Category Archives: Parents and Teachers

One ring to rule them all…


The Ring is a rather unique collaborative novel born in the imaginations of the creative writing society at King Edward’s Senior School, Bath. The concept is simple. The novel follows the story of a mysterious golden ring from thousands of years BCE to the present day via Ancient Egypt, Shakespeare’s Globe, the wreck of the Titanic…and much more. The chapters are written by pupils, former pupils, teachers, parents, and some local authors (including me).  I also typeset the book for them. It certainly ruled my life for a while (80,000 words, 56 chapters, 41 different authors). But it is still my precious!

Here’s my story.


Mary hadn’t meant for the fruit to topple out of the painting on the wall. She’d only been looking at it, thinking, What if? Apples, pears and plums thudded onto the mahogany dresser, like the sound of feet on stairs. The fruit was no longer two-dimensional or made of cracked paint, but round and smooth and sweet-smelling.

The boring dinner party conversation stopped abruptly and everyone turned towards the picture, eyes wide and mouths open. Mother tried to divert the guests’ attention by asking in a loud voice, “Do you think women should be given the vote?” But Mary didn’t get to see if it worked as Father took her hand and dragged her outside, banging the door closed behind them.

“When are you going to learn to be normal?” he hissed, his freckled face red with anger. “Go to your room. I’ll deal with you later.”

Mary pushed her hands deep into the pockets of her lace dress. She still remembered the stinging pain from being given several sharp swats to her palm with a tennis shoe when a stone lion disappeared from the Italian Garden and a real one had been found prowling through the local village on the same day. She sprinted up the stairs, her eyes bright with tears. She felt sick, knowing Father would keep his word.

For a long time she sat on the edge of the bed, waiting in the candlelight, still wearing her lace-up boots and the big bow in her brown hair. She could hear the sound of muffled voices and laughter in the dining room below; the party was still going on. If only she could run away and find a happy place to live where she could be herself.

Eventually, she picked up what was left of the candle and walked over to the bookcase. The guttering flame illuminated titles and authors’ names on the spines of the books. She ran her fingers over Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Grimms’ Fairy Tales and stopped on Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets by Edward Lear. Her hand tingled when she touched the cover, and a pins-and-needles sensation travelled up her arm as she pulled the book off the shelf. She flicked through the pages and stopped at the first black-and-white illustration: an owl with a small guitar, serenading a cat in a wooden rowing boat at sea. Stars winked in the night sky. She had a vague recollection of her mother singing The Owl and the Pussy-cat to her as a very small child, but she couldn’t be sure if it was a real memory or if she’d made it up for herself. Still, it was comforting.

As Mary looked at the picture she thought about the curved sides of the boat, the smell of 4c6ad17ccfa7d7830a50cafc2f162c261salt water and sweet honey, rough wood and silky-soft cat fur. She pictured the owl’s talons plucking the guitar strings and the sound the instrument made.

“The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat,” she whispered.

A boat, the size of a small ornament, appeared on top of the book. Mary quickly looked at the door and listened – no-one was coming. She turned back. The boat remained black and white and shaded in charcoal grey, as it had been in the book. The owl had a white, heart-shaped face surrounded by a ring of short dark feathers, black eyes and shaded upper parts, and he strummed a simple wooden guitar. The cat sat opposite him, staring into his eyes. She had the stripes of a tabby and a mark on her forehead resembling the letter M. A big jar of honey rested between them. Mary thought this an odd choice of food for a bird of prey and a cat. Surely, a few dead mice would be much more agreeable to them. Two oars stretched across the benches they sat on, dripping water onto the paper.

She continued reading. In the top corner of the page an island rose covered in bong trees with purple, heart-shaped leaves and hairy trunks. The owl and the pussy-cat went ashore and soon they met a pig with a tarnished ring, inscribed with tiny letters, at the end of his nose.

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling your ring?” asked the owl.

Said the Piggy, “I will.” He wriggled it free of his snout and handed it over.

The owl wiped the ring on his feathers and the cat admired it and purred with pleasure.

Mary smiled at her. “If you’re going to get married, can I be your bridesmaid?”

She was so lost in the story that she didn’t hear her bedroom door open.

“You’re in so much trouble, young lady.” Father’s bellowing voice made her jump.

Desperately, she tried to squeeze the book shut, but neither the creatures nor the bong trees would lie flat. She tried to push them down with the palm of her hand. The owl pecked her little finger and the cat clawed her skin; they weren’t going back into the book without a fight.

“Please, I’m trying to help you,” said Mary.

Her father lunged forward, holding a tennis shoe. He grabbed Mary with his free hand and smacked the characters into the air with the shoe. They tumbled over and over; the owl let go of the ring as it stretched its talons towards its sweetheart.

“Let me go!” Mary pulled herself free.

She reached for the owl and the pussy-cat and, as she did so, the ring grew bigger, and then it slipped onto her finger. The moment it touched her skin it turned from black and white to dazzling gold. It was as bright as the sun. The three characters disappeared into thin air with a pop and a moment later Mary vanished from the room too.




