How to make City Trips Fun for Kids: The Leap & Hop Travel Guides

Taking your children to visit cities can be a real headache. You want to look at the sights, see the museums and enjoy the food but you don’t want crotchety kids moaning about how tired and bored they are.

When you’re travelling with children, particularly if you want to see the cultural sights,  you need to find something to engage their interest.  I always try and hunt out the stories that will make the place, the history or the art come alive and turn it into a fun experience for all of us. We’ve gone hunting for dragons at the Brighton Pavilion, found out about the King who chopped off queens’ heads at the Tower of London and searched for the sea monsters carved into the stone in the cloisters of a Lisbon Monastery.

Travel is the best possible way to teach your children about the world they live in as they get the chance to explore different cultures, learn about history and try new foods. But it’s not always easy. You have to change your pace when you’re travelling with children, take things slower. You can’t walk around for hours. You also need to factor in tiredness, hunger and boredom thresholds.

But when you get it right and you see that excitement in their eyes when they’re experiencing something for the first time, you realise that far from slowing you down, travelling with kids can be even more rewarding than it was before.

The wonderful Leap & Hop travel guides are brilliant at helping to turn a grown-up trip into a fun adventure for children. The books include guides to the cities of New York, Paris, Singapore and Hong Kong. They’ve been created to help kids get involved and excited about their travels with fun, interactive activities.

The Paris guide is wonderful. It’s packed with information about the city, with games and activities on every page to help kids discover more about where they’re visiting.  You can go on a scavenger hunt around a department store, take a quiz walk around Montmartre, design clothes for the fashion capital of the world and hunt for the ‘mascarons’ (carved faces) on the Parisian buildings you pass. There are spot-the-differences, colouring pages and word searches and it’s all really colourful and beautifully illustrated.

My kids and I loved the idea that you can turn the book into a very special travel scrapbook of your trip. There are places to stick ticket stubs and souvenirs, draw pictures or take photos of what you loved and hated eating while you were there.

The book is so jam-packed with information and things to do that you couldn’t possibly do it all on one trip so there will always be something to save for your next visit. The books are aimed at 7 to 14-year-olds although younger children would be able to enjoy some of the activities with their parents’ help.

My 10-year-old was delighted with it. “It’s an amazing book!” he told me. “You’d know every corner of Paris when you finished doing it.” He’s really excited about using it when he goes to the city for the first time.

The books have been written by Isabelle Demenge. She wrote her first guide to Cambodia when she couldn’t find anything suitable for her three children, aged 8, 6 and 3, for their family trip to the country.

“I wanted to make sure that the kids could enjoy the temples so I tried to think of activities that they would enjoy for each temple on our list: treasure hunts, i-spy games and doodle prompts. It was a big hit with my three boys and their two cousins and so every year I wrote another book for them for our big family vacation.”

Her boys loved the book so much that she now writes one every time they travel anywhere – even for a long weekend. There are now nine books in the series and Isabelle is planning more. “It’s great to see how all three of them are interested in different sections of the books,” she says.

You can buy the books from the Leap & Hop website for HK $170 (about £15). They are also available on Amazon. I’ll certainly be using them with my kids and I think they’d make wonderful presents for children travelling to those destinations.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored blog post. I was very kindly given a copy of the Leap & Hop guide to Paris for the purposes of review. All opinions are, of course, my own.

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A Year of Reading Aloud: The Books we read in 2015

A Year of Reading AloudMost 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

Best Books for Reading AloudOur 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”!

Best Books for Reading AloudThe Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier

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

A Year of Reading AloudWe 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

The Best Books for Reading AloudYou’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

A Year of Reading AloudMilo 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

A Year of Reading AloudMaria, 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

A Year of Reading AloudWe 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.



The Best Christmas Books for Reading Aloud

The Best Christmas Books for Reading AloudEver since my two boys were tiny, about two weeks before Christmas we get out all the Christmas books and read them together before bedtime. They’re mostly picture books and it’s a lovely opportunity to revisit books the boys enjoyed when they were much younger. We usually get a new book every year so there’s always something new to enjoy along with the old favourites. These books have become an important part of our Christmas.

