“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
~ Dr. Seuss
The power of a good book cannot be underestimated. Children read many things when they’re young, from textbooks to comic books, and I would encourage every parent to have a few age-appropriate novels on their bookshelves (or their e-readers, whatever the future holds!) Reading for pleasure can be enriching, instructive and highly enjoyable. I am a big advocate of books, being a Literature student, and as a child I hungrily read everything I could get my hands on. Fictional books can not only instruct, but inspire creativity, resilience and a sense of adventure. From what seems like nonsense, children can form their attitudes and opinions on life, and grow a healthy imagination. I certainly would not be the same person without the fantastic stories I read as a child; let me illustrate this point by telling you a little bit about my childhood bookshelf and what my favourite books taught me.
Lemony Snicket- A Series of Unfortunate Events:
These are the stories, collected into 13 novels, that a very imaginative and twisted man called Lemony Snicket (aka. Daniel Handler) wrote about three unlucky orphans. Klaus, Violet and Sunny Baudelaire are remarkably resilient and intelligent, but their tale of misery and misfortune is so unfortunate that the blurb of every book warns the reader off the book altogether. This, of course, is very cleverly intended to make a child want to read more.
Though the fantastically bleak situations the Baudelaire siblings face are undoubtedly awful, I waited eagerly every Christmas for the latest one in the 13-book series. The childrens’ flight from the evil Count Olaf and the mystery that dogs them from a lumbermill to a boarding school and beyond taught me that life is an adventure and challenges are there to be overcome. More than anything else, the main characters’ spirit, determination and loyalty to each other taught me how to flourish in adversity. Obviously I am never going to find myself having to make orange granita out of snow for evil villains, or being forced to run laps all night by an evil gym teacher (don’t ask). Nevertheless, the random recipes, bits of code-breaking and snippets of trivia included in this book captured my imagination.
The great thing about these books, though, was the way that Lemony Snicket acted as a personal thesaurus without being boring; introducing big words and complicated literary concepts in a story for young people. These books broadened my vocabulary and taught me proper grammar, making me the writer I am today. These books are totally addictive and are suitable for boys and girls from 10 upwards. Even the parents will be fascinated. I’d also like to mention that there is a film, but it doesn’t follow the plot very well and in my opinion, it’s not a patch on the books. Under no circumstances should you investigate these troublesome tales.
Walter Moers- The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear:
This is a hefty volume for true adventurers. I read this in a few weeks and then read it again. And again, and again…I carried the book around until it fell apart. Anyone who’s into fantasy worlds filled with magical creatures (think Middle Earth, Narnia or Hogwarts) will probably love this. The illustrations are also fantastic. Walter Moers’ alternative world Zamonia has its own encyclopedia (literally) of strange places and wildlife. The sheer imagination needed to create an entire world astounded me as a child. It still does. Not only is the story of the loveable Captain Bluebear’s 13 and a half lives a great tool of escapism, but it made me think, dream and start to write. Bluebears have 27 lives and Moers only tells us about half of them. What better start for a kid to start thinking up more adventures?
Expect a bit of everything in this book: minipirates, sea monsters, desert islands, a professor with seven brains and even a life-saving pterodactyl. This is pure craziness on paper and takes a huge leap of faith to engage with. In short, this is less a novel and more of a catalogue of wonderful places and things for a young person to explore. All curious children, and all adults in need of an imaginative boost, should give this book a try. It’s an epic journey that Captain Bluebear invites the reader on, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Enjoy the ride! It’s available.
Enid Blyton- The Faraway Tree
Moon Face, Saucepan Man and the Angry Pixie: just some of the magical characters you’ll meet if you read the Faraway Tree trilogy. These are fairy stories of the best kind, with delightful but naughty children having adventures away from the prying eyes of their parents. Jo, Bessie and Fanny are three curious kids who are led by Brownies to discover the secret world of the Faraway Tree in an enchanted woodland near their house. This tree is populated by an assortment of strange and wonderful characters who form a community that welcomes the children into their world. At the top of the tree is a whole world that changes with every journey. There is a delightful Land of Birthdays but also more alarming environments like Topsy-Turvy Land.
Each time the children venture up the tree, they take their readers on a quest that always ends happily, like any good fairy story, with a narrative that is well-constructed and teaches a child the value of friendship and doing the right thing. The children often have to save each other from various predicaments, solve problems and negotiate with difficult characters; such as the aforementioned Angry Pixie, who hates people prying into his business. These are useful social skills for a child to learn. I personally learned a lot of good values such as tolerance, curiosity and teamwork whilst reading these books, as well as being delighted by the prospect of extraordinary adventures just beyond my garden gate. Like all the other books I mention in this article, The Faraway Tree books develop and stimulate a healthy imagination, which in my opinion can never be a bad thing. You can find out more about these books here.
Eric Carle- The Very Hungry Caterpillar
While this book is aimed at a considerably lower age group than the other books I’ve mentioned, this article wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging its genius as one of the first and most engaging books I have ever read. It continues to give me great joy at the age of 21 and I consider this book (in its original hardback version) essential reading for any child. There are so many things that The Very Hungry Caterpillar can teach a small child as they first begin to discover the world. Its colourful pages and engaging illustrations are so alluring to a young child and taught me an appreciation for art and an understanding of colour. The caterpillar’s meals are organised by days of the week and by numerical quantities, which taught me about time and mathematics. The different categories of food in the book (fruit, meat, sweets etc) taught me about food groups and the importance of a balanced diet. The caterpillar’s life cycle is explained in a simple enough way for children to grasp the basics of biology, and this fun-filled description of a caterpillar’s life cycle stuck in my mind throughout my childhood. In short, this story is so full of information about the world around us that it should be on the National Curriculum.
It is also the interactive potential of this book that makes it special. Eric Carle has created a book that the child can actively participate in reading and with a little imagination, many craft activities such as collage-making can be undertaken in a primary school classroom. The book’s simple text can also be used to teach basic concepts of English language to non-native speakers, or translated into other languages, can help high school students to learn the basics of French or German in a much more interesting way than recitation and grammar exercises. The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s strength is in its simplicity and relevance to almost every aspect of a child’s early learning. Eric Carle is a delightful author and all of his books are worth reading and using in a teaching environment. To discover his whole catalogue, visit here.
Now, go forth and read, teach and enjoy. What’s on your childhood bookshelf?
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