Debbie Young reviews a selection of excellent books to keep your children entertained over the summer
We’re nearly there now, the summer beckons! Whether you’re planning to holiday at home or abroad, now’s the time to plan your children’s summer reading so you have some great books lined up, ready to pack. Not only are books a cheap and easy way to keep children occupied while they’re off school, summer reading also makes it easier for them to slip back into term-time habits at the start of the new school year.
If you think reading is the last thing your kids will want to do this summer, think again. Let them choose their own books, either at the local public library or at your local high street bookshop. Children find it hard to get excited about books online. The tactile experience of exploring the treasure trove of a shop or library feels much more like a treat to them.
Give them free choice, and I mean free choice. Don’t coerce them into reading what you enjoyed reading at their age, or what ties in with their latest school topic or English project. I learned long ago, when I worked at the children’s reading charity Readathon that reading anything is much better for them than reading nothing. So although I still have to bite my tongue about my daughter’s choice of books, I’m happy so long as she’s reading anything avidly rather than finding excuses not to read something I’ve picked on her behalf.
Despite having shelves stuffed with unread books she’d been given for Christmas and birthdays, she decided during the Easter holidays that she wanted to read for the third time her favourite Tales of the Five Kingdoms series by Vivian French for the third time, followed by Harry Potter. By the end of the fortnight she had devoured seven books. Only a churlish parent could complain about that.
Even so, it’s fun when child picks at least some holiday reading to match your planned destination; something I always enjoy doing to match my travels. On the basis that most families will spend some time on a beach over the summer, even if only for a day trip, here are a few enjoyable books with a seaside or maritime theme.
Friendship by the sea
First of all, Axel Scheffler’s sweet picture book series about best friends Pip and Posy has a new addition: Pip and Posy: The New Friend (Nosy Crow). On a trip to the seaside, the wide-eyed bunny and mouse learn an important lesson about how to play nicely with a third character they meet on the beach. An important social lesson for this age group is delivered gently and memorably via Scheffler’s characteristically bright, witty drawings. (You’ll recognise his style from his Gruffalo illustrations). Toddlers and parents alike will enjoy spotting the details of the classic British seaside holiday in Scheffler’s well-observed illustrations, anticipating or reliving their own outings through its pages.
Young readers who loved last winter’s hugely popular Pugs of the Frozen North (Oxford University Press) by Philip Reeve should enjoy the first in debut author Laura James’ new series, Captain Pug: The Dog Who Sailed the Seas (Bloomsbury). Her new canine creation panders to the current craze for pugs. Although real-life pugs leave me cold, and although I’m of the generation that will automatically add the word ‘wash’ to turn ‘Captain Pug’, as in the vintage children’s television series, even I can see the appeal of pugs when portrayed by the witty pens of Sarah McIntyre for Philip Reeve’s book and Eglantine Ceulamans for Laura James’.
Seaborne mystery for older children
Older children will be drawn in by Lu Hersey’s award-winning novel Deep Water (Usborne), set in Cornwall. It’s inspired by the myth of selkies: people who morph into seals in the sea (or vice versa, depending on your point of view). The author describes this book as ‘kitchen-sink paranormal’, because, while embracing an eerie transformation akin to that of vampires (only a lot more wholesome, in my view), the story is driven by a domestic drama, affecting a teenage girl of divorced parents who is about to fall in love for the first time.
The narrative also does a great job of summoning up a sense of place, history, tradition and present society in a small Cornish village. Lots of bases are covered for a cracking read, with a cover endorsement from former children’s laureate, Malorie Blackman. It’s also sufficiently pacy and sophisticated enough to appeal to adult readers. I lapped it up, and it made me want to head straight to Cornwall.
For staycations on dry land
If you’re not planning on sticking to a staycation, this new book will help you plan wholesome outings: A Summer of British Wildlife (Bradt Travel Guides). Author James Lowen suggests a day out for every day of the summer in places dotted about the country. Each one is timed to help you spot a seasonal item of flora or fauna. Written by someone whose passion for nature began at the tender age of three, this book’s agenda should appeal to all ages.
Interestingly, Lowen suggests that there are 100 days of summer, now there’s a cheering thought. Helpfully, he lists his suggested destinations in ideal date order to maximise your chance of success at finding what you’re looking for. He has also set a hashtag running on Twitter so that you can share your personal 100-day celebration with other families following his book’s agenda (#100dayswild). For children who are less keen on the idea of nature-spotting, just tell them it’s a real-life version of Where’s Wally?
Let’s just hope the weather obliges, and we don’t spend those 100 days searching for the sun.
As well as welcoming 100 days of summer, Debbie Young celebrates 9,000 plus days of living in the countryside in her new collection of essays, All Part of the Charm (Hawkesbury Press), written to celebrate her 25th anniversary of moving to the Cotswolds. Visit authordebbieyoung.com to find out more and follow her on Twitter @DebbieYoungBN