The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

The Best Christmas Books for Reading AloudThis is a real Christmas classic and rightly so. The Jolly Postman rides out on his bicycle on Christmas Eve to deliver the post to familiar characters from fairy tales and nursery rhymes. On his rounds he visits Red Riding Hood who receives a present from the Wolf, Humpty Dumpty in hospital, the Wolf and the Three Little Pigs’s Christmas party and even Father Christmas himself. It’s wonderfully interactive – on each page there’s an envelope to open with a letter and sometimes a present.


The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore (illustrated by Eric Puybaret)

The Best Christmas Books for Reading AloudI love this edition of Moore’s famous poem – quite the best way to learn the names of all Santa’s reindeer. The illustrations in this book are absolutely stunning: reindeers wearing cloaks and bowler hats and a very red-nosed Father Christmas. The book includes a CD by Peter, Paul and Mary, famous for ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’, the book of which Puybaret has also illustrated.


The Christmas Bear by Henrietta Stickland (illustrated by Paul Stickland)

The Best Christmas Books for Reading Aloud


This is one of my favourite Christmas stories. A little polar bear in the North Pole falls down a hole and finds himself in Father Christmas’s workshop. Father Christmas needs his help and takes him on a tour of all the last minute Christmas preparations. The wonderful, detailed illustrations mean you can spend ages looking at all the tiny details in the workshop and there’s a Naughty Penguin to spot on every page.


Usborne Sparkly Touchy-Feely Father Christmas by Fiona Watt (illustrated by Rebecca Finn)

The Best Christmas Books for Reading AloudThis was one of the first Christmas books the boys ever had and it’s so special to be able to get it out every year and share it with them again as we follow Father Christmas as he sets off on his sleigh on Christmas Eve.

The bright, colourful illustrations appeal to the very young but my two still can’t resist feeling all the different textures on each page: the fur on Father Christmas’s hat and gloves, the fabric stockings and the foil on the presents.


Richard Scarry’s The Night Before The Night Before Christmas

The Best Christmas Books for Reading Aloud


Seeing Richard Scarry’s illustrations of his wonderful animal characters transports me right back to my own childhood. In this delightful book, Mr Frumble the pig likes to help people but he’s very clumsy so he usually ends up being more of a nuisance than a help. Feeling unappreciated in Busytown, he heads off to the North Pole in his specially reconditioned pickle car to become Santa’s Helper. It’s funny, it’s silly and it’s a real favourite in our house.


A Christmas Story by Brian Wildsmith

The Best Christmas Books for Reading AloudThis story of the Nativity is full of charm and beautiful illustrations. It follows the story of a girl called Rebecca who has been asked to look after Mary and Joseph’s little donkey while they go on a journey with the donkey’s mother. But the little donkey pines for its mother so Rebecca sets off with it to find Mary and Joseph. Beautifully told and gorgeous to look at, with lots of gold in the illustrations.



My Magical Book of Christmas Tales (illustrated by Susanna Lockheart)

The Best Christmas Books for Reading AloudThe Nutcracker and The Night Before Christmas are such quintessential Christmas stories and this is a really special edition with beautiful illustrations and pull out pictures on each page. We particularly love reading The Nutcracker in this book as the pictures really capture a Victorian Christmas scene, an exciting battle between the mice and the soldiers and the magical Kingdom of Sweets with gingerbread men, a fairy orchestra and a sleigh of spun sugar.


Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R.Tolkien

The Best Christmas Books for Reading AloudThis was the book we added to our collection last year and it’s absolutely brilliant. A collection of the letters Father Christmas wrote every year to Tolkien’s children in which he describes his life at the North Pole in beautiful, spidery handwriting and gorgeous drawings. There’s so much detail here. He talks about the wars with the troublesome goblins who live in the caves beneath the house and tells us all about the elves and the mishaps of the naughty but lovable Polar Bear who sometimes adds his own cheeky comments to the letters.

It’s utterly delightful and already a firm favourite in our family. It certainly shamed Father Christmas into writing a much more detailed and interesting letter to our two rather than the usual short note thanking them for the mince pies.

