Reading with your ‘just reading’ child

Here’s a weird one: we all know that reading to/with our kids is a positive thing but are there lines that shouldn’t be overstepped? If you, the adult, have wonderful memories of childhood books how should you proceed with your own children, instilling that same love of reading without foisting anything on them?

My older child is just five. He is a voracious reader (or listener, if truth be told, he’s still not entirely on board with reading alone) so we’re well and truly done with picture books for him, we’ve been reading ‘real books’ for a good eight months now.

What I’m struggling with is finding books that we can all enjoy that doesn’t just mean me pushing my childhood favourites on him. It feels legitimate to start with Roald Dahl, because obviously, everyone has to read these, it isn’t a choice, it’s a rite of passage (big leap: Lord of the Flies? Too young???) but if I start leaping from there where do we end up?

My real question is: should kids be left to discover these magical worlds for themselves, as explorers? Do they lose something by being introduced to the books by their parents, when they’re too young to read them for themselves? I so clearly remember discovering Enid Blyton, thanks to my friend Megan, who brought her copy of ‘The Magic Faraway Tree” to school with her one day when we were six or seven. My mind was blown. Wow. Moonface and Saucepan Man became firm favourites and we played our own version of “The Magic Faraway Tree” together for months. The world was ours, we didn’t share it with our parents. I remember that mattering a lot. But we’ve already read all that series with our son because he was desperate for something meatier than the books we were reading to him. He, like me, fell in love with Moonface and Saucepan Man and has spent hours wondering what Pop-cakes taste of and how it would feel to slide down the slippery slip. He invented his own word game based on Saucepan Man’s constant rhyming errors. But he’s done it with us. Does this matter? After giving it some thought, I guess I conclude that while he may well have gained by waiting and discovering the world alone, I also think he’d be missing out by continuing to read simpler books with us.

Five year olds are so smart and so alert to the world but most just aren’t going to sit and read to themselves so how to proceed? The problem is that kids are often ready for the complexity of ‘chapter books’ long before they’re actually capable of reading them for themselves. For my five year old, there’s nothing more delicious than snuggling up with a book to enter a magical literary world but it still needs to be together with a parent.

It feels like a weird no-kids-land at the moment. There just aren’t lots of great age-appropriate books available. It’s true, there isn’t a shortage of books aimed at five year olds; we have a load of modern chapter-ish books about pirates or chocolate, amongst other things, but, they’re crap*. The kids might enjoy them but they are often painful for the parents to read. So we have to, for our sanity, return to the those books we know and love from our own childhoods. They may be meant for slightly older kids but they are full of wacky, silly ideas just oozing fun for modern kids. And as an Australian friend pointed out to me, the kids will never lose out from rereading books. They’ll get more out of each reading, whether it’s alone or with a parent. So go on, pick up a book you loved as a kid and re-enter that magical place.

Personally, I’m chomping at the bit to get him to some of my favourites: Richmal Crompton’s wonderful series, ‘Just William’, Willard Price’s ‘Adventure Series’, Anthony Buckeridge’s ‘Jennings’ books and C.S Lewis’ ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ ** but I know he’ll get to them in his own time. They’re too grown up for a five year old, no matter how smart he is and I can’t push them on him just to please myself. It is important to know when they time’s right and not foist books on a kid just because you want to reread them or introduce your little one to something you loved. My son, for example, has loved all the Roald Dahl thus far but will not even entertain the idea of reading ‘Matilda’. I have no idea why. I also know if I push it, he’ll never read it so I remain calm and when calm no longer works, I shall just have to reread it for myself.

Rereading Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Jill Murphy’s ‘Worst Witch’, Jill Tomlinson’s ‘The Owl who was afraid of the dark’, E.B White’s ‘Charlotte’s Web’, Judy Blume’s ‘Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing’ is such a privilege. Watching him fall in love with characters I adored is magical and I love chatting with him after, seeing what he’s understood and how he fits these characters in to his evolving view of the world.

Next on my trip down memory lane for him is ‘Little Plum’ by Rumer Godden. Oh, sweet childhood!

What are you reading with your little ones? Are you finding many brilliant new authors or returning to the ones you read as a child?

This blog is also published on my personal blog:


*Notable exceptions seem to be David Walliams and I believe the Andy Griffiths ‘Treehouse’ series is amazing. We’re about to begin on that.

**This list could go on and on and on with my favourites: The Silver Sword, Goodnight Mr.Tom, Tom’s Magic Garden, I am David, Eagle of the Ninth…


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