Books to get kids reading... and the underserved new readers

Fanfare! Short story in Breach Magazine (SFF)

John Yorke on story structure and common mistakes made by writers

Status
Not open for further replies.

KateESal

Full Member
Narrator
May 5, 2018
Spain
So here I am, a freshly-minted school librarian, lucky enough to be the first one to exist in our particular school, which serves children aged from 3 months to 18 years-old.

As a children's author, this also gives me a privileged insight into what kids go for, what's available and what we could really do with more of.

Looking at our shelves, during the cataloguing and mental TBR list-building, I can see that the upper age-range of MG fiction (8-12) is exceptionally well served, with more exciting titles coming out every month. Likewise, YA is a solid area, with plenty available to please the diversity of interests that sit in that age range. Some people in the fiction world think there's a lack of fiction that sits comfortably between MG and YA, but I think it's more that the age-range hasn't been officially delineated. The older end of MG and the younger end of YA covers the 12-14 age group pretty well in my opinion.

Toddlers and pre-readers have LOADS...quality picture books abound and there are always more coming out.

The area that seems lacking to me is material for the 7-10 year-old newly emerging/newly confident readers.
Too often, in my view, books for that group are too long, (or, indeed, too short. 15-20K is about right, especially for the newly confident group), part of reading schemes (which looks too much like a school-prescribed reading book); too often based on retellings of fairy tales (yawn); too formulaic (eg Rainbow Fairies et al....don't get me wrong, I often recommend these to newly confident readers, but they are teeth-grindingly dull for story-sharing parents...at this age, many books will still be read aloud to children by adults); pander to stereotypes (Rainbow Fairies et. al again. I don't like the girls book/boys book delineation, personally); don't convey positive messages about social interaction (Horrid Henry! My kids love the series and I think they're funny, but the obnoxious behaviour gets copied and then I have a sense of humour failure); underestimate children's intelligence or overestimate their sense of silliness (humour is important, but even children can overdose on farce).

There are classics for this age group and reading level - Roald Dahl, Dick King-Smith jump to mind. But as a mum and librarian I would love to have a great deal more to offer...especially as it's such a crucial age for getting children into reading. Competition from screens has never been greater, so I think we book-purveyors need to make more of the opportunity to delight our young ones with words and the power of good story telling...that they can read for themselves.

And yet, as a children's author, I see very few agents and publishers banging the drum for the 10K - 20K, 7-10 year-old readers.
(My fantasy series fits the bill perfectly, incidentally ;-) ) I notice Maverick Books is now specifically aiming for this section of the market, so maybe publishers are starting to try and fill the gap.... Perhaps @AgentPete has noticed something going on here? And let's face it, the newly-inspired child readers of today are the book buyers of the future.

So... that's my rant. What say you? Am I misconceiving the situation? Do you have children or young relatives in this age group whom you want to inspire with books, and if so, what would you get for them? Is the market missing a trick? Is this age-group particularly hard to write for?

Opinions (and recommendations!) welcome!
 
Well done on the job! What about the Goth Girl books? I don’t have kids but happened to read the first book and it was an absolute gem. It has none of the flaws you’ve mentioned. There are lots of humourous references to classic literature which might very well go over kids’ heads while appealing to parents and teachers, but these always sound delightful and intriguing, rather than alienating or patronising. They could perhaps form part of a lesson plan.
 
Have to tell you ... I was wondering why you were talking about undeserving readers ... and then I put my reading glasses on.

I suppose the age you're talking about would be grade school books?

In Elementary School we got a Scholastic handout each week. But I'm not sure I can be of much help. I didn't read until fourth grade (mostly because it required reading aloud and I was mute **(almost literally)).

I've been trying to think of what I read when I started reading, which was nine or ten. I read Nancy Drew (which I didn't like), Grimms Fairy Tales (which I liked but found scary), and Hans Christian Andersen (which I liked the best).

I suspect that children go from being read to ... to being able to read. Which would mean, picture books and books which are fun for adults to read to children (which makes those adults read them better).

I think that middle area is very gray (or is it grey).

I read Madeleine L'Engle pretty early. Also, Anne of Green Gables. But I can't remember any books in between picture books and adult(ish) books.

**(Horrible punctuation intended)
 
As a mum with 3 now teenagers, I remember that stage and the choices were slim. I couldn't wait for them to reach 11/12 so I could share with them some YA stuff.