Mary found herself standing alone on a soft white beach. Bong trees rustled in the breeze and the air smelled of coconut and the sea. The pig sat in the boat, but there was no sign of the owl and the pussy-cat – she would give them the ring the next time they met. She now examined the ring more closely. It fitted her finger perfectly and a few words ran along the shiny gold band: Mary sailed away for a year and a day…

She hesitated for a brief moment and thought about home. Then she smiled, climbed into the wooden rowing boat next to her new friend and set off on an adventure.


The Ring will be on sale from October 13th in Topping bookshop, Bath.

This story was first posted on my author blog.

Copyright (c) 2016 Kim Donovan. Ring image: Pixabay/ColiN00B. Original illustration of the Owl and Pussycat by Edward Lear


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The black, the white and the grey


The pen is indeed mightier than the sword. And when it comes to children’s literature the power of words to shape the attitudes of the child reader is awesome. Should well-written stories (classics, even) be scrubbed clean of sexism and racism? The characters with derogatory names re-invented? Should the offending books just be piled up in a public place and burned? Might be tempting, rather than have your child read that Mary in The Secret Garden thinks that “blacks are not people”.

But what about the role of those outdated books in highlighting thoughtless attitudes and in educating children in the way things used to be? In The Daily Beast the suggestion is that if publishers, librarians or teachers simply withdraw offensive books then they are of course indulging in censorship, which could lead to a distortion of history. Anna-Marie Crowhurst is a great fan of Enid Blyton and as a child adored the quirky, outdated language and the jolly japes the children got up to. But she clearly grew up in a thoroughly enlighted household because at the age of nine she already knew that a story in which girls always did the cooking was “silly”. To my shame there is a host of classic children’s literature out there which reveals racist and sexist attitudes which I hadn’t ever spotted. Do we bin them all? If so we would be depriving children of E. Nesbit, the Barbar stories, Tintin, TS Eliot, Dr Seuss and Roald Dahl, to name but a few.

img002        The Greater Good is a really thoughtful and interesting American website which reiterates the idea that—with a few exceptions—many stories are simply reflecting the times they were written in and can be seen as history up for discussion. The valid point is made that very few people are wholly bad or wholly good and therefore many stories are simply introducing young readers to a complex world. Laura Inglis Wilder, writing about the Americans setting up a homeland in the mid West, wrote about real life as she and her family saw it. Her own history. And that included indigenous people who were described as “dirty and thieving”. Fertile ground for discussions with children: Why did people think like that? Does that make them bad people? Are we different now? Why?

Of course an enlightened and positive antidote is to actively promote books which combat racism and sexism. I found a great website called A Mighty Girl which suggests lots of books containing strong and successful girls and women, including the true stories of Rosa Parks, Billie Holiday and Malala. I particularly like the choice of the word “mighty”, which makes a change from “feisty” and “strong”. The Guardian offers an extensive list of children’s books which promote diversity, including one with the lovely title Amazing Grace, another about the life of Stephen Lawrence, and Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s story called The Unforgotten Coat. I love the idea that a children’s book can challenge and educate us all on the subject of difference in its widest sense, and that it’s never too early to start talking about the issue. How lucky we are to live in an age where these things are openly discussed by children, parents, teachers, writers and publishers. Now what about a children’s picture book about combatting the rise of racism since Brexit?




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Walking on Gold at The Roman Baths

Signing books at the Roman Baths

Book signing at The Roman Baths

One of my happiest mornings this month was spent at The Roman Baths with a roomful of children scribbling away furiously. Some wore tunics, some wore togas: all were bursting with exciting ideas for an adventure story inspired by Bath’s Roman coin hoard.

Curator David Baker set the scene with Roman coins to handle, pottery, jewellery and a list of common Roman names.

Once we got started on our stories, the air was filled with a hum of creative energy. There were some fantastic ideas for dramatic beginnings with some truly wicked-sounding baddies. Story middles raced along, packed with twists and turns of the plot. And we agreed that surprise endings – or happy ones – were our favourites, and the ones to aim for in our writing.

I hope I’ll be reading everyone’s finished story soon on The Roman Baths website – and I hope you’re enjoying reading Walking on Gold!

Janine Amos

Co-founder, Electrik Inc


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Exciting Ways to Celebrate World Book Day

WBD2014_lime_leftWorld Book Day is a celebration of books and reading, which is marked in over one hundred countries. At Electrik Inc we love to see children enjoying stories and we’re often invited into schools on this day to read from our books, facilitate creative writing workshops and generally join in with the fun! Here are some ideas from Kim and Kay if you’re looking for inspiration. Happy World Book Day!

Kim Donovan

Produce a School Anthology. This World Book Day I’ll be helping to launch a very special anthology of short stories and poems written by two hundred pupils from King Edward’s Junior School, Bath. My little publishing nest, Squawk Books, is the publisher of this amazing book and I couldn’t be more proud. It’s called Knock Your Socks Off! On World Book Day the children will take centre stage, reading their stories to friends and family, answering questions and, of course, signing books!

