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Ten of the Best

books to read aloud to your school-aged child


Books for Keeps editor Ferelith Hordon shares her personal favourites.

Children in the UK have to learn to read as soon as they start Reception. Yet we hear that many children (and adults) rarely read at all for pleasure. Being able to read is only a part of it: enjoyment is crucial, as studies from the National Literacy Trust ( have shown. So what we really need to do is instil a love of stories in our children, and keep that alive throughout their childhood. One of the best ways to do that is that old-fashioned tradition of reading aloud, when adult and child spend time enjoying a story. Traditionally, reading aloud happens at bedtime, but it doesn't have to: train journeys, before or after meals, waiting to see the dentist … they all provide opportunities to read to children. There is also a perception that once children are able to read for themselves there’s no reason to continue reading to them. Why? I shared books with my sons into their twenties! By reading to your children, you can also introduce them to more complex books, which they might really enjoy, but find difficult to read themselves.

Here are some things to bear in mind when selecting books to read aloud, and suggestions of books I found worked particularly well with my two boys.

The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin

Beatrix Potter, Frederick Warne, 978-0723247715, £5.99 hbk

It’s important that you find books that you, as a parent, enjoy, as well as the child; reading aloud should never be a chore. I think it’s vital that authors respect the reader. Beatrix Potter never underestimated her young audience. Most people will be familiar with Peter Rabbit, but for me The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin is the best to read aloud to young children. The original small format is also particularly enticing to little hands and therefore conducive to creating a really intimate experience. The riddles are very appealing, too.

8 Books for Keeps No.208 September 2014 Just So Stories

Rudyard Kipling, Walker Books, 978-1406301427, £9.99pbk

For children of about five plus, short stories are ideal. Kipling was a master of this format and the Just So Stories are supreme. Here is imagination, language (‘the great, grey, greasy Limpopo’) and a sense of the ridiculous, all packaged in a way that will appeal across generations.

Little Old Mrs Pepperpot and Other Stories

Alf Proysen, Hutchinson, 978-0857540058, £6.99 hbk

My children always loved stories about real life incidents. Dorothy Edwards’s My Naughty Little Sister, Francesca Simons’ Horrid Henry and Richmal Crompton’s William all worked well. However, my favourite has to be Little Old Mrs Pepperpot by Alf Proysen. The everyday background is reassuring but then there is the anticipation – when will the old lady shrink? In all these books, each chapter is a story, and just the right length to read in one go if necessary.

The Robber Hotzenplotz

Otfried Preussler, illustrated F J Tripp, trans Anthea Bell, Thienemann Verlag, 978-3522176101, £5.99 pbk

Novels can be a bit more of a challenge as children have to be able to follow a narrative over a period of time. Worth tracking down is The Robber Hotzenplotz by Ottried Preussler. Hotzenplotz is the terror of the village, with a dastardly plan to steal Grandmother’s coffee mill, a plan that can only be foiled by Kasperl and Seppel. Many of Preussler’s other titles (including The Little Ghost) also seem designed to be read aloud – they’re lively, funny, and provide plenty of opportunity for the reader to put on different voices.

The Hundred and One Dalmations

Dodie Smith, Egmont, 978-1405224802, £6.99 pbk

Today many children see the film before learning that there is a book behind it. The Hundred and One Dalmations is a

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