On our wish list this year is Refuge by Anne Booth and Sam Usher, a picture book that tells a version of the nativity story by highlighting the current refugee crisis (£5 from the sale of each book will go to the charity War Child). The story is told through the eyes of a donkey carrying a man and a woman to Bethlehem. At the end of the book, the refugees share a good dinner with their hosts.

We also want to read A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig, about a boy called Nikolas who was born on Christmas Day in Finland. The boy’s mother was eaten by a bear and he’s only ever had a couple of Christmas presents. Nikolas sets off with a hunter to find Elfhelm, home of the elves.

COMING UP NEXT: A Visit to Hampton Court




The Best Books for 6 to 8 Year Olds

Best books for 6 to 8 year olds

The books for this age group are for that magical time when children, fresh off the reading scheme, realise that they can read proper paperbacks on their own. Now is the time to get them enthused about reading for themselves with books that are fast-paced, relatively short, don’t have complicated plots but plenty of good characters and fun illustrations. Funny books and books about magical happenings were always a huge hit in our house. Lots of the books on this list also make great books for reading aloud.

Me, The Queen and Christopher by Giles Andrae

A funny and touching story about a girl who is invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen. Both my sons have read this over and over again because they find it so hilarious and love the irreverence of the Queen saying things like “flippety-poo!” and dancing around her sitting room. Tony Ross’s funny illustrations really add to the humour.

Best Books for 6 to 8 Year OldsPinocchio by Pinocchio by Michael Morpurgo

Morpurgo tells Pinocchio’s story from the wooden puppet’s own point of view. It’s charming, funny and fast paced. It’s a great book to read aloud as well as for more confident readers to read for themselves. This edition is illustrated with gorgeous pictures by Emma Chichester Clark. Do take a look at Michael Morpurgo’s other books. While some of his books are better for older readers there are others that are perfect for this age range, like The Butterfly Lion and Toro! Toro!

The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton

The first of her three wonderful Faraway Tree books, it’s about three children who move next door to a wood and discover a magical tree full of unforgettable creatures: Silky the Fairy, the angry pixie, the Saucepan Man who hears everything wrong and Moonface who lives in a round room at the top. The children have lots of magical adventures in the lands that appear at the top of the tree. Funny, exciting and a great read.

Best Books for 6 to 8 Year OldsPippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

“I absolutely love this book,” says my youngest. “I love the idea of a girl living alone with her horse and pet monkey and having lots of adventures.” Pippi Longstocking is one of those characters that children adore: she’s delightfully outrageous and she’s got superhuman strength so she can pick up a horse and throw pirates around a room with ease. What’s more, she is very good at showing up the foolishness of adult behaviour. Another great one for reading aloud.

The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy

Mildred is the worst witch at Miss Cackle’s Academy for witches. She is always getting her spells wrong and crashing her broomstick, causing constant chaos wherever she goes. It’s very funny and Mildred is a thoroughly likeable heroine.

Best Books for 6 to 8 Year OldsThe Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson

Both my boys thought this was a fantastic read, full of magic and excitement. Once every nine years, a secret door opens on a King’s Cross Station platform. Out of it appears a wizard and an ogre who are leading a search party to find the prince who was stolen as a baby the last time the platform opened. But the baby has become a spoilt rich boy who doesn’t believe in magic and doesn’t want to be rescued. How are they going to get him back to the kingdom before the doorway closes again?

Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown

This is a great book for younger readers ready to read something on their own. Stanley Lambchop was a normal boy until a large noticeboard falls on him and makes him flat. This leads to lots of hilarious adventures – he gets rolled up and sent in the post, he’s used as a kite and he helps to catch some thieves.

Best Books for 6 to 8 Year OldsYou’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum! by Andy Stanton

The first in Stanton’s series of hilarious Mr Gum books had both my boys crying with laughter. It’s about a horrible man who hates children and animals. It’s full of silly jokes and wacky characters like the angry fairy who lives in his bathtub and whacks him with a frying pan when he doesn’t tidy the garden.

Gobbolino, the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray Williams

A sweet, old-fashioned story about a witch’s kitten who doesn’t want to ride a broomstick or turn mice into toads so he sets off on a quest to find a kind family who’ll adopt him as a common kitchen cat. His adventures along the way find him becoming a sailor’s cat, a palace cat and a performing cat.