Guess the Book. Here is a clever way to get children thinking creatively about their favourite books. Pupils choose a story and tell the class about it using a box decorated in the theme of the book and filled with clues, such as a bottle with a label tied round the neck with the words “Drink Me” for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Bedtime Stories for Reception, Year 1 & 2. Why not hold a bedtime event in the school hall during the early evening? Make the room comfortable with gym mats, project glowing stars onto the ceiling and ask the children to bring in duvets and pillows. Give them an early midnight feast and then settle the boys and girls down for a story-telling session. Libraries could do their own version of Night in the Museum with guest appearances from book characters for a fun bedtime event!

Hold a book quiz. Stage your own show like University Challenge with teams representing a class or house, starter questions – “on the buzzer” – and bonus questions for the team who answered the question correctly. The questions might relate to books that have been studied by the whole class, contemporary and classic children’s literature or featured authors. For the picture round you could show the pupils cover illustrations and ask them to name the titles of the books. The music round could be on stories that have been turned into films – their music tracks. Don’t forget to say, “It’s goodbye from X (losing side), it’s goodbye from Y (winning side) and it’s goodbye from me.” I found the University Challenge theme tune on

Kay Leitch

Take Two Books
Consider a fun afternoon event, where children take two books to school with them. One is their absolute favourite, which they would never swap – and they must tell everyone why they love it so much.

The second is a book they like but are happy to swap, and they must tell everyone why, and put it into a pile for ‘swaps’. There should be a pile of books the children want to swap, so everyone can take something from this pile, if they want.

To make this even more interesting, invite along a local author, who can bring their own published book to talk about and do a Q&A session on. They can bring a book they want to swap, too, and tell everyone why.

Write A Story With Your Favourite Character
Take your favourite character of all time and write a story with them in it. This doesn’t have to be from the same kind of story the character is from. In fact, it’s more fun if you put them in a completely different kind of story. Imagine the Gruffalo as a policeman… or a dentist … what would that be like? A bit like fanzine stuff. Have fun.

Murder Mystery Day
All pupils who want to act a part, put their names into a hat. Pull six (or more) pupils’ names out: one is the victim; one is the murderer; one is the detective; one is the detective’s not-very-bright sidekick. Two (or more) are witnesses who tell conflicting stories…

Just for starters: you could write a script where it becomes clear that the murderer and one of the witnesses know each other and are covering for each other. The murderer keeps changing his or her story and it becomes clear they don’t have an alibi. The not-very-bright sidekick keeps missing clues. That kind of thing makes it fun for everyone.

Anyone in the participating class can ask questions.

If you want to share what you’ll be doing on World Book Day, or if you have any ideas you think children would love, use our Comments box and let us know. It would be great to hear from you.

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Stretching my Wings

This year I’ll be flying a little further away from my virtual home at Electrik Inc, our collective of children’s writers involved in Professional Independent Publishing.  I’ll still be very much part of the group and will continue to write books under that logo and support Janine, Jenny and Kay with their stories. But I’m also ready for other/new challenges and have two exciting projects in progress.

SQUAWK - RED (2)My own little publishing nest, Squawk Books, is about to become the proud publisher of a whole school anthology, which I’ve been helping King Edward’s Junior School to write. Knock Your Socks Off! is the title the children picked for their book of short stories, poems and illustrations, and the name couldn’t be more apt. The book certainly does for isbn agencywhat it says on the tin! I also had my socks knocked off by the way the children grasped the opportunity to be published authors with both hands. I saw pupils working in the library before school on their stories, a reluctant writer not only produce a brilliantly funny piece but start planning a whole series for his character, and children discussing story ideas and helping each other in the playground. It’s been a lot of work but incredibly rewarding and good fun. I can’t wait for the launch on World Book Day!

My second solo project is to write and publish my first book for adult readers. One of the reasons I chose ‘the third way’, where a writer independently publishes some books and uses a traditional publisher for others, is that I thought it would allow me greater creative freedom to write what I wanted to write. So do expect different things from me! The story I’m currently working on, called Misdirection, is inspired by my writer friends at Electrik Inc. I’ll tell you more about the book another time, but it involves suffragette - bath in timea special group of real-life suffragettes who unconditionally supported each other in their common goal to win women the right to vote. I’ve had unconditional support from Electrik Inc with publishing the St Viper’s series and it is a privilege to work on their books too. Although I’m flying solo for this adult book I know that just below me my fellow inklings are stretching out a safety net – just in case.


Kim Donovan


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Super Books for Boys

Ch4altIn a time when children are reportedly reading less than ever, what we need are story heroes who stand together and take on the fight. In a small way, my young evil geniuses at St Viper’s School for Super Villains  have been helping to save the day — they’ll be annoyed when they find out I’ve been calling them heroes! Readers tell me they can devour a St Viper’s adventure in a weekend (they take me months to craft and the illustrator to draw) and I know there are other super stories out there, which make kids want to read.

