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BookTrust’s Great Books Guide 2021: Reading should be as varied as your diet.

Fear not, I’m not going to start harping on about celery juice, I’ll stick to books (they’re much more appealing). Whilst browsing through Booktrust’s Great Books Guide, I was struck by how wonderfully varied the choices were. Many of which I’ve got waiting on my ‘to read’ pile now. And it got me thinking about how our minds need just as much diversity as our bodies…

Reading ‘diets’ have changed

Children’s books have come a long way since Enid Blyton and Beatrix Potter. This isn’t to say these classics have lost their place on our bookshelves but it’s safe to say content, style and length of children’s literature have certainly come a long way. (You won’t find any speech bubbles or cartoons in ‘Anne of Green Gables’, will you?)

Whilst it wasn’t that long ago since I attended school, I don’t recall there being any ‘brave black heroine[s]’ (check out Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston for this) in the stories I read. In fact, my choices dwindled down to Jaqueline Wilson (no shade, I still love her) and the Babysitter’s Club. Although my mum was keen to get me reading some of her favourites (which I’m now very grateful for), much of what was on offer was mostly about snogging boys and falling out with friends. That was all until Mr Potter came and turned my world upside down.

Looking at what’s on offer nowadays, as an adult, makes me hugely envious of children now. They’re spoilt for choice (which is a brilliant thing) but this variety can be quite overwhelming for children (and parents).

Why do children need to read a range of texts?

The comparison to our diets wasn’t accidental. Your child’s mind is a like a seed (stay with me). And in order for that seed to flourish it needs to be planted into soil that’s rich in minerals (I’m not going into the entire photosynthesis process, but you get what I mean). Everything your child reads is like delicious mineral feeding their minds to make them strong and help them grow. The greater the variety, the better.

Don’t just take my (quite obscure and abstract) word for it, here are the benefits of different texts:

  • Poetry – encourages creativity, supports reading aloud/oral development, builds vocabulary with rhyme, teaches young
    readers about sound and speech patterns, and can motivate children to read as it’s short form.
  • Non-fiction – prepares children for the future, helps understanding of themselves and the world around/before them, exposes them to sophisticated vocabulary and inspire them.
  • Comic books/Graphic novels – easy to read and accessible, get children excited about reading, engaging with a combination of texts and pictures, full of high-quality text, high-level analysis through figuring out the relationship between text and images, makes classic texts accessible.
  • Different genres – allows children to explore topics and experiences outside of their own world and point of view.

Variety is the spice of life

Throughout my life I’ve gone through periods when I find myself in a reading rut. Nothing piques my interest, and I can’t get past the first 10 pages of any book. Usually this is down to being distracted with work or I’ve just finished an excellent read and nothing else compares to it. Can you relate?

There’s no age limit on this predicament. I experienced it as a child after reading Harry Potter and it continues to happen to this day (tip: children’s books are a great way to get back into the reading habit). Your children are no different.

Currently you may find that David Walliams, Liz Pichon or Julia Donaldson have taken the majority residence on your child’s bookshelf. Well, we can shoe-horn some variety in there without your child even knowing (just like those sneaky vegetables in your spag bol).

Here’s some recommendations from BookTrust’s Great Book Guide to spice up that bookshelf:

 

Poetry (some rhyming books and books with rhyme):

Veg Patch Party by Clare Foges, illustrated by Al Murphy (age 0-3)

Pirate Stew by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell (age 4-5)

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes illustrated by Gordon C. James (age 4-5)

The Hospital Dog by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie (age 4-5)

Not That Pet! By Smriti Halls, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw (age 4-5)

Fearless Fairy Tales by Konnie Huq & James Kay, illustrated by Rikin Parekh (age 6-7)

Stars with Flaming Tails by Valerie Bloom, illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max

 

Non-fiction

What Happened to You? By James Catchpole, illustrated by Karen George (age 4-5)

Coming to England by Floella Benjamin, illustrated by Diane Ewen (age 4-5)

How to Change the World by Rashmi Sirdeshpande, illustrated by Annabel Tempest (age 6-7)

The Ladybird Book of Slimy Things by Imogen Russell Williams, illustrated by Binny Talib (age 6-7)

Interview with a Tiger by Andy Seed, illustrated by Nick East (age 6-7)

A Day in the Life of a Poo, a Gnu and You by Mike Barfield, illustrated by Jess Bradley (age 8-9)

Britannica All New Children’s Encyclopedia: What We Know & What We Don’t by Christopher Lloyd (age 8-9)

The Good Germ Hotel by Kim Sung-hwa & Kwon-Su-jin, illustrated by Kim Ryung-eon (age 8-9)

Boy, Everywhere by A. M. Dassu (age 10-11)

Windrush Child by Benjamin Zephaniah (age 10-11)

 

Alternative genres

A Mummy Ate My Homework by Thiago de Moraes (history, age 8-9)

The Dragon Ark by Curatoria Draconis, illustrated by Tomislav Tomic (fantasy/adventure age 8-9)

Queen of Freedom by Catherine Johnson (history, age 8-9)

Dragon Mountain by Katie & Kevin Tsang (fantasy/adventure, age 8-9)

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant (history/adventure, age 10-11)

When the Sky Falls by Phil Earle (history/adventure, age 10-11)

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston (fantasy/adventure, age 10-11)

Twitch by M. G. Leonard (nature, age 10-11)

The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes, illustrated by Keith Robinson (thriller/spine-tingling, age 10-11)

 

 Graphic Novel

InvestiGators by John Patrick Green (age 8-9)

It’s Her Story: Rosa Parks by Lauren Burke, illustrated by Shane Clester (age 8-9)

White Bird: A Graphic Novel by R. J. Palacio (age 10-11)

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