It’s proven that reading to your children is beneficial for them, whatever their age. When looking for books in English it’s important to think about the age, level and interests of our families when deciding on a reading list.
Here we give some recommendations from KidsinMadrid.com and www.lahoradelcuento.com that will help you find the perfect books for your family.
Reading for 0-3 years old
I am a big fan of Walker Books paperback + DVD series of children’s stories. These picture books come with a short DVD film which uses the same illustrations as the book and narrates the story in perfect harmony with the book. Many Spanish parents tell me how their children as young as 14 months “read” their favourite book from this series by mimicking the voice and intonation of the actor or actress on the DVD.
Two titles which are particularly good for toddling language learners are: “Hooray for Fish” and “Handa’s Surprise”.
Hooray for Fish
“Little Fish” introduces the young reader to all her friends as they go for a swim through her neighbourhood. But who is she really looking for? Her Mum of course! The illustrations are striking in their beauty and wisdom. Children find infinite things to talk about on each page, thus stimulating conversation in English. The vocabulary used in this tale is simple. What’s more, children (and their parents) never tire of the film either.
In this story set in Africa, we follow Handa on her journey to visit her friend Akeyo in the next village to hers. She takes a basket of seven different fruits which she carries on her head. As she walks between the two villages she is blissfully unaware of the fact that several animals have pilfered the fruit from the basket she is carrying. She wonders to herself which of the fruits Akeyo would like the most but it turns out the answer is quite unexpected! Children love this tale because they identify with Handa but also with the cheeky animals. This book is wonderful for talking about animals, fruit, colours and surprises.
Julia Donaldson’s collection of children’s stories
In the past few years, the UK has seen Julia Donaldson become one of the best-loved children’s authors. Her range of children’s stories include The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom and Stick Man, and has seen untold success due to the BBC creating animated films and using them as a feature of family-friendly Christmas TV in the UK. The vocabulary can be tricky for young ones but the stories and characters are so captivating and entertaining that your child will be absolutely obsessed before long!
The great thing about these stories is that they are books, audiobooks and also films, so you will be able to get them into the story with the film and incite their interest in reading the book.
Reading for 4-7 years old
I have several suggestions for this age group. The first two come with extra support which will help young language learners (and their parents) with pronunciation; the third book is a beautiful and simple picture book which I have had much success with since it was published early last year.
This modern classic is available in many different formats but the one I recommend above all is the paperback version with a DVD. The title “We’re going on a bear hunt” may seem scary, but in fact, this story is a fun adventure tale in which the family gets caught up in a storm, wade through mud, cross a river and enter a dark cave, all in search of a bear. The story is full of onomatopoeias that make reading this tale an ease. The DVD narration is sung and within four of five viewings, most children find themselves singing along too! www.jointhebearhunt.com
First English with Supercat
This book from “b small” publishing house is the best I’ve found for language learners of this age. It includes a CD, a poster, playing cards and stickers. The idea is to learn English at home through play, crafts and songs. The book aims to help non-native English speaking parents try their hand at teaching English to their children. The CD is very helpful as has careful explanations of the activities as well as clear pronunciation to help with vocabulary. After every song, there is a karaoke version of the same music so that families can try singing along themselves, without the help of the singer.
Oh, No George!
This book is ideal for young readers who are taking their first reading steps in English. “Oh No George!” is a fun story about a pet dog that gets up to mischief whilst his owner is out of the house. The striking illustrations and simple vocabulary make this book easy to understand. The scene where the dog offers his favourite toy to his owner as a sign of repentance for the mess he has made is very funny and will surely ring true to all readers, big or small.