So here’s a novel idea: writers telling their readership about other books they would enjoy. Their competition! I know what my 7 – 10 year-old readers want from a St Viper’s story: plots to take over the world, plenty of action, use of super powers, cool gadgets, friends working together, tongue-in-cheek phrases, lessons in diabolical laughing, a fast pace … and I’m knowledgeable about what else is available in stores. We don’t have to work alone, do we? The time has come to join forces. We strike for victory!

If you like St Viper’s  why not try:

Magic Ink  by Steve Cole

Twelve-year-old Stew Pender loves super heroes as much as his grandfather, a once famous comic book artist, and spends his time drawing comic characters including his alter ego: Stupendous Man. When his grandfather goes to the great comic convention in the sky, Stew and his family move into his home. On the first night in the house, Stew is woken by a cartoon pig in a top hat and cape. This isn’t a figment of his imagination. In the attic, where his grandfather used to draw, Stew finds a bottle of magic ink, which brings characters to life. But it’s not all fun and games, the creator of the Magic Ink — the wizard Merlin — is imprisoned in a cave in a land of myth and monsters and needs Stew to draw super heroes to save him.

I say: It’s quirky, great fun and the idea’s brilliant. Unlike St Viper’s and NERDS (see below), most of the action comes at the end of the book, but there are lots of hooks to keep readers turning the page and the pace is spot on. Steve Cole is the author of the well-known series Astrosaurs.  Magic Ink is suitable for 8+ readers.

Atomic. The Madness of Madame Malice  by Guy Bass. Issue 2.

Ten-year-old super-powered twins Jonny and Tommy Atomic have a super hero father and a super villain mother. They live with their father, Captain Atomic, Aunt Sandwich who’s a hamster and Dogday, a super-intelligent dog on an island in the sky. Their mother is an inmate at The Stronghold, a high-security super prison, until she breaks out to spend time with her darling boys. In this book, one of the twins is drawn to the dark side and the other the light as they spend quality time with her. She frees all the animals in the zoo, turns their school to rubble and rips the roof off Icy Joe’s Delectable Dairy Den so they can fly to the front of the ice-cream queue. The story follows a predictable path until the end where Bass reveals their mother’s true dark colours.

I say: The storyline is simple, the chapters are short and there are lots of illustrations to break up the text. The book would be enjoyed most by my younger and less confident readers (7+). It’s also a suitable story for parents to read aloud. In book 3, Bass hints that the boys will become their father’s sidekicks. I hope that as the series develops we’ll see the children use their super powers a lot more. But what I think my readers will really like about this book is that it’s part novel and part comic. They’ll also like the super cool cover!

NERDS. The Villain Virus  by Michael Buckley. Book 4.

Michael Buckley is the New York Times bestselling author of the Sisters Grimm series and NERDS is a great read, too. In this book, the villain population rockets as a virus sweeps the world, which makes people develop insane alter egos. Ordinary folk start planning the destruction of the planet, building doomsday devices, wearing ridiculous costumes and calling themselves the Terrible Tornado and such like. Kids from the NERDS secret spy society are given the job of saving the world. They are all underdogs and what’s nice is that their weaknesses are all turned into super strengths. For example, Wheezer — Matlida Choi — can fly and blast enemies with her asthma inhalers. In this story, Flinch takes centre stage. He’s hyperfast, hyperstrong and just plain hyper (a bit like my son!) and I must say hyperbrave to be shrunk and injected into the bottom of a master villain near the end of the book.

I say: the story is great fun and has lots of action — KA-POW! It feels like an animated cartoon, which is also how I see St Viper’s.  NERDS is suitable for 8 + readers.

Cartoon Kid  by Jeremy Strong. Title: Zombies.

All of Mr Butternut’s class are super heroes — that’s what he told them in their first lesson. There’s Cartoon Kid, Big Feet Pete, Exploding Girl and many others. They are actually ordinary children, but in moments of crisis the book changes to a comic strip and the kids transform into heroes in cool super suits. Afterwards, we find out what really happened to them. There are three short stories in this book. In the first story, Cartoon Kid (Casper) gets the pupils out of a tight spot with Masher McNee and his Monster Mob by scaring them with the dead bat he’d brought in for Show and Tell. In the second story, the school inspectors pay a visit and are not impressed with what they find until Mr Butternut saves the day with an inspiring history lesson. Then in the last story, Cartoon Kid tries to be a hero (even if this is out of self-interest) by painting his sister’s bedroom with a water blaster. The underlying message behind Cartoon Kid is that anyone can be a super hero.

I say: It’s exactly what I expect from a Jeremy Strong book. Cartoon Kid  is funny, age-appropriate and suitable for children who are starting to build confidence with reading. Readership: 7+.

