Tag Archives: children

Children’s Reading List

I’m often asked by parents what books they should try to get their children to read, but I don’t think I’ve been much help so far, so this is my attempt to do better! If you’re still not convinced, there are a number of reading lists on my Useful Links page.

Tastes differ, obviously, so perhaps the best thing I can do is to list all the books that I loved when I was a boy. I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I read them, so you’ll have to use your common sense, but they did at least provide me with happy memories.

Ronald Welch

My favourite series of books when I was a child was the one written by Ronald Welch about the Carey family. He wrote about the men in the family over the course of around 500 years, from 1500 up to the First World War.

Each novel focused on one character in one particular period – rather like Blackadder, and there was a clear formula: whatever the period, he would have to fight a duel, he would do something heroic and he would win the fair lady!

The duels started with a dagger and a sword and then moved on to rapiers and then finally pistols as the years rolled on. I loved the military aspect to the books – as most boys would – and I read just about every single one I could get my hands on.

Unfortunately, they’re almost impossible to find in print nowadays, but it’s always worth a look…

CS Forester

CS Forester wrote the ‘Hornblower’ novels. I was interested in both sailing and military history when I was young, and this sequence of novels about a naval officer called Horatio Hornblower in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars from 1792-1815 was a perfect blend of the two.

Alexander Kent (Douglas Reeman)

Alexander Kent was the pen name of Douglas Reeman, who wrote a series of novels about Richard Bolitho. I first came across him after finishing all the CS Forester novels, and he provided a similar mix of nautical and military history during the same period. They weren’t quite as good as the Hornblower novels, but I still enjoyed them.

Enid Blyton

I didn’t read absolutely all the Enid Blyton books when I was a boy, but the one that I do remember is The Boy Next Door. Among other things, I loved the name of the character (‘Kit’), I loved the bits about climbing trees and I also loved the word ‘grin’, which I never understood but thought was somehow magical!

Roald Dahl

Again, I don’t remember reading all the Roald Dahl novels, but James and the Giant Peach left a big impression. The characters were so interesting, and the idea of escaping from home on an enormous rolling piece of fruit was very exciting to me in those days…!

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I read The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes when I was a boy, and it’s probably still the longest book I’ve ever read. I remember vividly that the edition I read was 1,227 pages long! I listened to the whole thing again recently in a very good audiobook edition read by Stephen Fry, and it was just as good second time around.

I loved the mystery of the stories, and I still read a lot of crime fiction even now. I’ve always had a very analytical mind, so Holmes’s brilliant deductions were always enjoyable to read about.

Charlie Higson

The Young Bond novels weren’t around when I was young, but I read the first few as an adult, and I enjoyed them. James Bond is a classic fictional creation that appeals to boys in particular, and I think I would’ve lapped it up as a teenager. The first one is called Silverfin. Once you’ve read it, you’ll be hooked!

Jane Austen

Jane Austen introduced me to irony with the immortal opening line from Pride and Prejudice, but the first of her novels that I read was actually Emma. I had to read it at school as part of my preparation for the Oxford entrance exam, and I didn’t like it at first.

However, that was just because I didn’t understand what was going on. Once my English teacher Mr Finn had explained that the character of Emma is always wrong about everything, I found it very funny and enjoyable. They say that ‘analysing’ a book can sometimes ruin it, but in this case it was quite the opposite.

Ernest Hemingway

“If Henry James is the poodle of American literature, Ernest Hemingway is the bulldog. What do you think?” I was once asked that question in an interview at the University of East Anglia, and I had no idea how to reply!

As it happens, Hemingway was one of my favourite authors. My interviewer called his style ‘macho’, but that wasn’t the appeal for me. I simply liked the stories and the settings. I particularly loved the bull-fighting scenes in The Sun Also Rises, and there was just a glamour to the characters and the period that I really enjoyed.

If you don’t know where to start, try The Old Man and the Sea. It’s very simple and very short, but very, very moving.

Quiz for Dads


This isn’t a pub quiz – not even close. It’s a quiz for dads who want to work out whether evolution is still heading in the right direction – or has gone into reverse!

Most fathers are proud of their children’s achievements, but it can be rather embarrassing when they turn out better at doing some things than you are. I saw a man playing tennis with his 10-year-old son yesterday, and he lost his opening service game to love.

He didn’t show it, but I’m sure pride was fighting a losing battle against anger and frustration! I don’t have kids (yet), but I’ve taught over 300 of them, and I often think about becoming a father and being able to kick a ball around in the back garden with my son or help my daughter with her homework.

What I don’t know is how I would feel when I started to get knocked off my pedestal – when my children realised that I wasn’t some kind of godlike figure after all, and that I wasn’t even as good as they were at some things.

On the one hand, I’d be proud to see their progress; on the other, I’d feel more than a little old and decrepit as the next generation effortlessly overtook me on the information superhighway, leaving me parked on the hard shoulder with the bonnet up, trying in vain to fix my ageing motor…

This test is a chance to compare experiences of fatherhood and examine your feelings about your children’s progress. Is it pride or pain, joy or frustration, agony or ecstasy?

Answer each question in the polls below. The results will be shown once you’ve voted.

  • If your child is a latter-day Mozart and beats you in most categories at a young age, you know that evolution is safe in your family’s hands.
  • If you’re still winning gold in the family Olympics, congratulations! You’ve just won yourself the right to support your child for life from the Bank of Mum and Dad.
  • If you’re somewhere in the middle, try to focus on pride in your children’s achievements rather than frustration at not being quite so much of a hero. Sometimes it’s better to lose gracefully, especially if your opponent carries half your genes…


1. At what age did child first beat you at an individual sport such as tennis?


2. At what age did your child first help you with a computer or other electronic device?


3. At what age did your child stop asking for help with homework?


4. At what age did your child first beat you at Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit or a similar board game?


5. At what age did your child first start beating your exam results?


6. At what age did your child first beat you in a foot race?


7. At what age did your child first have to correct you on a matter of general knowledge?


8. At what age did your child start earning more money than you?


9. At what age did your child start driving a nicer car?


10. At what age did your child start living in a nicer house?