read plenty of it – but this is not about me; it’s about fostering the same love of reading in others. After all, I believe the gift of reading is one of the best gifts you can ever receive.

So what I would like to know is…

1) When you were 10, and when you were a teenager, what books were you reading? And which ones stayed with you?

2) If you’re a teacher of have children of your own – what books would you like your children to be reading and why?

Thanks very much in advance for your ideas.

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18 thoughts on “What should children read?

  1. Angelika says:

    1.) ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ – Harriet Beecher-Stowe, everything by Erich Kästner (around the age of 10)

    2.) ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ by John Boyne – very moving account of a friendship between two boys during the Holocaust. Can be read by children (probably from the age of 12) and parents alike.
    (About myself: I’m a translator & work as a volunteer on a children’s literacy programme in Berlin. ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ was read by one group in the German translation as part of their classroom reading and the kids loved it.)

  2. ERMurray says:

    Thank you so much, Angelika. Both great choices – and the fact that The Boy in Striped Pyjamas was tried and tested on a children’s literacy programme is really helpful.

  3. SJ O'Hart says:

    When I was around that age, I was obsessed with ‘The Silver Sword’ (Seraillier), ‘I Am David’ (Holm) and ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’. You can see the theme here. I also loved ‘Elidor’ (Alan Garner), anything I could get by Enid Blyton, and ‘What Katy Did’ (Susan Coolidge). I don’t know if any of these would work for the kids you’re working with – maybe they’re a bit old-fashioned, now – but I hope it’s some help. It sounds like a wonderful thing you’re doing – best of luck with it.

  4. ERMurray says:

    Thanks SJ O’Hart; there are a few I hadn’t thought of there. I think old-fashioned is good too – I’m hoping to cover a range of eras. With regards to the project, I found out that some children had tried to set a book club up but without direction and guidance, it fell apart. So I thought I’d help out and get it going again – there’s obviously demand and I love to foster reading. That’s the whole reason I’m writing children’s literature myself. And it’ll be just as enjoyable for me, I’m sure! Thanks for your help and support.

  5. Yvonne McEvaddy says:

    I applaud what you’re doing. I’m sure the local schools appreciate it also, as it will really help with the national literacy plans being implemented in schools this year.
    I read a lot of Enid Blyton up to the age of 12, but a lot of her work may be dated and children of today mightn’t get the same pleasure out of her work. I also remember reading classics such as Anne of Green Gables, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
    Variety is probably the way to go, mix genres and see what goes down well and what doesn’t. Good luck with it.

    • ERMurray says:

      Thanks Yvonne; I appreciate the support.We’re actually going to approach the schools to let them know about it too. I’m a qualified primary school teacher in England (not Ireland because I don’t speak Irish) so I’m hoping to include elements while staying away from any form of ‘teaching’. The classics are so good – these are all definitely on my initial list.

  6. koth (@koth) says:

    The books that I read from 10 through my teens that stuck with me would have been the following: Huckleberry Finn, Lord of the Rings, To Kill a Mockingbird, Interview with a Vampire, the vampire Lestat, and a lot of Dean Koontz books.

    • ERMurray says:

      I forgot about the Interview with the Vampire books – I was hooked because I loved the romance and sensuality of the different eras. Dean Koontz – what was it about horror books? Every one I know seemed to love either James Herbert, Dean Loontz or Stephen King – if not all three! Thanks so much for your help with this 🙂

  7. Catherine Smith says:

    I bought the Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier a few years back for my then 10 year old son he lived it. My kids also loved the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. My daughter also loved When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, horrid Henry’s, Jeremy Strong books are also great. Girls like the Judy Moody books etc

    • ERMurray says:

      Thank you for the first reply about what your own kids like to read, Catherine! The Silver Sword is a real winner; and Boy in Striped Pyjamas. I’m also adding John Boyne’s Noah Barleywater Runs away.
      Luckily, I got to meet Jeremy Strong at this year’s Writers’ Week in Listowel and to interview him for the festival blog; his books are good fun and he’s such a great guy/ Added to the list!

  8. Alan Garvey says:

    Hi Elizabeth, I read anything I could get my hands on about ancient history when I was 10, and Sven Hassel’s novels, ‘Brave New World’ and ‘1984’ have remained with me from my teens. I’d recommend Tove Jansson’s Moomin tales for 10 year-olds (last chance at a little magic), and ‘Brave New World’ and ‘1984’ for teenagers (I don’t think anyone should be allowed leave school without reading ’em).

  9. Karen Moore says:

    Hi Elizabeth. The book clubs are a great idea. From 10 onwards is such an exciting stage in terms of reading. The reading horizons are continuously expanding and there are some great classic reads available. I recommend ‘Watership Down’. The drama and the emotion have stayed with me ever since I read the book aged ten. When my niece was old enough to read the story, I bought her a copy hoping she would experience that same connection with the characters. I believe she did as she proclaims it is her favourite read of all time! I also read ‘Carrie’s War’ (Nina Bawden) and picked up battered copies of ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ (Madeleine L’Engle) and the Viking Trilogy by Henry Treece on a trip to Hay-on-Wye. Shortly afterwards I began reading Jane Austen, starting with ‘Emma’.

  10. ERMurray says:

    OK, I’m off to get a copy of Wrinkle in Time because I’ve never read it. Or the Viking trilogy by Treece – great thing is, I get to call it research! Watership Down is incredibly powerful – straight onto the list. Thank you!

  11. Aedin Fiel says:

    Hi there,
    Some of my favorites at that age that to
    This day left a strong impression with me are
    The brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lingren, the wonderful story of Henry Sugar and 6 more by Roald Dahl and my favourite- Anne of Green Gables!!
    Such a terrific idea, so important to imprint a love of reading on children nowadays!
    I am reading The Wolves of Willoughby to mine, best of luck, Aedin

  12. Tobi Summers says:

    The Giver (Lois Lowry). I didn’t actually read this until I was much older, but a lot of elementary school kids read it for class. Also, the other two books in the trilogy were good too. I was big into series books when I was a kid, like Animorphs (K.A. Applegate) and Babysitters Club (Ann M. Martin–though you risk alienating the boys with this one). Also Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie) and the Outsiders (S.E. Hinton). For teenagers, I agree with whoever said To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), and I liked Lord of the Flies too.

  13. Marilyn Almodovar (@LynAlmodovar) says:

    Hi there! When I was in Middle School I fell in love with SE Hinton, so I read pretty much all of her books at 12. My mum used to buy me books like Little Women, which I still love, An old fashioned girl, and the Sweet Valley High series.

    Unfortunately there was not a lot of YA in the late 80’s early 90’s that interested me. So since I had my son, I’ve been trying to get him to read a lot. He’s 12, He loves His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman, and he absolutely adores Eoin Colfer. His favorite series by him is Artemis Fowler, and also the Half moon book. He also loves CS Lewis Chronicles of Narnia and is currently reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books. I have to say that I give full credit to the BBC for piquing his interest with Sherlock the TV series.

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