More recommendations? I give you 500 handpicked titles over ten months, and still you want more? I must be doing something right.
There are some excellent guides and booklists out there, both printed and online. One of the best and easiest to use, in my experience, is Daniel Hahn, Leonie Flynn and Susan Reuben’s Ultimate Book Guide (also available in First Book Guide and Teen Book Guide flavours), to be found in any self-respecting children’s library. Each volume has 500-800 recommended titles, selected either by the incredibly well-read author-editors or by favourite children’s authors such as David Almond, Malorie Blackman, Anne Fine, Anthony Horowitz and Jacqueline Wilson. Each entry comes with an inspired “If you like this, try…” set of further recommendations, whether by the same author or on the same theme or in the same style. The Guides’ only drawback is that, in the current desperate climate for printed reference titles, there are no plans to produce updated editions, so there is a dearth of entries after 2010.
Book clubs and magazines for children are also finding times hard – the inspirational Puffin Post, beloved in the 1970s and 1980s, was revived a few years back, only to fold quietly at the end of last year; and the Puffin Club and Red House have both been formally incorporated into The Book People. More power, then, (and health and long life) to Books for Keeps magazine, http://booksforkeeps.co.uk, with its unrivalled online bank of over 12,500 reviews (filter by age range and publication date, or search by author’s last name).
Also online, look out for Booktrust – the national children’s literacy association that administers the national Bookstart, Booktime and Booked Up programmes for babies, nursery-reception and Year 7 children respectively, as well as a number of book prizes. The home page at www.booktrust.org.uk has book news and highlighted titles and authors, while there are over 60 themed booklists at www.booktrust.org.uk/books-and-reading/children/booklists (the lists of lists alone runs to seven pages) and a handy tailored bookfinder at www.booktrust.org.uk/books-and-reading/children/booklists/?skip=40.
www.lovereading4kids.co.uk is a huge collection of reviews from a team led by Julia Eccleshare, longstanding children’s books editor at The Guardian. Sign up to the site and you can also download the opening extract of every book , buy books at a discount of 25% or compare process with other online retailers. (Psst, parents – the same brilliant service is available to you too on the sister site www.lovereading.co.uk.)
Amanda Craig, Times children’s book reviewer, has some well-chosen lists by age or by theme (about dragons, for boys) at http://www.amandacraig.com/pages/childrens-book-reviews/recommended-books/1-to-2-years.htm as well as links to longer reviews and articles (the “Get children hooked on books” article is full of sound and thoughtful advice).
Caroline Horn, longtime children’s book reviewer for trade magazine The Bookseller, is now director and editor of The Reading Zone, www.readingzone.com, which has dedicated areas for children, young adults, families and schools. Children can sign up to a book club for reading news, author features and competitions.
Book prizes provide a barometer of high quality children’s reading, and the UK’s most prestigious is the Carnegie Medal. You can see lists of winners (recent and all-time) and recent shortlists at www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/carnegie/index.php. Sally Gardner’s Maggot Moon carried this year’s prize from an exceptionally strong shortlist (honourable mentions to Nick Lake’s In Darkness, R J Palacio’s Wonder and Elizabeth Wein’s Codename Verity). Alongside the Carnegie, the Kate Greenaway medal for illustration, www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/greenaway is a fine indication of the exceptional art talent to be found in children’s books: Levi Pinfold’s ethereal, atmospheric Black Dog scooped current illustration darlings Jon Klassen I Want my Hat Back) and Salvatore Rubbino (Just Ducks). US equivalents are the Newbery Medal and Caldecot Honor Medal, while other prestigious UK prizes include the UKLA (UK Literacy Association) book award, the Costa Children’s book award and the Guardian Children’s Fiction prize: under-16s can try their hand at review writing by selecting and reviewing one of the 10 longlisted titles in in the Guardian’s Young Critics competition, www.guardian.co.uk/books/competition/2013/may/25/enter-young-critics-competition-2013. Most of the above are voted by panels of fellow authors, librarians, critics or teachers, but in the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, www.booktrust.org.uk/prizes-and-awards/4, the judges include readers (yes, actual children).
The new National Curriculum places a much stronger emphasis on reading for pleasure. Quite right, too – biased I may be, but I firmly believe that a habit of reading isn’t just a matter of improving a narrow set of literacy skills: it’s vital for developing imagination and self-expression, important in fostering empathy and clarity of thought, and a lifelong cure for boredom. However, as any parent knows, you can’t make something a pleasure or a habit just by dictating or nagging (if anything, quite the opposite). Helping your child to find the perfect book at exactly the right stage – and then the next perfect book, and the next, and the next after that, until children are doing the finding for themselves – is what will make the difference. I hope this blog, and this post in particular, will help you to do that.