Tag Archives: good books for reluctant readers

Hogwarts’ owl seen slipping inside St Vipers School for Super Villains


It looks like a Hogwarts’ owl is trying to slip inside St Vipers School for Super Villains. I wonder why? Here’s my series, rubbing shoulders with Harry Potter, in the window of Topping & Company Booksellers of Bath yesterday.

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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!

Kim Donovan


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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!http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=St%20Viper’s%20School%20for%20Super%20Villains

See also this blog: Super Books for Boys.http://kimdonovanauthor.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/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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World Domination Starts At Waterstone’s

St Viper’s School for Super Villains may not have taken over the world just yet, but it’s starting to gain followers. For the last couple of weeks, since its wild and noisy book launch, I’ve been visiting schools to tell young super villains about the book (see photos). I have an eight-year-old evil genius myself and our house is always full of kids, so I thought the school visits would be easy. That was until I found out that most of the year groups have about sixty pupils! But I had no need to sweat. The children got into the spirit of St Viper’s, demonstrating their evil laughs and telling me what super powers they would wish for themselves. In some of the schools I ran workshops on developing super villain and super hero characters. Interestingly, very few children chose to create super heroes.

They must have had fun because thankfully a good number turned up at my Waterstone’s event on Saturday 7th July. I was relieved to see them. I had been dreading being one of those unknown authors I’d seen in the store sitting uncomfortably behind a table, twiddling their thumbs, hoping someone will come up and ask for directions to the toilet.

To try to avoid this horrible situation, I planned craft activities: super villain eye-masks to colour and ‘Who’s Super?’ trading cards to make. Mini Boy, Rock Man, Smash Mash, Fang Face and Death Doom were some of the super-powered characters the children created. They gave their characters scores for power, speed, attack, defence and intelligence and were soon setting up their own games against each other on the carpet. One young boy arrived dressed up as The Hulk. The children also made their own entertainment: masked super heroes and super villains fought each other with fireballs and lightning from behind the bookshelves. The lovely Waterstone’s staff (Kat and John) took it all in their stride and everyone had a fun time. My other big worry – having to sell my book to people and failing – didn’t materialise. I was so busy attaching elastic string to eye-masks, discussing the scores of children’s trading cards and signing copies that the book ended up selling itself. I’m sure some parents probably thought I was a children’s entertainer brought into the shop to do crafts with the boys and girls on a wet and windy day, but Waterstone’s still said St Viper’s sold really well and commented on how the event had created a warm atmosphere throughout the whole shop.

The following day I visited the bookshop to pick up my art box. As I walked past a parked car I saw a girl on the back seat playing with the St Viper’s trading cards. My heart leapt with joy. World Domination starts at Waterstones!

Kim Donovan

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