Best Books for 6 to 8 Year OldsFantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl was always a must for this list as his books are so funny, engaging and exciting. I’ve picked Fantastic Mr Fox for its brilliant characters from clever Mr Fox to the wonderful nastiness of the three farmers trying to catch him.

Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner

The classic story about a boy who catches a train to Berlin on his own and has his money stolen. He is so determined to get it back that he decides to turn detective with a group of boys he meets and catch the thief, the mysterious ‘man in the bowler hat’. It’s exciting and adventurous and a great introduction to detective stories.

Best Books for 6 to 8 Year OldsSee Inside books (Usborne Flap Books)

This excellent series, which includes titles about Planet Earth, Ancient Egypt, Space and Your Body, make great first reference books for children. There are lots of flaps to lift, colourful illustrations and plenty of information. My oldest adored these when he was younger. “They allow you to learn about different subjects in a fun way and make it easy to understand,” he says. “My favourite was ‘See Inside Your Head’ as I liked imagining myself in the brain, going about all the chambers.”

Best Books for 6 to 8 Year OldsThe Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame

The author of The Wind in the Willows’ classic retelling of the story of St George and the Dragon with the big difference being that this time the dragon won’t fight St George – he’d rather write poetry. It’s a lovely story with great illustrations by E. H. Shephard, who illustrated the Winnie the Pooh books.


The Best 20 Books for Reading Aloud

Best Books for Reading AloudThe best books for reading aloud to children have got an exciting plot and engaging characters. Sometimes you’ll all be laughing and at other times you’ll be struggling not to sob over the pages. You’ve got to want to know what happens next. You know you’ve got it right when your children beg you to carry on reading, when you literally have to hide the book to stop them reading ahead before tomorrow’s story time.

As I said in my Top Ten Tips to get Children into Books, reading is a great way of encouraging children to read for themselves but it’s also wonderful sharing the experience of reading a great book with children. You can share some of your own favourite books and it’s fun discovering a new book with them too.

The books on my list are for reading aloud to children aged about six and over. Here they are, in no particular order.

Best Books for Reading AloudThe BFG by Roald Dahl

All of Dahl’s books are brilliant for reading aloud but I’ve chosen The BFG for its gruesome giants, its exciting plot and its humour, but mostly for the gentle giant with the inventive vocabulary (frobscottle, razztwizzler, redunculus) which is so much fun to read aloud.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The classic story of how a home-loving hobbit is persuaded by the wizard, Gandalf, to recover the treasure stolen from the dwarves by Smaug the dragon. On his way he meets goblins, trolls and elves and has all sorts of adventures. This is a great introduction to The Lord of the Rings.

Best Books for Reading AloudMagicalamity by Kate Saunders

Tom thought he was an ordinary boy until he discovers his dad is an escaped fairy on the run and he must trust his three dangerous fairy godmothers to rescue him from the killer fairies. This is everything a book at bedtime should be: exciting, very funny and full of unforgettable characters.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

All of the Harry Potter books are wonderful but some of the later books take a seriously long time to read aloud so I’ve plumped for the first book in the series. Rowling’s first story of the boy wizard introduces us to Hogwarts and to so many of her unforgettable characters. It’s as enjoyable for the grown ups to read as for the children.

Best Books for Reading AloudThe Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier

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 Boy in the Dress by David Walliams

Walliams is a great comic writer and his first novel about a boy who likes dressing up as a girl is endearing and really funny. His dialogue is great fun to read aloud. My boys kept pinching my copy of Vogue after we read this together!

Best Books for Reading AloudCharlotte’s Web by E.B. White

You’ll all laugh out loud and cry when you read this beautiful story of the friendship in a farmyard between a pig called Wilbur and a clever spider called Charlotte. It’s charming, funny and a delight to read to children.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

We read a lot of classics out loud because they’re not usually the sort of books that the boys will pick up of their own accord so it’s a good way to introduce them to new authors. We all enjoyed the story of spoilt Mary Lennox who is sent from india to stay with her uncle in Yorkshire. She hates it until she finds a secret garden and becomes friends with Dickon, a boy with an affinity with animals, and Colin, her sickly cousin who has been shut up inside the house for years.

