Our local library is stuffed full of great children’s books - literature has really come on a lot since The Famous Five.

We’ve noticed some books are particularly suited to being read out at bedtime, whilst for others it makes no real difference who does the reading or when they are read.

With some, the writing allows the grown up to unleash their inner thespian, perhaps emoting like crazy or putting on an accent, but definitely adding something to the mix. With others, the story might have been a touch too full on for the younger audience, but with the grown up present it provides a buffer, and an explanation on tap for certain difficult questions.

From personal experience, the biggest surprise was how I, as the narrator, got more out of some of the books which I had read for myself many years ago. In particular, the bedtime reading of Ender’s Game, which I had enjoyed hugely first time round, stumbled to a halt for a while as I reached the ending, struggling to hold back the tears.

For our younger audience, the best bedtime story so far by far has been How To Train Your Dragon, and for the elder audience, Ender’s Game.

… and not a cucumber sandwich in sight.

  • How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell.

Whilst the film was nice, the book is fantastic. It is part of a series of 9 (so far), and the audience has been gripped throughout. An early decision we made right back when starting to read out the first book was to use a welsh accent for the dragons, inspired by Idris the dragon from the TV series Ivor the Engine. As the narrator, using the welsh accent you can rrreally let rrrip on the drrragons’ words, all the way from the whining, babyish voices to the big, scary, deeper, older voices. Tested on a 7yo.

  • Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville.

Not too long. Touches all the childhood themes. And has a dragon in it. What’s not to like? The book builds up to a emotional climax that left the audience in tears. Great stuff. (wikipedia). Tested on a 7yo.

  • The Little Grey Men by BB

Quite an old book with 2nd world war England in the far background, there’s lots going on. Really atmospheric descriptions of the wildlife and the rhythms and the mysticisms of the countryside. Nature red in tooth and claw. And ancient/sprightly gnomes, toy boats, stoats, weirs, talking owls and squirrels. Occasional duff notes, but the audience did not notice. Tested on a 8yo.

  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

A really good, award-winning scifi book for grown ups. The lead character is a young boy (9yo?) thrust into a serious, grown up situation. This is not simply a Boy’s Own Adventure story. Yes, there are aliens, lasers, weightless combat skills, and a big show down, but also sadistic fraternal bullying, death, the ends justify the means, politics, loneliness, sacrifice, and guilt. With a grown up riding escort on the story, i.e. reading it out loud, perhaps filtering out certain fruity phrases, we both found this an exciting and hugely affecting novel. Tested on a 11yo and 8yo.

  • Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

Steam-punk airships, pirates, flying monkeys, storms, lowly-cabin-boy-has-to-save-the-world, feisty-female-friend-of-cabin-boy. This book has got the lot. Tested on a 9yo.

  • The Dragons of Ordinary Farm by Tad Williams

Very matter of fact. There’s a farm. Turns out it has dragons. Whatever. Interesting slant on what was a big theme-of-the-year (i.e. dragons). Tested on a 9yo.

  • Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

A full-on fantastical world. Very steampunk. Cities rove about, hunting for recources. The books were hoovered up the second they were published. Tested on a 9yo and a 12yo.