My list of “novels I read in 2022” is, I’m pretty sure, one novel long. I have excuses; I will spare both of us the excuses. But I have been reading to Small – now six, going on seven any day – at bedtime.
And finding books to read to a six-year-old is hard. There are the classics, of course – not all of which are good, some of which are actively terrible and many of which I found myself verbally editing on the fly in order to excise some pretty grim stereotyping* – and of course everyone who’s ever appeared on ITV apparently has a series of novels for kids, but I’ve found tracking down good, modern writing that might actually mean something to a six year old in 202x surprisingly difficult.
So, anyhow, here are some that he enjoyed and that I either enjoyed or didn’t mind reading while he enjoyed them. I will try to keep this list updated but, you know, those excuses again.
The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L D Lapinsky
Flick, who lives in an Actually Believable present day UK (I’m pretty sure I did a comical double-take when one book mentions “Big Tesco”), moves to a different town and discovers a travel agency operated by a sort of secret society who can travel to other worlds by jumping/clambering/falling into suitcases. Small enjoyed the multiverse-y adventuring; I liked how the wider story of Flick discovering (spoiler-y-things) was woven through it all.
Book one of the trilogy is here.
The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant
I will admit that the setup to this one had me gritting my teeth a little – there’s a character called Prospero, it’s fantasy-alternate-history, there’s lots of magical making of hats, it’s just not my idea of a good time – but Small loved it, and I warmed to it all as the story pulls back from Cordelia and her family in the guild of milliners to reveal the larger context of the various guilds and their broken relationship – which in turn obviously sets up for a number of sequels. And, of course, there’s a fair amount of sneaking out of houses to run the streets of slightly-cor-blimey-guvnor London at night, which is all good exciting stuff. I enjoyed it far more than I expected; you might love it.
Link to Waterstones here.
Place Called Perfect by Helena Duggan
This one’s interesting to me in that the fantasy leans more towards light horror-y themes than the spells-and-magick stuff. It’s Stepford-parents time as Violet and her family move into a creepy new town where everything’s a bit too neat and tidy, and where everybody seems to have alarmingly bad eyesight. I’ll note here that I verbally censored the more gory details of one particular plot point, so you might want to read ahead or avoid if your kid is likely to be upset – but the plot zips along and while adults might spot the plot mechanisms coming some way off, Small was engrossed as they were revealed. There’s at least one sequel we haven’t read yet.
Waterstones link here.
The Children of Castle Rock by Natasha Farrant
Slight caveat here: we’re about half way through, so this may yet turn out to do something wild and postmodern or, who knows, come completely unstuck at the end. But so far it’s a very familiar setup, with a child who gets sent away by train to slightly eccentric (but entirely wizard-free) boarding school, lifted by a cast of pleasingly realistic characters with relatable problems: the protagonist’s family in disarray since the death of her mother, a friend struggling in the shadows of his older siblings, and so on. And the adventures – breaking into forbidden places, falling into bogs, that sort of thing – feel somehow the fresher for the magical school existing within a realistic contemporary setting (they break into the forbidden place, for example, in search of mobile phone reception). So far, so good.
Link to buy here.
* There are so many, but the one I come back to: every bad character is invariably and pointlessly described as fat, large, portly, or somesuch thing. Over and over. Every time.