Best Books for Reading AloudThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

A girl walks into a wardrobe and finds herself in an enchanted world full of fauns, dwarves, talking animals and an evil White Witch. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first of the Narnia books to be published and is the perfect introduction to the Narnia series. You’ll probably enjoy it as much as the children will.

Green Smoke by Rosemary Manning

Imagine going on holiday to Cornwall and making friends with a dragon you find in a cave. Rosemary Manning’s charming story about Susan and the dragon who is too polite to eat people is a delight to read aloud and perfect for younger children.

Best Books for Reading AloudThe Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

England is overrun with wolves and Bonnie and her cousin, Sylvia have been left at home with a wicked governess. Aiken writes beautifully and the plot is full of excitement.

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke

This had us all hooked from the beginning with its exciting plot about a boy and a dragon who set out on a journey to find the legendary place where silver dragons can live in peace for ever. Their journey is constantly endangered by spies and the deadly golden dragon.

The Best Books for Reading AloudThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Classics – even those written 140 years ago – can surprise you with their readability.  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a great example of this as it is so funny and exciting. You can’t help falling for naughty Tom who’s constantly getting into trouble and the unforgettable Huckleberry Finn who swears, smokes and sleeps in a wooden barrel.

The Yellow Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang

According to Einstein, the best way to make your children intelligent is to read them fairy tales. True or not, you’re never too old for fairy tales and Lang’s Fairy Books have all the classic favourites as well as lots you won’t have heard of. You’ll lose yourselves in a world filled with dragons, witches, flower queens and flying ships.

Best Books for Reading AloudThe Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt

The fate of an entire kingdom is in the hands of a trainee knight who has to deliver a secret letter to a king in another kingdom. Our hero journeys through dark forests and sinister castles and must do everything to hide from the enemies who will kill to get their hands on the letter. This wonderful book is exciting and full of knights and adventures. There’s also a brilliant map of the journey so you can track his progress while you’re reading.

The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting

The first story of the remarkable doctor who speaks animal languages is excellent for younger children. They’ll love hearing about his adventure in Africa to help the monkeys who are dying from a mysterious sickness.

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge

J.K. Rowling’s favourite childhood book, this is a truly magical story about a girl who is sent to live with her cousin in a country manor house. She finds herself in a strange world out of time with a long-lost moon princess and a mysterious unicorn. Full of wonderful characters, an engaging heroine and a plot that keeps you guessing to the end.

Best Books for Reading AloudTales of the Greek Heroes by Roger Lancelyn Green

Lancelyn Green’s retellings of myths and classic stories like Robin Hood and King Arthur are all excellent. I’ve chosen his Tales of the Greek Heroes for its unforgettable stories about the great heroes like Hercules, Perseus the Gorgon Slayer and Jason and the Golden Fleece.

The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbit

A golden phoenix hatches in the nursery and tells four children that they’re sitting on a magic carpet which will take them wherever they want to go. This is an excellent story about four children who always mean to be good but keep on getting it wrong. It’s funny, exciting and full of adventure.

Best Books for Reading AloudThe Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

You’ve probably seen the film but the original book of Dorothy’s journey to Oz with the tin man, the scarecrow and a cowardly lion is just as good and very readable.

COMING UP NEXT: A Visit to the Royal Pavilion in Brighton

The Top Ten Tips to get Children into Books

Top Ten Tips to get Children into Books

Reading a book is one of life’s purest pleasures and children’s books in particular open a door into an enchanted world peopled with fairies, goblins, wizards and talking bears. A world where anything can happen. A world of great villains like Voldemort, the White Witch and Captain Hook. And a world of great heroes be they humble hobbits, weedy Vikings or friendly giants.

Top Ten Tips to get Children into BooksReading for children is both a passport to adventure and a form of escape. It can be a comfort and a joy, a magic carpet that flies them away. Numerous studies have shown that children who read are more likely to do well in all aspects of education.

So what do you do if your children never seem to want to pick up a book? Here are some of the ways I’ve found to encourage children to read, both from my time teaching seven-year-olds in London and as mother to two compulsive bookworms.

