Could you recommend some books for my six-year-old son? He’s already a “free reader” and I find it tricky to find him books that suit his ability but also appeal to his very normal six-year-old mindset. I feel as though I’ve made a few mistakes, for example allowing him to choose a Tracy Beaker book at the library. He devoured it but is quite gritty and perhaps not appropriate for his age.
He adores Horrid Henry books but has been stuck on these for a long time now. He’s reading The Marble Crusher by Michael Morpurgo at the moment and, although seemingly enjoying it, I wonder if he is emotionally mature enough to understand the story. I wouldn’t like to spoil the best children’s books by him reading them too early, at a time when he cannot quite connect with the story emotionally.
Matching a reader’s chronological age to their reading age is a troublesome issue whichever way round it is thrown up. Fluent readers crave stories that are both exciting and meaningful; that’s a challenging combination for an author to produce if the reader is still very young.
One of the reasons that your son adores the Horrid Henry books may be because they do exactly that. Superficially, Francesca Simon’s hilarious stories of Henry’s machinations and the outrageous behaviour he adopts to get precisely what he wants are easy-to-read stories with a strong sense of cause and effect around issues that are very close to children’s own experience. But even young readers are also able to recognise some of the universal truths about families in general and sibling relationships in particular that underpin them.
On a quite different subject, I’d suggest Anne Fine’s Diary of a Killer Cat and its sequels, partly for Fine’s quick humour and partly for the quality of her writing since everything your six-year-old reads will feed into his own writing.
Dick King-Smith’s animal stories are also easy to read since his writing is very well structured grammatically and makes use of a simple sentence structure without in any way diminishing vocabulary or stylistic elegance. His stories are equally well crafted and carefully tailored to suit readers of different ages in terms of the content of the stories and the humour at the heart of them. For younger readers, The Hodgeheg is an excellent starting point but it wouldn’t take your six-year-old long to find his most famous, The Sheep-Pig (renamed as Babe when it was made into a film), perfectly comprehensible.
Surprisingly, given how dark his stories can be, Roald Dahl is a most engaging writer for younger readers. True, he doesn’t hold back in terms of vengeance for even the youngest readers in stories such as The Magic Finger, The Very Hungry Crocodile or Fantastic Mr Fox but it is within suitable limits. A fluent reader would also enjoy Charlie and the Chocolate Factory although you might think six is too young to be introduced to the very savage retributions Dahl dishes out to Charlie’s less favoured companions.
For something with a lighter touch and also some airy magic, short stories such as Joan Aiken’s A Necklace of Raindrops or Margaret Mahy’s The Great Piratical Rumbustification are sheer delight; both defy total comprehension, making them perfect for young readers as they leave them with much to speculate with and a lot of “what if?” questions to answer.
Overall, while I agree with your sentiments about not spoiling great children’s books by reading them too early, the adventure, pathos, magic or humour of the best stories may light a spark of delight which may later, with good feeding, become a blaze.
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Seit 1996 bin ich freier Mitarbeiter der Salzgitter-Zeitung, als Experte für das Geschehen im hiesigen Kreisfußball. Daneben sind meine Kolumnen seit 2005 fester Bestandteil im Lokalteil der Salzgitter-Zeitung. Zusammen mit Frau und Tochter sowie zwei gefräßigen wie faulen Stubentigern versuche ich das zu meistern, was das Leben, das Universum und der ganze Rest an Absurditäten für uns bereithalten.