When I was younger I read a lot. And by a lot, I mean night and day. My parents got a light fitted just above my bed just to facilitate my hunger for the written word. This was a really cool thing for them to do and they were delighted that I was reading until they realised I wasn’t stopping. There were moments when they would come into my room at one in the morning saying it was late and to get some sleep. We always settled for that old lie of “One more chapter”. Two o’clock would come around and they started questioning how long the chapter really was.
Here is a selection of my favourite books for children and YA.
Ok, so Horowitz isn’t a book but he is a fantastic writer and one who has yet to disappoint me. That’s saying a lot since I first read his books when I was about ten and am still reading them now. Anything by him is a winner in my view. He is very good at understanding young readers, especially boys. He doesn’t waste time trying to speak in flowery language or dwell on the colour of the sky and the freshness of the breeze, he just gets on with it and keeps the story moving.
The Alex Rider series has to be his best work. It is sharp, snappy and full of adventure. It follows the life of a teenage boy who becomes a spy and works for MI5. The books are packed with explosions and despicable villains and wonderful plots. In other words, Alex Rider is the teenage James Bond. For me, this was always every boy’s dream.
Age Range: Anywhere from 8-15. Very good for reluctant readers
My next favourite of Horowitz’s is his Diamond Brothers series. These are very easy to read and marketed at a younger audience than Alex Rider, but something everybody can enjoy. The books follow the incompetent and perpetually penniless detective, Tim Diamond, and his much more astute and intelligent younger brother, Nick. The stories are mad and quite frankly the situations are absurd but there is no end to the amount of jokes and fun. They are a fantastic read and some are extremely short.
Age Range: 7-12 but also very suitable for younger readers and perhaps even for those who are too young to read by themselves and have their parents read for them
A third set of works by Anthony that is well worth checking out is the Power of Five series. The plot behind it is that five kids from all over the world, or Gatekeepers as they are known, must come together and join forces to take on mystical beings called the Old Ones. The books belong in the fantasy genre and I would say more suited to individuals of twelve and up. That being said, they can be read by individuals much younger and one of the elements of writing that makes Horowitz stand out is that he doesn’t use bad language, meaning his books can be read by all. Even though I haven’t read the series in quite a while, I remember that the first book, Raven’s Gate, hooked me from the very beginning.
Age Range: 12-17
Coraline and The Graveyard Book
The author of these two books, Neil Gaiman, is possibly the best writer I have ever read. From American Gods to Neverwhere to Stardust (the last of which was made into a really great movie by the way!), every one of them is a hit. His best works though, for me, come in his children’s writing, with The Graveyard Book being his masterpiece. I challenge anyone to tell me they read the book and don’t like it.
It’s about a young boy called Nobody Owens, or Bod for short, whose parents are killed and is raised in a graveyard by ghosts. He is being hunted down by the man Jack who murdered his family. The book won the Newbury Medal in 2009 and the Carnegie Medal in 2010, a testament to its brilliance.
I read Coraline for the first time very recently and even at the age of twenty-one, I felt a shiver run down my spine. It is extremely creepy. And by creepy I mean brilliant. The book, as expected, follows a young girl called Coraline who one days opens a mysterious locked door in her new house and walks through it. What she finds is her apartment, but not her apartment. Her friends, but not her friends. Her family, but not her family. I don’t want to say anything else, because the book is brilliant and can only suggest you read it.
There is something special about Gaiman’s books. I don’t think any other piece of literature has captured my attention quite as heart-and-soul as his works have. Again in my final semester of college I was fortunate that he actually visited University College Dublin to collect the James Joyce Award. To my great dismay, I didn’t get to talk to him personally and have regretted it ever since, but hopefully some day I will get another chance.
Age Range: 8+
I’m not certain on this but I reckon if you ask any avid reader who the master is of writing children’s books, they’d say Dahl. He has a winning recipe through his combining of wonderful ideas, simplicity in writing, a touch of humour, a dash of action and a pinch of fear. Like other books I’m suggesting, his are enjoyed by all ages.
