Kid's Book Recommendations

Untitled2 copy Who doesn’t like Dr Seuss? Who doesn’t owe at least a little bit of their childhood to his wonderful books? Parents love reading them, kids love reading them and the world is always a better, more interesting place after reading one.  While The Cat in the Hat, like the Cat himself, takes a lot of the limelight, there is a whole treasure chest of lesser-known but no less-loved Dr Seuss favourites.

One of mine is I Wish That I Had Duck Feet, a story about accepting, enjoying, yourself exactly as you are. Who wouldn’t occasionally wish they had something a little more exotic than ordinary human stuff? Perhaps antlers for hanging caps on, duck feet for splashing in water, an animal tail so long you could jump rope with it or even a whale spout on your head? The things you could do!

I wish I had a whale spout.

A whale spout on my head!

When days get hot

It would be good

To spout my spout in school.

And then Miss Banks

738346would say “Thanks! Thanks!

You keep our school so cool.

(I still remember, as a child, being read the story and when Dad came to  reading those lines ‘Thanks! Thanks! You keep our school so cool’, my brother and sister and I would all join in, shouting the line.)

But our hero discovers all of his wished-for additions have some draw-back and often ones that attract the unwanted attention of the local bully Big Bill Brown.  So, after a typically Seussian climax that I won’t give away, our hero decides that he will be himself.

And that is why

I think that I

just wish to be like ME.

What’s not to love? Discover or re-discover it today. What’s your favourite Dr Seuss?


shutterstock_3125011Not all kids love reading, some are actively against it (I have one of each) but we all need to read to be able to do other stuff (like learn, fill out forms) as well as disappear into the wonderful world of a story. While there are girls out there who would also rather not read, it is a much bigger problem for our boys and we need to be inventive, even sneaky about how to entice them into reading.

For most of my publishing (and mothering) career, I’ve been looking at ways to engage boys in books and one of my biggest lessons has been to just start them reading anything. Comics, the backs of cereal boxes, footy cards – they’re all putting one word next to another. Just as the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, so too might the road to War and Peace start with a less ‘booky’, or what I’m calling ‘black ops’ book.  What makes a ‘black ops’ book? Lots of cool pictures, quick grabs rather than long paragraphs and, ideally funny, weird, technical or gross stuff, ideally a combination of all. Above all, it’s a book they don’ t think is a ‘real’ book.

Here are some to start a list – help me add to it!

  • Guinness World Records – filled with stats, facts and more gross-outs than is probably a good idea, this gets boys reading without them know it, motivated by the understandable need to know just how heavy the world’s largest meatball is (530.71 Kg), the fastest time to sort 30 jelly babies with chopsticks (40 seconds) and the most slam dunks by aparrot in one minute (22). And there’s a new one every year!

  • The Encyclopedia of Immaturity – Subtitled ‘How to Never Grow Up’ and including such invaluable topics such as ‘How to Stick a Pencil in Your Ear’ and the companion piece, ‘How to take it back out of your nose’, this book is laugh-out loud funny and informative.  How to skip stones, how to fake sneeze, how to look like you are carrying your head in your hands and another 295 equally essential and illustrated topics will get kids turning the pages.

  • The Lego Book – The only time I don’t like LEGO is when I am stepping on a brick. The rest of the time I love their cleverness – and the cleverness it inspire in kids. Who doesn’t have photo of their child standing, beaming with pride, with their LEGO creation? And if your boy would rather be building than reading, here’s the ultimate compromise. Jam-packed with photos of amazing models, facts and trivia, this book has everything anyone ever wanted to know about LEGO and then some.
  • And if you want the ultimate boys’ favourites mash-up book, there’s LEGO Star Wars Visual Dictionary!






Can you be a princess and a good feminist? Does the big dress and tiara get in the way of getting things real, non-self-preening things done? I think so. Lots of little girls love dressing up as a princess or fairy and you wouldn’t them to stop – but perhaps just gently remind that princesses do stuff too. Indeed one of my favourite pictures of my daughter when she was around 3 years old was of her dressed up as a fairy princess with full tiara and tutu – plus gumboots as she rode purposefully in her toy car.

Modern princesses do stuff and know their own minds – and certainly don’t need rescuing by a prince. In fact, they just might be the ones doing the rescuing. I think that’s the message. And here are three of my favourite picture books that help re-style our and our daughters’ princess perceptions.

