Alison Curtis's top 10 books for children

Her weekly book slot for kids on her weekend breakfast show has a waiting list into 2021. So who better than Alison Curtis to give us a recommended reading list for children?
Alison Curtis's top 10 books for children

Alison Curtis: "Literacy is so important to families."

As many parents can attest, it can be almost impossible to convince some children to read a book, especially outside of school time.

Many hours have been spent trying to wrestle a games console or a tablet from a child’s hands and replace it with a classic children’s novel like The Famous Five or Matilda, books their parents adored when growing up. Radio presenter and Irish Examiner columnist Alison Curtis notes that both she and her daughter, Joan, were slow to become hooked on books as kids, but in the end, it was a particular style of book that drew them deeper into the world of reading.

As a result, Alison enjoys hearing from the kids themselves about the books they’re loving, not the books they’re told to love. Alison has a popular segment on her Today FM show which promotes reading among children. Kids are asked to read their favourite stories aloud and explain what they enjoyed about them most. The Little Readers’ Book Club began five years ago on Saturday Breakfast with Alison Curtis, and it’s something she didn’t expect to be so popular to this day — the list of children who will be on the show stretches into next year.

“Literacy is so important to families. We started the Little Readers’ Book Club on the show in July 2015 to get kids themselves on the air talking about books and reading. We thought it would run for maybe a few weeks,” Alison says.

“Our current waiting list of kids for the slot is full until January 2021. It’s a nice concept: kids pick a few of the books they like and they read part of their favourite one on air.”

Clearly passionate about reading, Canadian-born Alison surprises me by saying she was a latecomer to books and, like so many others, fell out of the habit again in her adult years.

“I think I was older when I started reading, I wasn’t one who picked up a book at age four. I was probably around nine when I started finding books I liked. 

"I read a lot of books when I was in high school and in college but for some reason, I stopped after that, when I started working in radio. I was online a lot, reading loads on websites and social media. I think that stopped me from picking up a book to read as well.”

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Alison says her own daughter, Joan, wasn’t born a bookworm. Instead, she is more artistically inclined but has found some stories that captured her imagination and she loves when her mother reads to her, which is a cherished experience for Alison.

“Joan wasn’t drawn to books at a young age either. Like me, she was about nine when she started reading herself. The Tom Gates series was, in a way, her gateway into reading. It was the first one that really captured her imagination. She’s not a big reader, she’s more artistic and into things like engineering, but she loves when I read to her.”

Alison says she tried to read more with Joan when they were spending more time together at home during lockdown and they made an extra effort to share the books they were enjoying with parents and children on social media, knowing there were families looking for stories to enjoy together at that particular time.

“I read a lot more in lockdown and often with Joan. For all of April, every Tuesday and Thursday Joan and I would read on Instagram Live for 40 minutes at a time,” Alison says.

“It was really popular! Parents told me they’d open the video and their children would sit and listen the whole time while their parents cooked or worked. Loads of kids really enjoyed it.”

When it comes to her own bookshelves, Alison notices a distinct pattern: fiction, particularly that written by Irish women.

“I read a lot of kids’ books’ myself and when it comes to adult books I’m drawn more to fiction than non-fiction,” Alison says.

“We have a lot of history books and biographies in the house (I studied History in college) but I much prefer fiction, especially Irish fiction and if it’s written by a woman then even better. I loved all of the Oh My God, What A Complete Aisling books. I love Sally Rooney, I’ve read Conversations With Friends and Normal People. I’ve just started Louise O’Neill’s new book [ After the Silence]. I’m only a few pages in and it’s already amazing. Patrick Freyne’s new book [ OK, Let’s Do Your Stupid Idea] is great, I read that a few weeks ago.”

When it comes to the books she reads with Joan, Alison says they particularly liked Isadora Moon Gets in Trouble by Harriet Muncaster and they thought the Princess in Black series by Shannon Hales and Dean Hale was great.

Preschool

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson

The witch and her cat are happily flying through the sky on a broomstick when the wind picks up and blows away the witch’s hat, then her bow, and then her wand! 

Luckily, three helpful animals find the missing items, and all they want in return is a ride on the broom. But is there room on the broom for so many friends? 

And when disaster strikes, will they be able to save the witch from a hungry dragon?

Grumpy Frog by Ed Vere

Grumpy Frog is not grumpy. He loves green, and he loves to hop, and he loves winning. But what happens when Grumpy Frog doesn’t win, or encounters — horror of horrors — a Pink Rabbit? Join Grumpy Frog as he learns about compromise and tolerance, friendship and the power of saying sorry.

The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson

When a tiny snail meets a humpback whale, the two travel together to far-off lands. It’s a dream come true for the snail, who has never left home before. But when the whale swims too close to shore, will the snail be able to save her new friend?

Ages 5-8

Isadora Moon Gets in Trouble by Harriet Muncaster, from the Isadora Moon series

Isadora wants to take Pink Rabbit to class for “Bring Your Pet to School Day.” But her older cousin Mirabelle has a much better plan–why not take a dragon? What could possibly go wrong. . . ?

The Princess in Black series by Shannon Hales and Dean Hale

Who says princesses don’t wear black? When trouble raises its blue monster head, Princess Magnolia ditches her flouncy dresses and becomes the Princess in Black!

Tom Gates: What Monster? by Liz Pichon

The fifteenth title in the bestselling Tom Gates series of books, What Monster contains monsters, mystery, a music festival, missing stuff… Oh, and also a very strict supply teacher who is every kid’s nightmare.

Ages 8-11

A Girl Called Justice by Elly Griffiths

Missing maids, suspicious teachers and a snow storm to die for... For a fearless girl called Justice Jones, super-smart super-sleuth, it’s just the start of a spine-tingling first term at Highbury House Boarding School for the Daughters of Gentlefolk.

Pizazz by Sophy Henn

The first in a super (like, actually, with powers and stuff) series for readers aged seven-plus. Being a superhero is the best thing ever, right? WRONG! HELLO! My name is Pizazz and I’m a superhero.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

Illustrated by sixty female artists from every corner of the globe, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls introduces us to one hundred remarkable women and their extraordinary lives, from Ada Lovelace to Malala, Amelia Earhart to Michelle Obama. Empowering, moving and inspirational, these are true fairy tales for heroines who definitely don’t need rescuing.

Family reading

Irelandopedia by Fatti and John Burke

It’s an encyclopedic tour around Ireland … it’s an Irelandopedia! 

Get ready to go on an exciting adventure around Ireland. Unleash your imagination and sense of adventure as you discover Ireland like you’ve never seen it before! 

Armchair travellers of any age will be totally absorbed by Fatti Burke’s detailed illustrations and her father John’s fabulous facts, which can be discovered on every page.

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