His list of classics is extensive to say the least, among them The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Fantastic Mr Fox, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The Twits and The Witches. The one that stands out for me is George’s Marvellous Medicine. In it, George is fed up of his “grizzly old grunion of a grandma” and decides to teach her a lesson. When it comes to feeding Grandma her medicine, he decides rather than feed her the normal stuff, he will make up a completely new medicine made up of all sorts of ingredients ranging from shampoo to animal pills. That’s where the fun really kicks in.
Roald Dahl’s books are a fantastic way to try and get young children to read. They’re fun, easy to read and very creative.
Age Range: Everyone. Young, old…everyone should enjoy these books
A Series of Unfortunate Events
I think I was about nine or ten when I received the first book, the Bad Beginning, as a Christmas present from my cousin. The problem with me is that I don’t always read books I’m given as presents, not because I don’t like them but because my to-be-read list is so long that I don’t get around to it. This was one of those books.
And when I did read it about four months later…I felt stupid for not having read it before. They’re fun stories with fun characters. Yes the situations and plots are completely off the wall and barmy and sometimes the narrator’s voice gets a little in the way of the tempo of the novels, but overall these are wonderful books.
The Bad Beginning, as I look at it now, is only 162 pages long and with quite big print so it makes for a very quick read. It introduces us to the three Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus and Sunny who lose their parents in a fire that burns down their home. They must then go live with Count Olaf, their nearest living relative, who tries to get at the fortune left for them in their parents will. They must use their skills and intelligence to evade and defeat Olaf and his equally dastardly acting troupe.
There has been a little controversy over how bleak the books are. Personally I was aware of this when I read them but didn’t find it to be a problem. If you are affected by darker plots in books maybe hold off reading these until you are a couple of years older. If not, then you’re good to go and join the Baudelaire children on their adventures.
Age Range: 8-12
Naturally, no list of favourites is complete without J.K Rowling’s marvellous creation so this one goes without saying. Just read them. The series’ popularity doesn’t come from the plot between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort, though it must be said that it is extremely well written. The real strength of the books comes from Rowling’s ability to change the banal, the everyday and the downright boring into something wonderful and magical. She changed every day life and created the most compelling world ever achieved in literature. As a result of this, she broke down the boundaries between adults and children and made it acceptable for people of all ages to read and discuss the same books.
All one needs to know before reading these books is that they are about a young boy named Harry Potter who lives with his cruel aunt and uncle and his greedy cousin. On his tenth birthday he discovers that he is a wizard and goes off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. If you haven’t dipped your toe in the Potter universe yet, I urge you to start with the books and allow yourself to be captivated by the most spellbinding books of the past century.
Age Range: 10+ for the first three and 12+ for the last four on account of their length
Other great series:
The Maximum Ride series by James Patterson. Fast paced, fun and well-written. Features kids with wings and superpowers. Age Range: 12-17
Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver. Great books and a compelling story. The first book Wolf Brother will have you hooked. Age Range: 12-17
The Bartimaeus Trilogy (Sequence) by Jonathan Stroud. An amazing creation by a wonderful author. Writes the book in a different way to any other commercial fiction/fantasy author I’ve read. Age Range: 12-17
The Demonata Series by Darren Shan. Full of blood and gore and grizzly bits. Fun reads that will keep kids up at night with fear (that’s a good thing though…I think). Deals with demons. Age Range: 8-12
The Saga of Darren Shan by Darren Shan. More blood and gore and focuses on vampires before vampires became mainstream. No over-romanticised characters (grrr Twilight), just good ol’ fashioned horror. Age Range: 8-12
This is just a brief selection of the books and series I loved reading when I was younger and there are many more I could have included. For now, I hope this has given you a couple of suggestions for your reading list.