  • The Paper Bag Princess – Robert N Munsch and Michael Martchenko
    First published in 1981 and hard to find here but this is a classic re-imagining of how a princess should behave – and how a prince definitely shouldn’t!
  • The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas – Scholastic Australia
    The clever words of Tony Wilson and quirky illustrations of Sue de Gennaro have created a wonderful re-telling of the fairytale, The Princess and the Pea. What’s is a real princess? This story will show you.
  • Princess Smartypants -Babette Cole -Puffin
    A classic picture book from the wonderful Babette Cole. Princess Smartypants is a modern girl shunning potential princely suitors and following her heart. She doesn’t want to get married: ‘She enjoyed being a Ms’ but lots of chaps wanted her to be their Mrs. A fun, full-throttle feminist (and I mean that only ever in a good way) princess story. I don’t think she’s a smartypants though, just a princess who knows her mind.

The paper bag princess

The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas

Princess Smartypants


Books For Ou rGirl HeroesThere’s a lot of discussion about gender stereotypes in kids’ books at the moment and I think it’s true to say that younger fiction, particularly series fiction, does tend to divide along pink and blue lines. Here, on the whole, boys rush around battling baddies and beasts and generally saving the world while the girls gently stroke puppies and tame unicorns and naughty goblins or sing their way to adolescent celebrity. The boys are preventing the imminent destruction of the world while the girls are dealing with heady issues of lost teeth and mushrooms.

Many publishers, myself included, have contributed to this imbalance, stressing the importance of getting kids reading, to get them loving reading and everything it offers. We need to make books that kids will want to pick up rather than ones they grudgingly drag from their school bag because they have to. We need to have covers that will appeal to them rather than their middle-aged parents but perhaps we need some balance.

As with life, so with reading and one should have a little of everything – a few puppies, the odd prince or princess, a lunchtime friend crisis – and maybe a little adventure and world-saving. And I’m talking about both boys and girls.

There should be books that reflect all their moods and dreams and indeed help form the shape and limits – or lack of limits – of those dreams. Of course I want my daughter to be caring, nurturing and I certainly wouldn’t want her to leave a unicorn stranded but I also want her to be able to kick some butt if she needs to. I don’t want my daughter to want to be brand-touting reality TV celebrity, I don’t even want to her know that it is an option.

I like princesses and unicorns -–they help keep childhood close for a little longer – and Disney princesses are actually all strong women-in-the-making but they have limits. Perhaps tarred by their own tiaras, they are locked in the princess paradigm where rebellion can only go so far. They need alternative role models.

The first step to being able to do anything is to believe you can and to see other people doing it. If you never read of a girl saving the world but constantly read of James, Zac and Alex doing it, you could be excused for thinking that global rescue was one for the boys. But yet it seems that there is something scary about girls taking control and kicking butt.  Too often their assertiveness is portrayed over as bossy or cross and just a little difficult.  Two books I love also have a hint of this: Princess Smartypants might just be Princess Speaks her own Mind; and Olivia the Pig in her excellent opinionated fashion,  might be seen as less as difficult and more strong if she was Oliver.

That’s one of the reasons I wanted to write EJ12 Girl Hero. I wanted an adventure series for girls about girls saving the world and I love the way girls are responding to it. As a young fan ED12 wrote, ‘EJ12 puts the girl in hero. I love her!

And now I want to start a sharing list and a conversation about the great books that are out there showing girls in all their multi-faceted glory. Some from me, some from my daughter, Emma, 13, and I hope, some from others who will add their picks. So let’s make a start and let’s start with the naughty ones because you shouldn’t be good all the time. I don’t like my girls to be perfect – or even polite all the time. Here are some of my favourite misbehavers

  • Pippi Longstocking – The original Swedish book image is for my Swedish husband and it was inspired to put this original can-do girl in the hands of Lauren Child to re-imagine Pippi for a new generation.
  • The Naughtiest Girl in the School – Elizabeth Allen was a personal favourite – she was very naughty and such a ‘hot-head’ but with a heart of gold – and, golly, she did shake the school up. It was almost sad when she became a monitor…
  • Lola and Charlie – I love Lola! I love her defiant determination not to sleep, not to eat vegetables, not to do anything she doesn’t want to. And I love her brother’s cunning in persuading his suspicious sister to do otherwise.

Pippi LongstockingPippi LongstockingPippi Longstocking

The Naughtiest Girl In The SchoolThe Naughtiest Girl In The SchoolThe Naughtiest Girl In The School

Charlie and LolaCharlie and LolaCharlie and Lola