Vordak the Incomprehensible. How to Grow Up and Rule the World.  Scott Seegert

A comical step-by-step guide on how to bring out your inner evil and take over the world. Instructions include: how to select a gut-wrenching evil name, communicating with your arch-nemesis, picking a super menace mask and buying the right super villain lair — typically, I chose the most expensive one: an orbiting space station!

I say: It’s a fun read and I can see my older readers liking it (10+). The book’s packed with illustrations, lists and diagrams (I loved the Many Faces of Evil) and it may appeal to reluctant boy readers. But it does cross the invisible line I set for St Viper’s.  Some parents may not like how Vordak the Incomprehensible encourages children to grow the evil that exists inside of them. This book will appeal to my younger readers but it really is for older kids who know not to take the advice seriously.

St Viper’s School for Super Villains

If you are not familiar with my series, you can read about it on this site or please visit Amazon for more reader reviews.  Thank you!’s%20school%20for%20super%20villains&sprefix=St+Viper’s%2Caps%2C292&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Ast%20viper’s%20school%20for%20super%20villains

Kim Donovan


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Despicable Me, Responsible Me

My eight-year-old evil genius was seriously unimpressed with one crucial thing that happened in the films Despicable Me and Megamind: the bad guys turned good.  So it would seem that Despicable Me 2, the sequel, is wrongly named – there is now nothing at all despicable about the main character. It is more Responsible Me. Gru, the villain turned hero of the original, is now a devoted dad who cross dresses as a pink fairy to save his daughter’s birthday party and makes jam instead of trying to take over the world.

‘This isn’t good,’ said evil son (now nine), shaking his head and looking like there was no hope for Gru. Clearly he likes his villains to stay evil.

I can see the same challenge ahead for my own book series, St Viper’s School for Super Villains. My young readers like the fact that the super villains in training are bad – it makes them exciting. But some of my more responsible, grown up readers would like to see all the characters become heroes in the end to send out the ‘proper’ message to children. Good always wins through in the end, right? Who shall I upset?

Fortunately in Despicable Me 2, the writers have made Gru’s life as a stay-at-home dad more interesting by having him recruited by the Anti-Villain League, which has its HQ in an underwater submarine. In places the film has the look and feel of The Incredibles.  The story has quirky scenes and cool gadgets. Gru’s secret agent partner, Lucy Wilde, has a lipstick taser.  Personally, I’d have made it a lip salve lightsaber, which when twisted grows into a long white laser beam (Hmmm … maybe a copyright issue). The Anti-Villain League have decided it takes a villain to know one and Gru’s first and only assignment is to find the master criminal who has stolen a lethal serum which when injected into a fluffy bunny does the equivalent of feeding a Mogwai after midnight.

The film is not amazing but it is certainly good family entertainment with lots of slapstick humour. The kids I saw in the cinema all looked engaged and laughed along with the story; as did evil son.  I saw no-one playing on their mum’s iphone (I did actually see this in a children’s theatre the day before). My super hero husband only nodded off for about five minutes (a record for a family movie) and there were several genuinely funny moments. Most of them involving the stars of the film, by some distance, who are the horde of little yellow ‘minions’.  If they ever get bored helping Gru load the washing machine, they will be welcomed with open arms to be villainous at St Viper’s School!

It may not be any more despicable than the first film, but the entertainment is just as good.  Take your young villains along for a laugh and even they won’t be too disappointed by the happy ending.



Despicable me 29780957130005_cover.inddfinalViperCover(ebook)

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Improving Literacy

How do you encourage reluctant readers to want to read? I’ve been thinking about this question a lot recently. I know reluctant readers, I’ve met them on author visits to schools and some reviewers have said that my story, St Viper’s School for Super Villains, is a good book for them. But what actually makes a good book for a reluctant reader? Is there a list of gold star stories which will help them to find a love of reading and what advice is available for parents who are struggling with this issue?
I’ve been talking to teachers, librarians and parents about the topic and reviewing the literature. I was lucky enough to visit Stuart Boydell and his wonderful Year 2 class in 2012. He is such a great teacher! I’m very happy to be able to share with you my second guest blog, by Stuart, on improving literacy.

Improving literacy and nurturing an enjoyment of reading has been the aim of successive government policies for decades. The media is peppered with reports on international league tables and school SATS results with depressing statistics about the nation’s reading levels. In this atmosphere we are constantly being reminded that we need to all be doing more and more to help our children get on in an ever-changing world where communication is central to everything they will be doing in the future.

Understandably, there is a growing sense of urgency to see our children learning to read at an ever younger age. For some children, however, reading is a chore and holds little enjoyment. These children are increasingly being labelled as “reluctant readers”. I am sure we all know a child who somebody has labelled as a “reluctant reader”. Yet, I wonder how many of us have actually ever stopped to unpick the term? To be reluctant means to be hesitant, or uncertain. Uncertainty often develops from a lack of confidence or experience. If a child is reluctant to read, it is incumbent upon the child’s teachers and parents to try to ascertain what it is about reading that makes them reluctant. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula. Helping our children to develop a love for reading takes a lot of time, a lot of patience and a huge dollop of encouragement. But, there are a few things we can all do that will encourage greater levels of engagement with books.