Reading for 8-12 years old
At this age children have started to define their reading likes and preferences. This is when reading habits are built when children start taking their own decisions when slowly a favourite subject or subjects emerge. Here are a few titles to choose from:
Dress up One Direction
One fun way of practising English is finding books or magazines about the child’s favourite pop group or singer. For example, Buster Books have just published a sticker book aimed at children of this age range featuring the popular boy band “One Direction”. Each page has a scene from the boys’ professional life and some simple explanatory text. The reader then uses the stickers to dress the boys for the occasion. Despite the fact the book is in English, this title is already proving a hit among Spanish fans of this boy band.
The Terrible Tales of the Teenytinysaurs! (Gary Northfield)
Katharine Cannings, who does reading workshops in Castilla La Mancha and Madrid, highly recommends this book for novice readers. She describes the book as being “hilarious and disgusting in equal measure, this comic strip collection of stories will delight young readers. The simple language and subject matter
– dinosaurs, space travel, bodily function jokes – make the Teenytinysaurs an essential and entertaining read”
All Join In Story Plays
For those who want to share the experience of reading in English with their 8-12-year-old children, Walker Books have published a series of “All Join In Story Plays” – a truly inspired collection which, in turn, inspires readers of all ages. These illustrated tales divide the narrative into four parts which are to be read out loud in turn. The most confident readers (or the teacher/parent) read the most difficult text whilst the others try their hand at other parts. Children love discovering that they are better than their parents at reading the harder lines!
Stink –The Incredible Shrinking Kid
Another way to encourage youngsters to read in a second language is to buy graphic novels which mix text with illustrations, such as Geronimo Stilton or Diary of a Wimpy Kid (“Diario de Greg” in Spanish). Maybe your children will be willing to re-read one of the Geronimo Stilton titles this summer – in English this time! If you want them to read something different, there is a wonderful series of graphic novels for this age group featuring Stink The Incredible Shrinking Kid. His older sister Judy Moody is a teenage detective and has her own series of novels too which are suitable for children of this age group who are confident readers.
Reading for 12-15 years olds
There is a wide range of juvenile literature for children this age covering all sorts of genres: magic, science fiction, vampires, mystery, historical novels etc. One book which doesn’t fit into any of these genres and which I enjoyed reading very much was “How to be invisible” by Tim Lott. This new title, due to be published on the 6th of June 2013, is beyond comparison quite simply because it is unique. For a synopsis read Sophie Scribe’s piece in the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/childrens-books-site/2013/may/14/review-how-to-be-invisible-tim-lott
To which I can only add that this remarkable book ticks all the boxes that I look for when recommending English language reading books to 12-15-year-old Spanish children – the language is easy enough for them to understand, the content is suitable for their age and furthermore this book comes with the added bonus that most of the unusual vocabulary is kindly explained to readers by thoughtful Strato Nyman, narrator and main character in this story.
Finally… Reading for you too!
How many of you have read the Harry Potter series in Spanish or English? You really don’t know what you are missing. My personal recommendation for any adult looking for books to read in English would be to invest time in reading this marvellous series. Furthermore, you could even try exchanging them with your children or reading them together as a family.
There are two other titles that I would like to mention as summer reading for adults, quite simply because they are too good to be read solely by young adults. The first is “Monkey Wars” by Richard Kurti, a truly remarkable allegorical tale which sheds light on the difficulties of decision making in times of political unrest and war. This book will no doubt become recommended reading for teenagers, alongside George Orwell’s modern classics “Animal Farm” and “1984” or Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22”. However, I can’t recommend this novel highly enough for adult readers, be they English learners or native speakers. I promise it will provide you with much food for thought.
The other title I suggest adults shouldn’t miss out on is “A Monster Calls” by Patrick Ness. This unforgettable, heartbreaking and moving novel follows young teenager Conor’s difficulties in coming to terms with his mother’s terminal illness. Despite the foretold tragedy which underpins the novel, the author’s talent and skill allow the reader to reach beyond the melancholy to find joy in Conor’s success at surviving as well as peace with the inevitable outcome. It is a testimony to the strength of this novel that I find it difficult to write about this novel without being touched once more by its emotional impact despite having first read it many months ago.
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