Roadmap for a Reader

I’m going to try to post at least occasionally about something that is not related to COVID-19.

One of the great joys of my life is that E. loves to read. I mean LOVES to read. Loves to read in a “take a book everywhere, even the bathroom, have stacks and stacks of them on your floor and several scattered around the living room at all times, disappear up to your room for hours as soon as a new book arrives” kind of way.

He reads the way I read, and it makes my heart happy (even though he’s a “leave the book upside down, who cares if the spine breaks” kind of person and I’m of the “CLOSE THE DAMN BOOK ALREADY, HERE’S A BOOKMARK, AAAAAHHHHH LOOK AT THE SPINE”  variety).

Along with our weekly trips to the library (pre-COVID, of course), and my inability to resist buying books when it’s for the kids, one of the most useful things I have ever done in terms of supporting E’s love of reading is join a group on F.book for parents of gifted children. E. may or may not fit the definition of gifted, I don’t really care. I’m on that group for one thing: book recommendations. It’s a group filled with parents of kids who love to read as much as E. does, and who often read above their grade level. Many of the books he’s loved best over the past couple of years were ones I discovered thanks to the group.

I thought I’d write a post about what he’s most loved as a reader ever since he made the jump to reading chapter books independently. It’s part memory-preservation (for me, because I don’t want to forget what he loved and when he loved it), part paying it forward (in case it proves useful to you, dear reader).

Age 5 (Senior Kindergarten)

This was the year that E. really turned into a reader. He spent most of the year working his way through the various leveled readers available at our library. At that stage he was probably more interested in non-fiction than fiction because he could find books about the specific things he was most interested in (the Titanic, space, etc.).

At the end of the school year he started reading the Ivy and Bean (Annie Barrows) books. There are ten of them and they are wonderful fun and a perfect transition from the bigger leveled readers to a ‘real’ chapter book.

Age 6 (Grade One)

Here’s where E. really got going.

  • Magic Treehouse/Merlin Missions  (Mary Pope Osborne): It feels like there are about a gazillion of these. E. was happy to read them out of order and would just take home whatever was available in the library. He also listened to a bunch on audiobook. I found reading these aloud to be deeply tedious (much less fun than Ivy and Bean). E. stopped reading these very soon after his comprehension jumped enough to let him tackle slightly harder books. They were a great stepping stone, but he didn’t love them.
  • Stick Cat/Stick Dog (Tom Watson): These have lots of (badly drawn, hence the name) illustrations, but they read like a book, not a graphic novel. E. really loved Stick Cat and owns all four of the books. He would often borrow these from the library to reread them even after they were ‘too easy’ for him.
  • The Scholastic Branches imprint, especially the Dragon Masters series (Tracey West): The Branches imprint is designed for kids who are just starting to tackle chapter books on their own. We read a bunch of them, including The Last Firehawk, the Notebook of Doom, Hilde Cracks the Case, Haggis and Tank Unleashed, but the Dragon Masters series was by far E’s favourite (and mine too!). He still reads the new ones when they are published (his Grannie buys them for him), and I will admit to reading them once he’s finished because I also want to see what happens next. I’ll make sure P. gets access to them as soon as she’s ready for chapter books, as I think they’re probably even more accessible than Ivy and Bean.
  • The complete set of books by Beverly Cleary (Ramona, Henry Huggins, Ralph S. Mouse, etc.): We ended up buying these through E.’s school’s Scholastic book order as there were a couple of box sets available. I remember these fondly from my own childhood and they still hold up pretty well. E. liked the books about Henry Huggins and Ribsy the best.
  • Captain Underpants (Dav Pilkey): E.’s best friend wasn’t allowed to read these, but I took the view that if he was reading, it was a good result. And they are sometimes very funny.
  • Dog Man (Dav Pilkey): E. mostly read these graphic novels in French.
  • Geronimo Stilton: These are fantastic for the voracious reader. They are lavishly illustrated and there’s a lot going on with the font too. I think they’d probably appeal to reluctant readers who didn’t want to read anything other than graphic novels. There are literally hundreds of these (and multiple spin offs: space mice, prehistoric mice, journeys through time, land of fantasy, etc.), so every time E. went to the library  he could find one he hadn’t read. These are extremely tedious to read aloud and horrible to listen to as an audiobook, so I recommend them as independent reading (if at all possible). E. read these all through second grade as well, in both English and French (often the French translation appeared before the English one).

