(This post contains Affiliate links*) I think if you ask anyone that remembers me from primary school, they’ll tell you i was a bit of a nerd… 🙂 It’s okay, i was, always had my head in a book. Should have kept it there too, if you ask me, could have saved myself and my parents a whole bunch of headaches! (High School was a little wild, but that’s another story, for another day 😉 )
Anyway, i’m glad i read as much as i did. In fact, there are numerous studies that have found that reading fiction (yes, it doesn’t need to be an astrophysics textbook or some other super intellectual piece of non fiction writing) can have multiple benefits for both adults and children. Let’s look at the benefits for children (but they’re the same for you, by the way 😉 ) :
1. Reading fiction helps your child to put themselves in other peoples positions, and helps them develop understanding and empathy for others, because when you read about a situation or a feeling in a good fiction book, it is often as if you’re transported into the situation yourself, and it’s nearly as if you’re feeling it yourself.
2. A child’s life can be very stressful, especially between the ages of 11 and 15 (puberty). Schoolwork, navigating those social minefields and handling all those hormonal changes can put a child under a great deal of pressure. Reading can offer a safe escape. Your child is free to explore foreign lands, or long forgotten times, or whatever they choose to read. These mini breaks from the real world offer your child’s body a chance to slow down. Resource has actually shown that reading for 6 minutes can
- reduce stress by 60%
- slow your heart rate
- ease muscle tension
- alter your state of mind
3. Sleep disorders are common in children and teenagers, with most studies placing the numbers at around 30% for adolescents age 11 – 15. Studies have shown that regular readers sleep better that those that don’t read. This is probably because of the benefits mentioned above in number 2.
4. Children that read more fiction build a larger vocabulary. This will have many benefits, and not only with regards to school work. As we grow up and go out into the world, our ability to express ourselves clearly becomes more and more important.
5. Children that read fiction learn to use their imagination, and are more likely to become creative, problem-solving people who can think on their feet.
6. A child that reads fiction is a happier child.
Anyway, all of that is wonderful, but where do we start? I mean, back in my day, my mom used to pile us into the car on a Wednesday evening after work and off we’d go to Waterkloof Library. We’d say “hi!’ to the Librarian and then run off into our various favorite sections… There was the Teen girl section, with its magazine rack full of ‘Bliss’ and ‘Teen Talk’ , the shelf of well worn ‘body development’ books and a wonderful selection of Roald Dahl and C.S Lewis; the ‘younger kids’ section full of Secret Seven and Famous Five and couple of other books i can’t remember; the kiddies section (all i remember is that it was pretty small, but we were a little too old for the ‘baby books’ by this stage, and didn’t use that room very much…) and then the Adult books and non fiction. If you were looking for anything specific you asked the Librarian. And if you didn’t know what you wanted, you asked the Librarian, and she suggested something. It was a great system. But things have changed. In fact, for the better… we now have millions of books available at our fingertips, day or night, with just a few clicks of a mouse. And there’s no-one to give us the ‘stink-eye’ if the kids are making a bit of a racket 😉 . So, to keep things real simple, here are 30 great books that every kid should read before they turn 16.
1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl (Age 8 and up)
This is probably Roald Dahl’s most famous story, and for good reason. What a magical story! 5 golden tickets get found by 5 very interesting little children. They all get invited to the Chocolate Factory and meet Mr Wonka, who tells them there will be a spectacular prize for one of them at the end of the day. There are many versions of this book, but this one, illustrated by Quentin Blake, must be my favorite. If you don’t have a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Amazon link*) get yours now. It’s even marked down! Only $9.03 (Was $15.99)
2. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – C.S Lewis (Age 10 and up)
A beautiful story full of magical, mythical, talking creatures, this book is sure to ignite any child’s imagination. There are scenes in this book that are bound to elicit strong emotions, and there are wonderful lessons in courage and empathy to be learnt. This is actually the second book in C.S Lewis’s series The Chronicles of Narnia 7 Book Boxed Set (Amazon link*) (Now $21.49 instead of $45.00, what a bargain!)
3. Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne (All ages)
This ‘story within a story’ follows the adventures of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh and his (or should that be ‘her’? ahh… have you heard the news lately… Pooh might be a girl…) woodland friends. Their misguided adventures perfectly illustrate the innocent naivete of childhood, with the friends often ending up in some kind of trouble. This really is a glorious one to add to your library, and is fantastic for bedtime. There is something so magical about A.A Milne being read aloud… If you don’t have your own copy of The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh (Amazon link*) , i suggest you you pick one up.
4. Black Beauty – Anna Sewell (Ages 8 – 14)
This book is written Black Beauty’s autobiography, and tells the story of this magnificent horse’s life. It starts off with Black Beauty and her mother living a peaceful happy life in the meadow, and it follows her through various stages of her life, both positive and negative. This book has some very emotive writing in it, and i actually remember crying at more than one point in this book when i read it when i was about 11 years old. That said, it is an absolutely amazing book, and can teach a child a lot about compassion, about the value of friendship ad about the importance of treating animals with love and respect. If you have a horse lover in the family, Black Beauty (Dover Children’s Evergreen Classics)(Amazon link*) should be on your shopping list.
5. Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson (Ages 10 – 16)
This has to be the most famous pirate story of all time, and for good reason too. Our main character, young Jim Hawkins, owner of the map to Treasure Island, and a wonderful bunch of other interesting characters, including, of course, Long John Silver, set off on a fantastic adventure. The story takes place over quite a long period of time ( numerous years), and we really get to ‘know’ Jim in this time. The book is in fact, so much more than just a pirate adventure story – it is a study of a boy’s growth to manhood, with wonderfully humorous looks at some of the lessons that he learns along the way, including in friendship, courage, and loyalty. This book is loved by millions of boys (and girls, and even grown-ups) all across the globe. If you want a copy of Treasure Island (Amazon link*) for your own home, great! You won’t regret it!
6. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain (Ages 12 – 16)
If you ask me, this is a ‘coming of age’/political adventure/drama… it is so complex, so well written and so thought-provoking. This book is probably not for younger readers, because of the language (lots of use of the N-word, although the book is definitely ANTI-Racist in it’s message), and because of the fact that there is quite a bit of violence in the book. There are even a few deaths, two of which are unfortunately children. I’d suggest sitting down with your child before they start reading this book, and giving them a brief explanation of the history of the South (of the United States) and of racism in general. It may leave your child a little shell shocked at first, but when they dive in and read this amazing book, they’ll see that anyone can overcome any situation. That you do not have to be a specific way just because somebody else tells you to be, or wants you to be that way, and that it is important to always stand up for, and fight for the thing that you believe in. If you would like to inspire one of your children with the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn(Amazon link*) just click on the link. Only $4.05.
7. The BFG – Roald Dahl (Ages 8 – 12)
Another gorgeous Roald Dahl classic, done as only Roald Dahl can do them! A little girl called Sophie discovers a giant. A friendly giant – but she soon finds out that not all giants are as kind as the big friendly giant, or BFG for short. Some of those big meanies like to ‘guzzle’ and ‘swallomp’ little chiddlers! Together Sophie and the BFG decide they’re going to rid the world of troggle – humping forever, and a marvelous adventure ensues! Get your copy of The BFG (Amazon link*) now, and i bet your little one will have read it finished in less than a week. Absolute magic!
8. James and the Giant Peach – Roald Dahl (Ages 8 – 14)
Poor James Trotter! Little James is only 4 years old when his parents are killed in a tragic accident and he’s sent to live with his wicked aunts. They force him to chop wood, and treat him really badly, not unlike a Roald Dahl version of Cinderella 🙂 . One day, while James is chopping wood in the garden, an old man gives him some magic crystals. James spills these on an old shriveled up peach tree, and something amazing happens… the peach tree magically starts growing, and it produces a peace as large as a house! The Aunts decide to start charging people to see the peach, but the giant, magical insect that live inside the peach are having none of that and decide to invite James inside the peach and roll away. The peach, with James and all his new friends inside, rolls off across the ocean on a great adventure to New York City. James and the Giant Peach (Amazon link*) will have your child laughing out loud!
9. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling (Ages 8 – 16)
Has anyone not heard of Harry Potter? An orphan boy sent to live with his Aunt and Uncle and horrible cousins at number 4 Privet Drive, finds out that there’s something extraordinary about himself. He is a wizard, and he is about to start school at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to learn magic! J.K Rowling is a magician herself with the intricate story-lines she creates within the main story-line, however, somehow, even young readers manage to follow along. I think it’s probably because all the characters are so memorable in their own way. There are 8 books in this series, and once your child (and then you, because you should too) reads Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Amazon link*) they’re going to want them all.
10. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens (Ages 10 – 16)
This classic tale is set in 1830’s England, and tells the story of Oliver, a boy born on the street, who’s mother passed away before anyone could find out her details. Oliver spends the first 9 years of his life a very cruel orphanage, before being transferred to a workhouse for adults. Things go sour when Oliver asks for “Some more,” food (a scene i’m sure some of us parents remember from the original movie – hahaha, no! i’m not that old, but my mother used to get a lot of classic movies on vhs from the university library when she was doing her second degree while we were kids 🙂 ) Oliver runs away the next morning, and meets up with a group of pickpocket, who take him in and teach him the tricks of the trade. This book is about Oliver’s journey of self-discovery, and the realization that ‘good men triumph’. A copy of Oliver Twist (Enriched Classics)(Amazon link*) is a great way to start your classics library.
11. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame (Ages 5 – 13) (Because it’s great for bedtime stories)
A beautiful classic, The Wind in the Willows follows the adventures of Toad, Mole, Badger, Otter, Water Rat, the weasels, the ferrets, and other little animals. While there is a little bit of violence, (a ferret shooting at Toad, and Toad fighting with the weasels ,and so forth), the general theme of this book is friendship. Toad finds many ways to get into mischief, but his friends are always there to help him sort it out. The Wind in the Willows(Amazon link*) is another great book to read to the kids at bedtime.
12. Charlotte’s Web – E.B White (Ages 6 – 12)
This beautiful tale about friendship, set in a farmyard, will have even the most world-weary adult soften with it’s innocent portrayal of the wonder of friendship and loyalty. Be prepared to comfort your child when they near the end of the book, as one of the beloved characters dies. Get your copy of Charlotte’s Web (Amazon link*) now, it really is a wonderful read for rainy days and bedtimes alike!
13. The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling (Ages 8 – 14)
The Jungle Book, the book, is actually a collection of short stories, with only some of them featuring Mowgli as the main character. However, all of these stories are just as delightful and enchanting as the story of Mowgli that we’ve come to know and love from the movies. The Jungle Book (Amazon link*) is a wonderful option for the bookshelf.
14. Five on Treasure Island – Enid Blyton (Ages 8 – 13)
This is the very first book in the Famous Five series, featuring Julian, Dick, Anne, tomboy George and their beloved pet dog Timmy. Apart from meeting and getting to know all the key players in this wonderful adventure series from master children’s writer Enid Blyton, we also get to tag along on a highly entertaining adventure as the Famous Five explore a shipwreck off Kirren Island, and try to find the treasure. Unfortunately, it gets dangerous when someone else has the same idea. This book is great for kids with adventurous spirits, and highlights the importance of friendship and loyalty in a gentle, natural way. Get your copy of Five On A Treasure Island (Amazon link*) and introduce your child to the magical world of Enid Blyton.
15. Watership Down – Richard Adams (age 12 – 16)
This is another one of those classic books that, although there are numerous parts that ARE sad, and even violent, to an extent, is most definitely a great book for older children and adolescents to read. A community of rabbits and other small creatures have to flee when humans encroach on their habitat, and what follows is a deeply moving, highly entertaining adventure. Because this book was originally written for adults, even when in the middle of an adventure scene, Richard Adams paints a complex picture. There are many subtleties about good and evil, and about freedom and our need for community. Watership Down (Amazon link*) will definitely get your teen thinking…
16. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 and 3/4 – Sue Townsend (Ages 10 – 15)
This humorous look at the very fictitious, yet, some-how, very believable life and problems of a thirteen (and three quarter) year old boy for whatever reason, resonates with kids all over the world… it did with me when i read it in 1993. Sue Townsend seems to just makes things okay, doesn’t she?I kind of remember reading this book almost as my version of “Chicken soup for the soul”… The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Ages 133/4 is a just a great gift for any tween or teen.
17. Lord of the Flies – William Golding (Ages 11 – 16)
William Golding’s book detailing a group of boys time on a deserted island following a tragic plane crash during a fictitious war, is both startling and eye-opening. It is shocking to see how quickly the key players, 12 year old Ralph, Jack, Simon, Piggy and their companions descend into chaos, and, dare i say it, the verge of savagery, so that they can survive. Throughout the book, you are hit with mixed feelings, and this book is definitely not one you can put down! Get your copy of Lord of the Flies(Amazon link*) and see what you think…
18. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett (Age 8 – 14)
A beautiful book for anyone that believes in a little magic…Mary, a particularly unpleasant and spoilt little girl, has to go and live with her uncle after her parent’s pass away. While she’s there, she meets someone else and the two of them explore the mansion grounds. They find a garden that’s long been dead and dry, but somehow, these two manage to bring the garden, and themselves, back to life and flower.
19. The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank ( Age 10 – 16)
I’m sure everyone has heard of the Diary of Anne Frank. This inspirational young girl lived through the second World War, and had to hide out with her family in various locations to avoid being killed by the Nazis. She recorded her thoughts and feelings in her diary, and they often show a deep insight and a wisdom much greater than her years. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (Amazon link*) has been translated into 60 languages, and can teach us a lot about bravery, love and forgiveness, even in the most dire of circumstances.
20. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – l Frank Baum ( Ages 10 – 14)
This book, published in 1900, has very little to do with the movie that everybody is familiar with. That being said, the original story is not to be missed. It has loads of magic, great characters, and tongue-in-cheek humor by the bucket-full. There are a few violent run-ins, but nothing that’s going to give your little one nightmares. Over-all, The Wizard of Oz (Amazon link*) is another great addition to the family bookshelf!
There you have it.. the 20 most fantastic, ‘just-another-15-minutes-please-mom’, and then you still find them with a torch under the blanket, books ever… I’ve read every one of these myself, and if you don’t believe me, you can ask MY mom 😉
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