From that age group, I recall Goosebumps, Andy Griifiths and Anh Do were popular with my youngest boy and the other 2 (a girl and boy) loved Wings of Fire but they were probably 8 and 9 when they discovered that series. My daughter (nearly 15) still preorders each release of that series.
 
Well done on the job! What about the Goth Girl books? I don’t have kids but happened to read the first book and it was an absolute gem. It has none of the flaws you’ve mentioned. There are lots of humourous references to classic literature which might very well go over kids’ heads while appealing to parents and teachers, but these always sound delightful and intriguing, rather than alienating or patronising. They could perhaps form part of a lesson plan.

Yes, I love these! I'm actually thinking slightly younger/lower reading level, but you certainly tapped into my own feeling that our school library could do with more Goth Girl books. My own daughter (aged 9) is a big fan.

In fact, the Ottoline series, also by Chris Riddell, is probably closer to the reading level I'm thinking about, so that was a great reminder to get some more of those in at the first opportunity. Thanks @Susan :)
 
Have to tell you ... I was wondering why you were talking about undeserving readers ... and then I put my reading glasses on.
Hahaha! I reckon there could be a thread in that, though... ;)

Yes, elementary school is the age-range I'm talking about.

I remember, when I was at that point in my school career, Enid Blyton came to my rescue. I devoured The Famous Five and the St Claire's / Mallory Towers stories. They seem to be a bit dated for modern tastes, nowadays (although The Enchanted Wood and The Wishing Chair books hold up well... I guess fantasy doesn't date as easily as real life..!!)
 
Hmmm. Should I admit that at that age I only used to read Asterix or Tin Tin, and nothing else? Nope, it's a literary site, so I shall keep my mouth shut.

I'm not ashamed to admit to reading and thoroughly enjoying Asterix at that age myself! In fact, at home we have a huge pile of Asterix and Tin Tin books, which my book-swallowing daughter has read and re-read. She is also wise enough to spot much of the stereotyping that abound in both and appreciates at least some of the humour therein. Mind you, that aspect of both series can be rather problematic in today's world...

Personally, I want more graphic novels in our library. They can be a great way of encouraging some of the less enthusiastic readers to pick up a book.
 
From that age group, I recall Goosebumps, Andy Griifiths and Anh Do were popular with my youngest boy and the other 2 (a girl and boy) loved Wings of Fire

Ah yes, we've got one or two of the Goosebumps series and scary stories are certainly popular with a lot of children. I'm not so familiar with the others you mention, so will definitely look them up. Thanks @RK Capps :)
 
At the lower end of the age bracket, mine were/are still very much enjoying Enid Blyton (although the misogyny and racism is eye-watering). My boy (7) adores Tintin and graphic storybooks. We've recently finished A Boy Called Christmas (Matt Haig) (was a bit dark tbh), Charlotte's Webb and Dick King Smith. Michael Morpurgo is next on the list. He loves non-fiction most though, and we have a huge number of Usborne's books about specific subjects (Eqyptians/Vikings/Knights etc). With my daughter (10) we made a swift jump from EB to Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and recently finished The Lifters and possibly one of my fav books ever (thanks for the rec @Leonora !): The Skylarks War. We are almost finished Swallows and Amazons. I think all these are definitely on the higher end of the age bracket.
Must get Skellig :)
 
@KateESal , I don't think I answered your question properly, just waffled on as usual and told you what my kids are reading. I don't think the market is well catered for at all, a 2019 Enid Blyton-esque storyteller is sorely needed. Something fun and a bit ridiculous and with gentle morals (nothing too preachy). I think at that age, illustrations are a huge bonus because especially when kids are learning to read, the visuals can aid that hugely. Definitely a market there (and if they are well written will leak over into the younger and older markets too).
Looking forward to reading your fantasy series, and should you need it road-tested, I have plenty of willing ears here :)
 
I remember C S Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia as being one of my earliest "big reads" at the age of about 8-12 I think. I loved them. The set I had had a picture at the start of each chapter. Some of those early pictures were used in the credits of the films they made of them fairly recently.
Earlier than that I read Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh and the Water Babies, (or had them read to me, my memory is fuzzy about which) from books that also had pictures or sketches.
I'm guessing some of these are still popular reads for youngsters.
I also read all of the Borrowers books and heaps of Enid Blyton, especially the Adventure series.
 