Read to them every day

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”  Albert Einstein

Top Ten Tips to get Children into BooksThis is the best possible way to make children want to pick up a book themselves, whether they’re toddlers or young teenagers. If you read to your children from when they are tiny, they will grow up knowing that books are filled with wonderful stories that they will want to discover for themselves.

Even babies can hear your voice and look at the pictures and as they get older, children can engage even more with the stories you’re reading, whether it’s a rhyming picture book or an exciting novel for older children.

It’s a wonderful thing sharing the experience of reading a good book with children. If the book’s really exciting you’ll find it harder and harder to stop reading at the end of the chapter. You may well have to hide the book on top of a tall cupboard to stop your children – and yourself – reading ahead.

Top Ten Tips to get Children into BooksWhen they’re listening to a story, children can understand more than they might be capable of reading themselves so it’s a great opportunity to try out books from different genres and for younger siblings to enjoy the same story as their older brothers or sisters. We’ve read classics, science-fiction, adventure, fantasy and historical fiction. Books about knights, ballet dancers, spies and horses. And books about goblins, kings and magic carpets.

Reading aloud is also a great way of calming your children down. I’ll sometimes suggest a story if my two are getting a bit manic and it always works.

It’s easiest to make time to read if it’s part of your daily routine. We always have ‘Milk and Story’ before the boys go to bed. We cuddle up on the sofa in a quiet room, with a mug of warm milk and enjoy a couple of chapters of our current story. It’s one of our favourite times of the day.

Choose carefully

JK Rowling once said, “If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” If your children are struggling to find something that captivates them, look for books that are about something that interests them, whether that’s animals, spies, fairies or footballers. Funny books can often draw them in – or non-fiction books about their favourite hobby.

Don’t force your child to keep reading a book that doesn’t engage them but try and find something that does. If you’re stuck for inspiration, ask around. What are their friends reading? What do the local librarians and booksellers recommend? Look at the lists of best children’s books all over the Internet.

Go to the library

When my two were little, we were lucky enough to live near a small town with a tiny but wonderful library. We went every week and chose armfuls of books to take home. The librarians got to know the boys really well so that my two would beg to go into the library every time we walked past.

Your local library is a great place to discover new books and there are often special activities for children, like the storytime sessions for preschoolers. The librarians should be able to help recommend new authors to try too. Go as often as you can but don’t just choose your books and leave. A good library should have lots of comfy chairs to curl up in. Stay a while and encourage your children to pick up all kinds of different books and read for a bit while they’re there.

Listen to stories when you’re travelling

There are some fantastic recordings of actors reading books on audio CDs. Liven up boring journeys by listening to stories in the car and downloading them onto iPods for plane and train journeys.

Have a reading routine

Top Ten Tips to get Children into BooksHelp your children get into the habit of reading by having a set time every day for reading. My two always read in bed for half an hour before lights out. It helps to relax them before bedtime and they always look forward to snuggling under the covers with their books.

Take an interest

Engage with what they’re reading. Talk to them about their current book. Ask them about the characters and plot. What do they think will happen next? Who is their favourite character? Don’t overload them with questions though or you’ll be more likely to put them off!

Use books for finding out

“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.” Walt Disney

Let them see reading as an activity with a purpose. Use books to find out about topics that interest your children and use reference books to get the information when they’re given research as homework.

There are some excellent reference books around, most of which are beautifully illustrated and full of information. The Usborne and Dorling Kindersley books make wonderful starting points.

Let them see you reading

You can’t expect your children to pick up a book if all they ever see you reading is your phone, tablet or computer. If you choose to pick a book up in your free time they’ll be more likely to do it themselves. Why not try family reading time at weekends and holidays when you all pick up a book, curl up somewhere and read together?

Top 10 Tips to get Children into BooksReward reading

If your kids are reluctant to pick up a book of their own accord, a reward chart can be a really good incentive. You can reward them for either finishing a book or for spending a set amount of time reading. The rewards should be something that motivates them, whether that’s buying a new book, a trip to the local swimming pool or time to spend on their chosen activity (Minecraft, a TV programme, Lego etc).