Age 7 (Grade Two)

  • I Survived (various authors): I think E. started reading these in grade one, but grade two was when I remember him getting them out just because he liked the series and not because there was a book on a particular disaster which intrigued him. The subject matter can sometimes be a bit heavy, and E. definitely was selective about which books he read.
  • Dragonbreath (Ursula Vernon): These are really fun graphic novels and are a good option if you have a dragon-crazy child, like I did by this point.
  • Little House in the Big Woods (and others) (Laura Ingalls Wilder): E. started reading this series in grade two. We own the complete set and I think he’s read all of them by now. He didn’t love them. I mostly bought them because I had fond memories of reading them as a child. They’re pretty problematic at times (Little House on the Prairie especially), so whenever I saw E. reading one I’d make sure to unpack it a bit with him afterwards. These weren’t his favourites, but I’m glad he’s read them, and I was also glad that he was happy to read a series with a female protagonist.
  • Science Comics (various topics, various authors): This is one of those series I would have never discovered without the F.book group and it is BRILLIANT. Non-fiction graphic novels filled with real science, and a wide range of topics (volcanoes, plagues, wild weather, space, cars, cats, dinosaurs, sharks, etc.). I put every last one of these on hold at the library and I still put them on hold when a new one is published. E. did (and still does) really enjoy them.
  • The 13-Story Treehouse (Andy Griffiths): Another series that E. really enjoyed reading, but didn’t love enough for me to think that we had to own them. I haven’t read any of these myself.
  • Bad Kitty (Nick Bruel) and The Bad Guys (Aaron Blabey): E. has only read these two series in French (as Méchant Minou and Les Méchants) but he really likes them both. We own the complete set of Les Méchants.
  • Timmy Failure (Stephan Pastis): My mum bought E. the first two of these in the summer of 2018, so right after he’d finished grade one. At that stage he felt they were ever so slightly too hard for him (although he still got a big kick out of giggling over the illustrations). Closer to the end of grade two, these were exactly right and he burned through the entire seven-book series. I enjoyed reading these ones out loud.
  • How to Train Your Dragon (Cressida Cowell): If I had to choose just one book series to summarize E’s reading life in grade two, it would be this one. He LOVED these. LOVED LOVED LOVED these. We had every single one out of the library for weeks on end. I remember taking a picture with one of the Dragon Masters books sitting on top of How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury, which is the twelfth and final book in the series (and which was easily ten times thicker than the Dragon Masters book), because I was just stunned by how much E’s reading had improved over the course of the year. These are also incredible on audiobook (narrated by David Tennant), and are some of the only children’s books that Q. is willing to listen to in the car without complaint. If these had been published when I was a kid, I would have adored them too. (We also like the movies and E. has watched all the associated shows on Netflix, but they are very different from the books.)

Age 8 (Grade Three)

