What do children like to read?

I had a conversation with someone once about whether to give a book or a book token as a gift to a child, which led to the debate on how to select books for someone else.

It can be tricky; what children like to read is NOT always predictable. Looking back at my own childhood, it would’ve taken a brave (and possibly inappropriate) adult to predict the books I used to enjoy:

  • adventure stories (“for boys”, don’t get me started) — Tom Brown’s School Days, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Escape, etc,
  • animal stories,
  • animal nonfiction,
  • fiction classics — Black Beauty, Anne of Green Gables, The Water Babies, Blyton, etc,
  • the dictionary (for the rude words),
  • Calvin and Hobbes,
  • Rupert the Bear pop-up books from the 1940s for the slightly archaic tone,
  • Ancient wildlife books,
  • quirky books like The Grammatical Kittens,
  • Mills and Boon (30 books, one plot),
  • The Joy of Sex (to laugh at the beardy man… oh come ON, you didn’t do this?),
  • DIY manuals,
  • old letters from my granny to my dad, especially the bits about me,
  • weird old recipe books that included suet and lard,
  • evil old fairy tales; the really old, really evil ones.

Very little of what I liked would have been given to me by the adults I knew at that time, and some of it might have been forbidden, but as a child, I “had an open mind” (helped myself), and once I gave a text my attention, I usually found something to like in it. The difference between a new text and what I’d read before often felt like an adventure, and rarely felt like a chore.

I like giving books, on the basis of “what’s the worst that can happen?” 

That said, I once watched a man give a toddler a copy of South Park DVD because he thought it was a child’s cartoon. And I guess the Eat Your Own Pet Cookbook could have consequences. Plus, maybe, Go The Fuck To Sleep could be considered to have a limited audience (I did once read this to my teen – and he laughed himself to sleep. Sure, bad Mum — but result.)

OK, it’s a minefield.

But if buying books for children is open to all kinds of dodgy mistakes, think about all the terrible things they could buy for themselves in a bookshop… they could buy a dictionary which contains just about every rude word there is. Books are far too dangerous to give as gifts.

Perhaps a throw cushion instead?

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