For many children, particularly boys, once they have learnt all the myriad skills needed to decode words accurately, it can be a lack of interest, motivation or stamina to read for prolonged periods of time that is holding them back from progressing in their reading. It certainly means reading novels and longer stories will be a huge challenge. Often, however, this is compensated for by an interest in non-fiction books which is, after all, still reading and a core component of school literacy. There will be, of course, a minority of children for whom even non-fiction books will present them with difficulties. But I am sure I won’t be risking my professionalism to be fairly sure that these children will happily read the many instructions and rules needed to understand how to download music or get to the next level of whatever digital game they are playing, Oh and scanning the TV guide looking for their favourite shows. The opportunities for reading go beyond fiction and books!

In an ideal world, we all want children to love story books and ultimately novels. Stories are how they make sense of the world around them and how they play out many of the ideas, wants and frustrations that occupy their minds. Consequently, publishers have been addressing the need to get more children involved in fiction for the last few years. There is a plethora of new and excellent authors out there tackling these issues with strong storylines, but often using language to describe plots and themes which appeal to today’s children.

Increasingly, children are enjoying stories that have strong, feisty characters and a huge amount of humour – think Jack Splat or Jack Stalwart. A simple search on the internet or a quick chat with your child’s teacher will point you in the right direction. I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t love Horrid Henry or Mr Stink. Check out the “Out of this World” series from Scholastic Books. There is a growing trend to produce illustrated books that mix animation with real-life images, which seem to really appeal to children. The texts can be a bit limited, but they are fictionalised stories and short enough to give some children the sense of achievement that they have just read a whole book.

The motivation and stamina to read longer texts is undoubtedly a bit of an uphill challenge for some – but it isn’t an insurmountable challenge. The best way to develop these skills, like all skills, is to develop it slowly over time. You can’t run the Bath half-marathon if you haven’t got out there and built up your stamina! Most children will have an area or topic of interest that you can tap into. Tap in sensitively and discreetly! Try to avoid the temptation to have an ‘action plan’ of how to maximise reading potential from your child’s interests – it is amazing how quickly they will change their interests! Work with them, taking the lead from them, as much as you can. Talk to them when their interests appear on TV or in articles in the press or magazines (shared reading is a common practice in schools and is a lovely way for parents to engage with their children). It is always worth remembering that there is nothing wrong in sharing the task of reading a book.

In short, don’t be unduly alarmed if your child seems to only be interested in short, sharp bite-sized reading material like non-fiction books or comics. These texts still require children to use many of the skills needed to be competent readers. Small, easily-digestible reading chunks are often enough for some children. As their interest grows so too will their desire to read more. And, with carefully chosen fiction that taps into their interests, they will soon be mixing their reading between fact and fiction in the much the same ways as we do.

To get yourself started check your local library and book stores for any reading competitions and lists of latest quality fiction out there or pop in to see your child’s teacher and find out what reading materials the schools use to engage the children. There are plenty of reading and writing competitions on-line that taps into all manner of subjects. Grab a cup of coffee and trawl through the different websites. Check out the World Book Day website as well as the ReadZone pages.

Stuart Boydell

King Edwards School, Bath

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Encouraging Reluctant Readers

How do you encourage reluctant readers to want to read? I’ve been thinking about this question a lot recently. I know reluctant readers, I’ve met them on author visits to schools and some reviewers have said that my story, St Viper’s School for Super Villains, is a good book for them. But what actually makes a good book for a reluctant reader? Is there a list of gold star stories which will help them to find a love of reading and what advice is available for parents who are struggling with this issue? I’ve been talking to teachers, librarians and parents about the topic and reviewing the literature. One person who has some really interesting views on the subject is James Roberts-Wray, a Year 4 teacher who is passionate about children’s literature. I’m delighted to be able to share with you our first guest blog, by James, on Encouraging Reluctant Readers:

James Robert-Wray blogHave you ever entered a competition where you had to complete a sentence as a tiebreaker? Have you ever won? I have – twice. I’ve been given a portable stereo, as well as a holiday for two in the Algarve.

The story of how I won the holiday is for another time, but the stereo was won after considering quite carefully the subject of this post, namely how to encourage children to adopt a reading habit. The competition was run by the Puffin Book Club and, though I don’t recall the exact words of my winning entry, I do remember the gist of it.

It seemed to me that the Puffin Book Club succeeded by creating a community of readers, a club which anyone might join. The feeling of belonging, with reading as a shared endeavour, was its most important feature. This may seem like stating the obvious, but I think too often reading is viewed as a solitary process, something done alone in a quiet corner.

Think for a moment of adult reading behaviour. We may spend happy hours reading alone, but we also talk to friends about what they are reading, we seek out recommendations at our local bookshop, read reviews online, attend author events, or even join a book group. Why should this be different for children? Indeed if we are to encourage reading for enjoyment as a lifelong interest, then we should be modelling this with children.

