Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Simple Pleasures - Recommended Books for Boys

Mums of boys will know how difficult it can be to engage them in reading. A total bookworm myself I've been surprised by how late my eldest has come to reading. He's 9 now and having discovered the worlds of Alex Rider and Harry Potter has finally started to read for pleasure -  and it's a joy to behold. We all know how important it is to get kids into books from an educational point of view, but in today's frenetic, technology-fuelled world reading fulfils another vitally important function in the lives of our over-supervised, over-timetabled children. The simple joy of escaping into another world offers them a rare opportunity for quiet, solitary down-time, when they can let their imaginations go on a journey and escape from the pressures of school and home life. 

When we were struggling to get our eldest interested in reading we adopted a policy of letting him read whatever took his fancy (within reason of course!)Our experience was that both our boys very much veered towards non-fiction and that comic-book format was often a more attractive proposition than text-heavy books.

Below are some of my recommendations for books for boys - titles that have really fired the imaginations of our two, 'investment' books that have been passed from our eldest to our youngest, to be returned to again and again. They're suitable for both early readers or to share together.

  • An atlas - our two love looking at maps. A good children's atlas seems to really engage them, but you've got to choose something with lots of illustrations and short, snappy text. We gave our eldest the DK Pop-up, Pull-Out Picture Atlas as a starting school present. When he wanted something a little more comprehensive, we moved onto the Kingfisher World Atlas. We also discovered the Lonely Planet series for kids ahead of a trip to Paris. Expressly designed 'not for parents' these irreverent guides are a great way to prepare for a trip abroad and are packed with little-known facts and fascinating stories.
  • Tin Tin- yes, some of the language is a little outdated and some kids might not get on with the format, but if you fancy trying something a bit different, give these colourful, adventure-filled books a go. Staying with cartoon format the Wimpy Kid series has been another winner in our house.
  • Traction Man series - a hugely imaginative, humorous take on the action-hero genre. Short snippets of text are ideal for young readers, plus the detailed illustrations are packed with weird and wonderful characters.
  • A book of poems, particularly anything by Michael Rosen. Mr Rosen gets what makes boys giggle, and his poems are just the right length and a teensy bit rude - my son loves the poem entitled 'Properties of Matter' in his book Michael Rosen's Big Book of Bad Things, which talks about freezing farts...it'll make you laugh too.
  • M. Sasek's 'This Is...' series, a wonderfully nostalgic journey around the world's most exciting cities, covering London, New York, Paris and Rome. This series was first published back in the late '50s so some of the text is a little quaint, and some factual info is no longer accurate (this is made clear in the books' appendices) but the vibrant, vintage-style illustrations are just lovely and the text has a lyrical, old-fashioned charm.
  • In the same vein, another great book for non-fiction lovers is Piero Ventura's Book of Cities. Again, it has a retro vibe and pictures packed with minute detail. It looks at the workings of the city - its buildings, transport, houses and green spaces - a subject that has enduring fascination for our two boys.
  • Anything by Shirley Hughes. From the wonderful Alfie series to her recent novel for older children, 'Hero on a Bicycle', set in Italy during WW2, Shirley Hughes' stories capture the essence of childhood. A couple of her lesser-known books that our boys loved include the Trotter Street series and the magical, melancholy story 'Enchantment in the Garden'.

As they get older...

Harry Potter is a given, but as I mentioned previously the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz has been a massive hit in our house. Some of the themes in these novels can be a little adult so I wouldn't recommend them for readers younger than 9/10 years of age. 

We have also had fun dipping into the classics I myself enjoyed as child - books such as Emil and the Detectives, The Silver Sword and Stig of the Dump, for example. You might think these fabulously old-fashioned books might not be appreciated by today's sophisticated children, brought up as they are on a diet of technology and on-demand entertainment, but my son has been surprisingly responsive to their quaint and gentle charm. 

Finding unusual books

The Tate gallery is a treasure trove of unusual reading material. Next time you're in London it's well worth a visit for its fantastic choice of slightly leftfield, artsy books that offer something that bit different from more mainstream book chains. You can buy online, too.

Nearer to home pop your head into the Arnolfini Gallery next time you're down by the Docks. It offers a compact, well-edited selection of children's books and we always find something unexpected on its shelves. We picked up a fantastic architecture for kids book here, which captivated our son with its detailed illustrations and child-friendly explanations of the world's famous landmarks and super structures.

Happy reading!


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