Go to bookshops

If you’ve got a spare 10 minutes when you’re out shopping, take the children into a bookshop for a treat at the end. You don’t necessarily have to spend any money there. Most bookshops have attractive children’s corners, with comfy chairs, tables and colouring pencils – and of course loads of wonderful books.

Top Ten Tips to get Children into BooksWARNING!

Once your children are really hooked on books, you’ll find it extremely difficult to get them to stop reading. Before you know it, they’ll be picking up their book every chance they get: on the toilet, at the dinner table and with a sneaky torch under the bedcovers… You have been warned.

For more inspiration, check out some of our favourite books for 8 to 10 and 10 to 12 year olds. I’ll be writing lists of the best books for reading aloud, the best books for 6 to 8 year olds and the best picture books very soon.

COMING UP NEXT: A Visit to the SS Great Britain

The Best Books for 10 to 12 Year Olds

Best Books for 10 to 12 Year Olds

By Edward, age 11

I have loved books since I was very little. I love reading because it’s exciting and introduces me to new worlds and places. I like to fire up my own imagination with the books I read. I like books that are filled with adventure and magic.

I read anywhere. My favourite place to read is my bed but I often don’t get that far because I get so caught up with what I’m reading that I forget to get into it.

The best books give you what I call ‘book buzz’. This is a feeling you get when you read an exceptionally good book and it’s immensely exciting. If a book has ‘book buzz’ and it has a particularly good ending, you get a feeling of loss which can make you feel happy and sad at the same time.

Here are my favourite books.

The How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

Best Books for 10 to 12 Year Olds

From Viking trainee to resistance hero, Hiccup is a great character. I really like the suspense-filled dialogue and the plot will always keep you guessing.

The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson

Best Books for 10 to 12 Year Olds

This is currently my favourite book of all time. It tells of a young girl in London during the Blitz who goes away to boarding school. This doesn’t have a buzz for me – last time I read it, it left me in awe because it was such a good story with so many unexpected turnings. Deaths, strange relationships and assassins. Whatever next?

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S.Lewis

Best Books for 10 to 12 Year Olds

Narnia is another world which can only be found if you’re not looking for it. In this world there are talking beasts like fauns, elephants and all manner of other creatures both mythical and real. The Narnia books gave me a huge book buzz when I finished them.

The Harry Potter series by J.K.Rowling

Best Books for 8 to 10 Year Olds

This is one of my favourite reads because of its unique and engaging plot with its humorous twists and turns – akin to a roller coaster. I love the books so much I’ve read them all loads of times.

The Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer

Best Books for 10 to 12 Year Olds

A story about a young Irish genius who plots to restore the family fortunes by kidnapping a fairy. Naturally, total Armageddon ensues. These books are completely addictive.

The Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan

Best Books for 10 to 12 Year Olds

This story is one of America’s greatest stories for children in my opinion. It has a buzz that I’ve only felt in very few other novels. It’s about a boy who discovers his father is Poseidon, God of the Sea so he’s a demigod and has special powers. Monsters are attracted to demigods so the books are about how he and his fellow demigods have to fight some of the most terrifying monsters from Greek Mythology like Medusa, the Minotaur and Medea.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R.Tolkien

Best Books for 10 to 12 Year Olds

The Baggins never go on adventures. Yet here is Bilbo Baggins stealing from the great dragon Smaug and going on extraordinary adventures with dwarves, goblins and elves. This is unputdownable!

The Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke

Best Books for 10 to 12 Year Olds

Meggie’s father, Mo, is captured by Capricorn, a villain from out of a book. The story is completely unexpected and packed with cliffhangers.

The Once and Future King by T.H.White

Best Books for 10 to 12 Year Olds

From student to legend, White brings King Arthur to life more vividly than ever before.

His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman

Best Books for 10 to 12 Year Olds

In the grand old college of Jordan in Oxford a wild girl called Lyra sets off on an adventure to the Northern Lights which ripple with magic and mystery far above in the Arctic sky. These books are exciting and adventurous. They are very philosophical and introduced me to a higher level of thinking which made me want to find out more about space and time. Lyra is not the kind of heroine you’re used to – she’s a wild girl who can’t be tamed.