As a teacher of primary aged children I try to promote this sharing of books as much as I can. Books often go in ‘crazes’ within my class, as pupils see their peers enjoying particular books. They want to join the party, and share what their friend is so enthusiastic about. This works particularly well with series of books. Try a child with ‘Stormbreaker’ and before you know it half the class are reading their way through the Alex Rider series. Give a reluctant reader ‘The Bad Beginning’ and, if they enjoy it, 13 books later they have read the whole Series of Unfortunate Events and more importantly, have become enthusiastic rather than reluctant readers. Children like reading series, because by doing so they sidestep that awful question, what shall I read next?

Of course, using peer pressure to encourage children to read is easier for a teacher to engineer at school than a parent in the home environment. But sharing a book with your child helps, as does modelling good reading behaviour by keeping up your own reading habit. If a child does not see you reading, what conclusion will they draw about the value of reading? Visit bookshops and libraries with your child. Do not assume that the books you read as a child will be of interest. Make proper non-computer, non-television space for reading. Use the five finger test. Put a finger on any word your child does not know. If you have reached the bottom of the page and have run out of fingers, the book is too difficult – change it.

Watching a reluctant reader turning on to the pleasures of reading is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. It’s not something I judge from reading test scores or English exams. It is the child sat down reading before school starts – unasked – transported by their book to another place and time.

James Roberts-Wray

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Fantastic Fiction for 7 – 9 Year Old Boys

I’ve been on a mission to find fantastic books for 7 – 9 year old boys that they’ll love. When my son was between seven and eight he was an advanced reader. He started to find books like Horrid Henry, Astrosaurs and Jeremy Strong’s stories too easy, but he was put off by the length of books for older children. For many of his friends Michael Morpurgo’s books bridged the gap, but Chris found them a bit sad, and I must admit I avoided another firm favourite with his peer group: BeastQuest.

Why are there so many formulaic, team written books for new readers? I can only guess it’s that children find comfort in continuing with a series they know they can read. I have mixed feelings about some of them (not all!). If children find a love of reading through these books – and many have – I’m all for that, but during my research I’ve had parents, booksellers and teachers flinch at the name of particular titles and yet those books command so much shelf space. Can’t we do better for children? Parents must vote with their wallets.

With a bit of searching we did find some stories for my son and I also wrote St Viper’s School for Super Villains for more able readers like him (see reviews of my book.) Since writing an article in a local magazine about how St Viper’s came about, I’ve had parents email and tell me face-to-face that there are not enough good books for 7 – 8 year old boys in particular, whatever their reading level. Now my son is a year older there does seem to be a lot more choice. Having raised this issue on a books forum and spoken to children’s writers, teachers, parents and booksellers, I feel there are good books for this readership, but they are not always easy to spot in the sea of big brands. And for more able readers it often means finding age-appropriate books aimed at older children.

So, I thought it would be helpful to come up with a list of great books for 7- 9 year old boys. I’ve asked for recommendations, scoured forums and read every book suggested to me. Writing for this readership is difficult to do well. The author needs to be able to see the world through the eyes of a boy this age, write according to the child’s reading ability with easy-to-read text and short chapters and make the book exciting.

Here are my top choices, which tick all the boxes. I’ve roughly ordered them in terms of reading ability starting with books to build confidence:

Flat Stanley. Series Written by Jeff Brown.

Poor Stanley Lampchop is squashed flat when a board falls on top of him, but being the happiest of children he takes it all in his stride and makes the most of his new shape: being posted in an envelope, flown as a kite and used as a painting in a museum. Timeless classic. Great for children building confidence with reading.

 You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum! Series Written by Andy Stanton.

Mr Gum is a nasty old man who hates children, animals, fun and corn on the cob. His house is a pigsty, filled with junk and pizza boxes, but he has an amazing garden. This is not due to Mr Gum being a Chelsea-award-winning garden designer but is because an angry fairy whacks him with a frying pan if he fails to keep his garden super tidy. But a dog called Jake starts to dig up the garden on a regular basis and Mr Gum is punished by the fairy. He decides to get rid of the dog once and for all. Mad as a box of frogs. Laugh out loud funny.

Hooey Higgins and the Shark. Series written by Steve Voake.

Hooey and Twig are desperate to raise sixty five pounds to buy a gigantic chocolate egg. A shark has been seen in the waters of Shrimpton-on-Sea and they are convinced that people would pay a lot of money to see it. With the help of their friend, Will, they come up with a cunning plan, which involves a bottle of tomato ketchup, a cricket bat and a duvet, to capture the shark and charge fifty pence for a look at it in their bath. The boys’ plan doesn’t come off, but they do find the world’s biggest sea urchin, which turns out to be a Second World War mine. Great fun. Illustrations on most pages.

Welcome to Silver Street Farm. Series written by Nicola Davies.