I remember C S Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia as being one of my earliest "big reads" at the age of about 8-12 I think. I loved them.

Narnia was my gateway into fantasy. Loved those books! Another few I have vivid memories of:

Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse. It was the first book read to me in school (that I can remember). It might be a bit too young though.

Cam Jansen mystery series: about a girl who solves mysteries/crimes with her photographic memory.
 
A new book.

The Lost Words: spectacular, large format picture book, containing precious words removed from the Junior Oxford Dictionary. They added broadband as a word. FINE. But they took OUT 40 words like otter, acorn, kingfisher. Say what?

Just NO.

Plenty of noise around this book. This site mentions posters and crowdfunding to get it into schools

The Lost Words

Other Suggested titles for 7-8 year olds
 
Last edited:
We're all mentioning quite old books. Interesting. I find the age ranges that get allocated a bit artificial. The first book my son read to himself was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Then, amazed by this whole new world he'd discovered, he read it again!
 
I don't think the market is well catered for at all, a 2019 Enid Blyton-esque storyteller is sorely needed. Something fun and a bit ridiculous and with gentle morals (nothing too preachy). I think at that age, illustrations are a huge bonus because especially when kids are learning to read, the visuals can aid that hugely. Definitely a market there (and if they are well written will leak over into the younger and older markets too).
Yes, that's exactly how I feel about it. There was a fascinating article in MsLexia a few issues back, which analysed the children's book market. No prizes for guessing who the biggest spenders when it comes to buying children's books: MUMS. (This is not meant to be in anyway sexist, but the research showed mums are significantly more likely to buy books for children than dads...there's another thread there, too, I suspect). So, publishers need to think about the buyers of their children's books, as well as the consumers of the content. I know I refuse to buy certain books for my kids if they don't sit well with me and I'm sure plenty of others are the same.
Looking forward to reading your fantasy series, and should you need it road-tested, I have plenty of willing ears here :)
Ooh, yes please, beta readers VERY much appreciated! If you can give me your email, I'll happily send you and the kids a .pdf copy. :)
 
We're all mentioning quite old books. Interesting. I find the age ranges that get allocated a bit artificial. The first book my son read to himself was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Then, amazed by this whole new world he'd discovered, he read it again!
Yes, many of the 'classic' children's books are still going strong, no doubt about that. Roald Dahl remains popular, as well as the EB fantasy series I mentioned above, plus various others highlighted in this thread. Having re-read some E Nesbit recently, there's a lot of charm and plenty of magic to be had from books of a century old or more. But you have to be careful too...opinions on what's acceptable have changed a lot over the years!

As for the age ranges, yes, that's a fair point. In reality, those age-ranges are suggested guidelines. As a parent (etc.) It's useful to know for what age a book's subject matter is appropriate, so you don't inadvertently expose children to events and concepts they're simply not ready for. But children all have different levels of maturity and tolerance, of course. My daughter read the darkest books in the Harry Potter series when she was seven (I had been reluctant to let her go beyond Prisoner of Azkaban, but events conspired against a long delay before she tackled Book 4 and beyond) and processed them admirably. It helped that both parents are familiar with the series, so she could discuss the weightier issues raised in the books with us. Other children of that age would have found the events described too disturbing, however. As parents, you usually have a fair idea of what your child can handle and there's a lot of variation.
 
I'm rather uneasy about policing kids' reading, unless they've picked up a copy of Playboy or something! (Does Playboy still exist?!). Old books are a wonderful window on another world, whatever attitudes they may include. And a nightmare or two from reading books that are too 'old' for them - I can't really say that's ever really been a problem in my experience either as a wimpy kid myself, or with my own kids. They are pretty tough creatures I think, and the more reading the merrier!
But I guess it's a bit more complicated for a school librarian, when you're called upon to make recommendations to so many kids!
 
Last edited:
Yes, I must admit, the only times a book gave me nightmares was as an adult (The Handmaid's Tale and Wuthering Heights) As a child, it was things I saw on TV that made me too scared to go to sleep at night, not the things I read in books.

But yes, you're right @Leonora as a school librarian suggesting books for other people's kids, you have to exercise a bit of caution.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.

Fanfare! Short story in Breach Magazine (SFF)

John Yorke on story structure and common mistakes made by writers

Back
Top