  • Roald Dahl: I bought a complete box set of Roald Dahl’s books in June last year because a) I knew E. was ready for them, since he’d read quite a few that he’d borrowed from the library the previous year, and b) I’m of the view that all book-loving households should have a complete set of Dahl. Since they’re technically *my*  books, E. is much more respectful of them, so I have hopes that they’ll survive long enough for P. to get to them. What’s there to say about these? If you’re still reading this post, you probably also love books, and who doesn’t love Dahl? There are some amazing audiobook versions (Kate Winslet reads Matilda, Derek Jacobi reads George’s Marvellous Medicine, etc.), which Q. and I also love listening to, but they’re not so appropriate for the really littles (P. liked Matilda but complained that she didn’t like the ‘ABCDBFG’ (the BFG)).
  • Warriors (Erin Hunter): Like the Geronimo Stilton series, there are a gazillion of these (or, at least, that’s what it feels like). Erin Hunter is a pen name for a team of writers who produce these tales of feral cats living in clans. E. LOVES these. Q. can’t stand listening to them on audiobook (they are pretty tedious and definitely not appropriate for little ears given all the bloodshed) and they’re not my favourites to read aloud, but E. adores them. He originally owned only one box set (which I bought last summer to take on the plane), but a few more have appeared on our shelves since the pandemic (he read a bunch from the library in between). His favourite series is still the first (The Prophecies Begin) and he’s reread them heaps of times. There are also series about dogs and bears by ‘Erin Hunter’ as well, but E.’s only keen on the ones about cats. And he’s really keen on them.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney): E. read all of these this year. I guess some parents don’t like them because their kids mimic the negative behaviour, but that wasn’t an issue for us. E. enjoyed them, but he didn’t love them so much he was begging me to buy them (they showed up in his flyers from Scholastic regularly). I haven’t read them myself.
  • Wings of Fire (Tui T. Sutherland): I first got these out from the library for E. in grade two when he was so keen on How to Train Your Dragon, but he found them to be just a little bit too hard. Early in grade three he read the first six or so, and then he got the box set of six-ten for his birthday and he devoured them. I’m not sure if they were still a bit too hard before or if he just was reluctant to read them because I kept suggesting them (he really doesn’t do well with suggestions). They’re now firm favourites. Again, Q. is bored senseless listening to them in the car (it’s not a great narrator), but I enjoy reading them (and E. even very nicely let me borrow books nine and ten from his birthday box set before he’d read them!).
  • Horrible Histories (Terry Deary): These are history books with the nasty/gross stuff left in. I had a few kicking around that I bought as an undergraduate because they were relevant to my field, and Q. and I purchased one on impulse last year when we discovered there was one about the city where we met. E. discovered them this year and he got hooked. We ended up getting a bunch out of the library, and we bought him a ten-book set for his birthday (if you’re seeing a trend here, you’d be right: E. got a LOT of books for his birthday). Depending on how sensitive your kid is, these might not be a good fit (I was a bit on the fence about the two about the world wars, to be honest), but E. is very sensitive to visual things and he’s been fine with the books. Given Q. and I are both historians, it’s nice to have him reading some non-fiction (even if it is highly selective and somewhat exaggerated at times).
  • The Land of Stories (Chris Colfer): E.’s best friend really loved these, and that was enough of a recommendation for E. to be willing to try them out. Once he started reading them (we got them all out from the library pre-pandemic, so I think we still have most of them in our house), he was hooked. I haven’t read them and can’t say much about them, but they often appear as recommendations on the F.book group.
  • David Walliams: We discovered this British author (who is often described as the heir to Roald Dahl) while we were down under last summer. I think more of his books are published there, or they have a wider audience, or something. They seemed to be everywhere (yes, one of the first things we did was borrow E’s Granny’s library card and head off to stock up) and I’d never heard of him before. E. has grown into his books over the course of the year and now really enjoys them. They’re all (I think) stand-alone adventures, and I think E. tends to prefer a series, which might explain why he was a bit slow to get excited about him. I think E’s favourite is The Beast of Buckingham Palace.
  • Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling): Obviously E. would love these. We own all seven books (of course) but we never offered them to E. We were wary of starting the series and then having him want to continue past the point where we felt he was ready. My sisters (at my suggestion) bought him the new illustrated hardcovers of the first three books as a Christmas present last December. I had this idea we could read them together but there was no way he was willing to wait. He read them again and again and again and again, and then in March we bought him the illustrated hardcover of The Goblet of Fire. He was earning it by doing his work at school (long story) and then the pandemic happened, so we ended up buying it for him when he still had a few “good work days” left to achieve (but he’s done well with the homeschooling since, and he needed something to cheer him up when school shut down). He read that one over and over and over again as well. We’ve watched the four movies and he was ok with them all (although he did find the movie version of The Goblet of Fire much harder to cope with than the book). I’m kind of hoping we can use the staggered publication dates of the illustrated hardcovers to control how quickly he reads to the end of the series, but I also don’t want him to hit the point where kids in his class start spoiling it for him. So we’ll see. I have managed to read all of The Philosopher’s Stone to him and we’re working our way through The Chamber of Secrets now. The illustrated hardcovers are so beautiful.
  • Percy Jackson (Rick Riordan): This was the series that was most recommended on the F.book group as the ‘next step’ for kids who were reading Warriors, and Wings of Fire, etc. I tried a couple of times to get E. interested in borrowing the first book from the library, but he wouldn’t bite, not even after I checked them all out and read them myself. There are problems with the books (especially the first series) and I was very aware of the undercurrents of white supremacy that are such a problem for Classics as a field in general (great article about this here), but overall I really liked them (I usually like a clever retelling of the myths). I bought the first series as an incentive for E. during the pandemic (along with a bunch of other books, including some stand-alone David Walliams’ titles): if he did all his work for ten days, he could pick a new book (my child is only externally motivated. I’m rolling with it.). E. picked every other book first and then, at last, when he had no other choices, opted for the first book in the series (The Lightning Thief). And, surprise surprise (me: not surprised), he LOVED it. He’s earned the first three now and he’ll get the fourth on Friday. I also bought him this book because, in my view, you don’t appreciate a retelling of a myth as much as you could if you know the original. (That series is also visually stunning. He now has the books on Norse and Egyptian mythology too. He also has this one on mythology from around the world which is much more diverse (although I wouldn’t recommend getting the paperback edition through Scholastic like we did because the binding has fallen apart)).
  • Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer): Another series that gets recommended all the time on the F.book group. E. got the first three books for his birthday and he’s liked them (I think) but I haven’t seen him glued to them for days on end like happens with the Warriors and Wings of Fire books. I haven’t read them (but I’m planning to!).

And that’s where we’re at! I’m looking forward to seeing what E. will read next. He’s flat-out refused to ever try the 39 Clues series (which is one that gets recommended in the group a lot) and he did borrow The Mysterious Benedict Society (another near-constant recommendation) from the library but he didn’t like it (I’m not sure whether it was content or difficulty that turned him off- it is very thick with smaller print and he’s been thrown by how much harder a book looks visually before.). It’s still on his shelf, so I might take a look at it myself.

Any book suggestions for E.?

1 Comment

Filed under Books

One response to “Roadmap for a Reader

  1. I have no suggestions, but I am going to bookmark this post as a reference for books to buy for Great-Nephew in the future (& any brothers, sisters or cousins he might eventually have). I love hearing about kids like E. who love to read in this screen-crazy world!

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