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The Book Clinic: Inspiring reluctant readers
Isabel Popple, lead bookseller at our Truro bookshop, answers your book-based questions to help you in your search for the perfect read. This week she's looking at books to help your children learn to love reading...
"My seven year-old son is a competent reader, but only reads books when he has to for school. I’d like to encourage him to read more for fun, what do you recommend? "
The key to getting youngsters interested in books for their own merit instead of as homework or a chore is to find something that grabs their imagination enough to make them want to keep reading. The best way to do this is generally to find something that is either packed with adventure and cliffhangers, or is so funny they end up rolling around on the floor crying with laughter. I’ve picked out a few books below that I think do at least one of these things, if not both.
As your son is a somewhat reluctant reader, I’ve selected books that aren’t too fat and daunting in appearance, and have fairly large print, bite-size chapters and plenty of engaging illustrations. Thus, he won’t look at it and think "chore". If even Jack Stalwart with his super-cool secret agent gadgets doesn’t inspire him, you could try approaching reading in a different manner. Get a book on CD to play in the car on the way to school, to try hooking him into the story on the sly before suggesting he read the book. Or perhaps read a chapter aloud at bedtime and if he begs for more, suggest he reads the next chapter to himself before you turn out the light.
And, on one last note, dear readers, all of these books will appeal to girls as much as they do to boys – in my experience, girls like a bit of action, adventure and poo humour just as much as boys do...
Secret Agent Jack Stalwart,
Elizabeth Singer Hunt
A fabulous adventure series for any James Bond wannabe, with gadgets, maps and (of course) secret missions that are as good as guaranteed to capture any youngster’s imagination. As a member of the Global Protection Force, Jack is sent on missions all around the world to stop evildoers and rescue stolen treasures, all whilst searching for clues to what’s happened to his missing brother Max. These are the books that turned my young cousin into a bookworm and are utterly addictive.
You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum!
To describe the Mr Gum books as ‘wacky’ probably doesn’t quite cover it. Full of crazy and unforgettable characters, quirky illustrations and with jokes practically falling off every page, in Book 1 we meet Mr Gum who, despite being disgustingly dirty and untidy, has the most perfect garden imaginable. Why? Well, because if he doesn’t keep it nice, the fairy in the bathtub wacks him one with a frying pan, of course. Slick and hilarious, and likely to cause lots of rude snorting (adults and children alike).
The Hundred-Mile-An-Hour Dog,
One strong-willed (and extremely fast) dog, a bully with a penchant for nasty bets, and one very determined boy who seriously doesn’t want to wind up taking a frogspawn bath. Can Trevor succeed in training his out-of-control dog Streaker by the end of the summer holidays? This is just one example of many Jeremy Strong books that can’t fail to get your child laughing their head off and desperate to read more.
Alan MacDonald and David Roberts
The Dirty Bertie books do what they say on the tin: stories of a slightly grubby little boy who likes to pick his nose and get up to mischief, both intentional and otherwise. Bertie is, first and foremost, a boy with a knack for getting into trouble in the funniest of ways, but without being nasty like Horrid Henry, and with great titles from Pants! and Bogeys! to Pirate! there’s plenty of opportunity to pick the story you feel will most appeal to your own Dirty Bertie...
A little more text heavy than my other recommendations, but another great adventure story, especially if your son is an animal lover. Lara is no ordinary dog: she is a problem solving wonder-dog, fluent in five languages, computers, and unarmed combat, among other things. But now a spy mission has gone wrong and she’s had to go into hiding with a ‘normal’ family – can she balance crime fighting with domestic duties? And avoid getting too comfortable? Fun, well written, and fires the imagination.
I Am Not a Loser,
This book taps into the cringe-worthy playground teasing that I’m sure goes on in every school playground across the universe, and Barry Loser’s name alone is just asking for the school bully Darren to poke fun at. Barry, though, can take it, because inside he knows he’s cool. Jim Smith has taken a similar line here to the bestselling Diary of Wimpy Kid, integrating school day stories and comic strip type illustrations on every page, which seems to really appeal to young readers. Lighthearted and has plenty of laughs.
George’s Marvellous Medicine,
Again, this is a more text heavy book, but Roald Dahl is as popular today as he ever was, and for good reason: his stories are timeless, hilarious, and he never talks down to kids. In George’s Marvellous Medicine, George is fed up with his nasty grandma and decides to concoct a potion and a half to teach her a lesson – a potion that has some rather unusual consequences. An outrageously wicked story that will undoubtedly enthrall children for generations to come.
The Diary of a Killer Cat, Anne Fine
Flat Stanley, Jeff Brown
Sam Silver Undercover Pirate, Jan Burchett and Sara Vogler
The Great Hamster Massacre, Kate Davies
Do you have a children’s book question you’d like me to answer here? Leave a comment below or tweet me @bookythought.
Isabel Popple, for Waterstones.com/blog
Do you have a question for The Book Clinic?
Whether you're trying to find the next fix for your Science Fiction addiction, looking for the perfect literary page turner for your holidays, or just can't face ploughing through all the PG Wodehouse books to find the truly great ones - whatever the dilemma, let us know in the comments below...