Meera, Gemma and Karl have wanted to set up a city farm since the first day of infant school when they played with a headless sheep, some painted pink chickens and two cows with missing legs. The chance to make their dream a reality comes when an old railway station is closed down, which the children think is a perfect venue for their farm. But the council have other plans for the station and want to turn it into a car park. In the meantime, the children start being donated animals and have nowhere to keep them, but they are not going to give up on their dream easily. With determination, help from a friendly policeman and some singing supporters they win the day.  A feel-good story.

The Roman Mystery Scrolls. Series written by Caroline Lawrence.

This is a new series set in ancient Rome. It is written by the well-respected author of The Roman Mysteries. In the Poisoned Honey Cake, Threptus, a soothsayer’s apprentice hasn’t eaten for two days as his mentor, Floridius, has gambled all his money away on chariot race. To make matters worse, Floridius is afraid he’s lost his talent for seeing the future, which means they’ll have no money to buy food. Threptus offers to try and find out some information that his mentor can use to convince people he still has the gift. But while he’s sneaking around, weak with hunger, he spots a honey cake left on an altar for a god. He seizes the cake and eats it, but soon finds out it is poisoned.  Rich in historical detail.

Roald Dahl books.

There are some scrumptious Roald Dahl stories, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG, but for boys beginning to read chapter books it is probably best to start with The Twits, George’s Marvellous Medicine and The Fantastic Mr Fox as they are shorter stories. The Fantastic Mr Fox is one of my favourite children’s books. Boggis, Bunce and Bean are wealthy and mean farmers who don’t take kindly to Mr Fox helping himself to a plump chicken, a goose or a nice turkey for supper. The farmers take action: guns fire, Mr Fox loses his tail and his young family are trapped in their hole. But Mr Fox is not called “fantastic” for nothing and he has a cunning plan. Fabulous fun.

Far-Flung Adventures. Fergus Crane.  Series written by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. Winner of the Smarties gold award in 2004.

An inventive story with lots of imaginative mechanical gadgets and off-the-wall characters: a long lost uncle who grows macadacchio nuts with the help of a team of penguins and blood thirsty pirates who pretend to be school teachers in order to get the pupils to do their dangerous work for them. The pirates are seeking fire diamonds, which are only to be found deep inside a live volcano on Fire Isle and accessible only to the most agile explorer.  The children are disposable as far as the pirates are concerned and once they’ve got their bucket of diamonds they’re sailing off into the sunset without them. Fergus, the young hero of this story, not only has to find his missing father but rescue the children as well on a mechanical winged horse. Fuel for the imagination. Gadgets galore. Quirky illustrations.

King of the Cloud Forests.  Written by Michael Morpurgo.

Parents and booksellers recommended Michael Morpurgo’s books in general. King of the Cloud Forests is about a boy called Ashley who has to travel across the Himalayas with his Uncle Sung when Japan invades China. The journey is perilous. Uncle Sung disguises Ashley as a Tibetan and tells him not to speak to anyone, as he is at risk of being murdered for being a white foreigner and the son of a missionary. Ashley almost dies of infection, starvation and the cold and is hunted by wolves. Then, if his situation couldn’t get any worse, he is split up from his uncle. However help arrives from a community of yetis, who treat him as the King of the Cloud Forests. Michael Morpurgo is described as ‘The master storyteller’ and this book will not disappoint readers. It is suitable for able readers, who are ready for more challenging stories. The book is not illustrated. Thought provoking adventure.

How to Train Your Dragon. Written by Cressida Cowell.

To become a member of the Hairy Hooligan Tribe, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third and the other young Vikings must pass a gruelling initiation test.  There is a lot of pressure on Hiccup as not only is he the hope and heir of the tribe, but he’s also a bit weedy and not very brave. Even his dragon is the smallest and scrawniest of the bunch. But Hiccup has a special skill — he can speak Dragonese — and when the Viking community are threatened with being gobbled by the Sea Dragonus Maximus he becomes an unlikely hero. The How to Train Your Dragon series is great for boys moving towards longer books for older children. Seriously good fun.

Gangsta Granny. Written by David Walliams.

Every Friday night, Ben goes to stay at his boring Granny’s house where he plays Scrabble and eats cabbage soup. He hates being there and his granny knows he feels this way, so she pretends to be an international jewel thief to stop him seeing her as a dull old woman.  They begin to have fun together again like they used to when he was younger. Gran cherishes the extra time she gets to spend with her grandson and Ben realises that she’s really rather lovely after all. But they get carried away and end up in the Tower of London trying to steal the Crown Jewels.

Like the How to Train Your Dragon series, this is a good book for boys moving to the next reading level. Funny and touching.

St Viper’s School for Super Villains.

If you are not familiar with my series, you can read about it on this website or by clicking on the link  to visit Amazon. Here you will find more reader reviews. Thank you!’s%20School%20for%20Super%20Villains

See also this blog: Super Books for Boys.

I’ve also set up a pinterest collection of brilliant books for boys. I’ll keep updating it. Here’s the link.

Thanks for reading my blog!


Kim Donovan


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