Lists / Reading

Hooked on Books?

SF Said, author of Varjak Paw and Phoenix believes that all children have the potential to be readers, they just have to find the right book for them, the breakthrough title that will turn them into a reader for life. I’ve spent long enough writing about the stories that turned me on to reading, and like SF there were specific books that made me completely obsessed. So what about my own children, do they have a similar relationship with reading? What follows is a list of titles that they have genuinely enjoyed over the years. But did they get them ?


This should be the easy bit for parents: simply Google ‘classic children’s books’ and you’ll quickly find a ready made reading list to enrich your child’s life. Except, as bloody minded neophytes, my children rejected vast swathes of the canon of children’s literature. I’m not sure why the following passed muster. That they did makes me more than a little proud.

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit

Stig of the Dump by Clive King and Edward Ardizzone

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

Picture books

‘Books are my enemy,’ says my 13 year old son. He has been sent to challenge SF Said’s idea that there is a gateway book for everybody. He’s been through many gateway books over the years, all listed here, but none of them provided access to reading Valhalla. The one constant are picture books, which he still reads, particularly at Christmas time. Perhaps ultimately that is the thing that will make him a lifelong reader.

Du Iz Tak by Carson Ellis

Bugs in a Blanket by Beatrice Alemagna

Would you Rather by John Burningham

Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs

Early reader

Books that create an insatiable appetite for the newly confident reader, that the parent no longer needs to read out loud. Win, win! Strangely, this is the stage of the reading journey that parents are often keenest on their children getting past. ‘Aren’t you a little old for that darling?’ It is the age where we start to criticise the supposed ‘quality’ of the books they enjoy. Calm down everyone, a little Blyton or Horrid Henry isn’t going to make them ill or imbecilic. It’s fun, so just LET THEM!

Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon and Tony Ross

You’re a Bad Man Mr Gum by Andy Stanton and David Tazzyman

The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton

Goth Girl by Chris Riddell

Modern classics

These are the books for older readers that we have most enjoyed reading together and have been left asking for more. Yes that is a David Walliams barging its way on to a list of modern classics, but as I said this isn’t my list. In fact Mr Stink is a genuinely good children’s book which deserves to be there with the rest.

Mr Stink by David Walliams

Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

Varjak Paw by SF Said and Dave McKean


The ongoing, or long running series, as well as providing many hours of entertainment also gives children confidence that they can read – and read by the yard. Big books are no longer something to be feared, they’ve become treasured objects to be carried everywhere.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Tom Gates by Liz Pichon


Factual books, game books, maps, encyclopedias. They’re rarely included in ‘Best of’ lists, which is a huge distortion of what and how many children actually read. The ‘Rebel Girls’ series led something of fight back for non-fiction recently and has proved irresistible to my ten year old daughter. The boy’s thing was always facts, he liked maps and animals so much that we had to buy his favourite books repeatedly as they were read to destruction.

Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

Collins World Atlas: Complete Edition

Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World’s Wildlife by Dorling Kindersley

Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space by Ben Newman and Dominic Walliman


I sense that we may finally be moving beyond comics snobbery in the UK – the number of titles aimed at children has increased and improved exponentially over the last few years. The success and sophistication of the Marvel films along with cool stuff like Luke Pearson’s ‘Hilda’ has definitely helped change perceptions. If you’re still not convinced, dip your toe into these exciting waters with titles by ‘real’ children’s authors Jason Reynolds and Rainbow Rowell.

Miles Morales: Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Runaways by Brian K Vaughan, Rainbow Rowell, Adrian Alphona and Kris Anka

Asterix The Mansion of the Gods by Gosciny and Uderzo


The books my son and daughter have read most over the last couple of years have been by people on YouTube. And that is fine (IT’S FINE!) Although I stopped short of including ‘The Sidemen Book’ or ‘KSI: I AM A BELL END’. They may be brilliant of course, I shall never know. These books are their books and that’s how it should be.

After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross

One by Sarah Crossnan

Girl Online by Zoe Sugg and Siobhan Curham

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell



More of SF Said’s recommendations to get you #HookedonBooks here











One thought on “Hooked on Books?

  1. Some excellent choices—kudos to your offspring!—which I enjoyed trawling through. I’ve just acquired the Abi Elphinstone title shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award, plus the World Book Day title Everdark, looking forward to seeing what she has to offer.


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