Most evenings before bedtime, I sit down with my children and read them a story. It’s one of my favourite times of the day. When they were little we’d read two or three picture books a night, but now they’re 9 and 12 we read a couple of chapters from a novel.
We’ll read anything provided that it’s a good story. We’ve read classics, science fiction, history, adventure and crime. We usually take it in turns to choose what to read next. Sometimes it’s a book that one of the boys has seen in the library or been given; sometimes it’s a book I loved as a child or have been recommended.
The best books are so exciting that we don’t want to put them down at the end of story time. The best books transport us to different worlds peopled with unforgettable characters and filled with excitement, mystery and adventure.
Here’s a list of all the books we read last year and what we thought about them. Feel free to add any books you recommend in the Comments section.
The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt
Our first book of the year was a present from a book-loving auntie and she couldn’t have chosen better. A trainee knight is sent on a quest to deliver a secret letter to a king in another kingdom. His epic journey takes him through frightening forests and sinister castles and he has to face enemies who will stop at nothing to get their hands on his letter.
This is everything a good book should be: it’s exciting, engaging and well-written. There’s a detailed map of the two kingdoms in the front of the book so you can follow Tiuri’s journey as you read. We’re already looking forward to reading the sequel.
Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
This was pure self-indulgence on my part as it was one of my favourite books as a child but the boys loved hearing all about Anne’s overactive imagination and all the trouble she gets into as a result. It turned out to be one of their favourite books of the year. It just goes to show that there’s no such thing as books for boys and books for girls. Not in our house anyway. And thank goodness for that.
I knew it had been a hit when my youngest decided to adopt some of Anne’s most famous phrases, describing his class teacher at the end of the year as his “Kindred Spirit”!
Set in Poland during the Second World War, this is a fantastic story of three children who have to hide from the Nazis and embark on a dangerous journey across war torn Europe to find their parents. It’s exciting and doesn’t shy away from describing the horrors of war.
The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbit
We really enjoyed getting reacquainted with the characters from ‘Five Children and It’. This time they go on adventures with a magic carpet and a golden phoenix. The boys loved that the children are a bit naughty and always end up getting into trouble. It’s funny, exciting and very readable.
The Land of Green Ginger by Noel Langley
We adored this book. It’s full of dragons, flying carpets, magic lamps and the wonderfully named evil princes Tintac Ping Foo and Rubdub Ben Thud. It’s all about Aladdin’s son, Abu Ali, who sets off to find the enchanted Land of Green Ginger to turn a button-nosed tortoise back into a wizard. He is helped and hindered along his way by a talking mouse and a nearly useless genie. This is a brilliant book for reading aloud as there are so many funny voices to do. It really is genuinely funny, with a pantomime feel for the comedy which made us literally cry with laughter.
Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome
As we loved ‘Swallows and Amazons’ we were a bit disappointed that in the sequel the characters don’t do very much sailing. It seemed to take a long time for anything to happen and this did take longer to read than any of the other books on our list.
Nevertheless, we did enjoy reading about the characters again and it definitely made the boys keen to go camping. I think we might still read the third book in the series.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
You’ve got to love Tom Sawyer. He’s cheeky and he’s naughty but he’s well-meaning and he just can’t help getting into the most awful trouble. But he has so much fun doing it! Tom and his friend, Huckleberry Finn, have the most exciting adventures and this is a great example of a classic that has stood the test of time and is still so readable today.
At times we laughed until we cried and at others we were on the edge of the sofa because it was just so exciting.
Coral Island by R. M. Ballantyne
The classic adventure story of three boys who are shipwrecked on a desert island with only a telescope and a broken penknife between them had us hooked from the first chapter. We loved reading about how they learned to fend for themselves but most of all we got caught up in their adventures with cannibals and pirates.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Milo has to go on a journey to rescue the Princesses Rhyme and Reason from the Castle in the Air. He travels from Dictionopolos, where they grow words, to Digitopolis, where they mine for numbers. He meets many strange characters along the way, such as Dodecahedron, the mathematician, the Demons, Chroma, who conducts the orchestra of the colours and the dependable Tock the Watchdog.
It’s wildly imaginative, bizarre, funny and full of wordplay and puns. We loved the craziness and the fun of it.
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
Two nine-year-old boys in Tudor England. One, the pampered only son of King Henry VIII; the other, a pauper, beaten and starved on a daily basis by his criminal father. This is the story of how the two boys swap places.
It was fascinating to read how the prince becomes the pauper and the pauper the prince. Twain fills his story with interesting details about life in Tudor times which we loved. We were less keen on the American’s elaborate use of 16th-century language. At times it sounded like he’d swallowed the complete works of Shakespeare.
A Stitch in Time by Penelope Lively
Maria, an only child who has make-believe conversations with cats and trees, spends the summer in Lyme Regis with her parents. She discovers fossils, makes friends with the boy next door and tries to solve a 100-year-old mystery of a Victorian girl who embroidered the picture hanging in her bedroom.
Penelope Lively writes beautifully and we were all intrigued with the mystery at the heart of this book.
A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig
We ended our year with our latest Christmas book. This is the story of a Finnish boy called Nikolas who lives in poverty with his father, a woodcutter. Nikolas, who was born on Christmas Day, has only ever had two presents in his life – a sleigh and a doll made out of a turnip. When he sets out to find his father who hasn’t returned from his search for Elfhelm, the mysterious land of the elves, Nikolas begins to believe the impossible and Father Christmas is born.
We all loved this book. It is hilarious in parts, charming in others and the characters of the boy, Nikolas and the reindeer, Blitzen, captivated us instantly.
So that’s us. What books did you read to your children last year? For more ideas on reading aloud to children, take a look at The Best 20 Books for Reading Aloud and The Top Ten Tips to get Children into Books.