Monday, November 18, 2019


My spawn at 12.
My family has a standing Yuletide tradition to [either] listen to the Harry Potter audiobooks, or watch the movies, each day leading to New Year’s Eve. However, there are also other books we shared together over the years since my daughter started reading at three. It was always tricky choosing because it involved plenty of compromise and message consideration, due to her age. It took some preparations too since we want to anticipate her many questions during the actual reading.

Here, I compiled only the book series we mostly adored. Some of these were books my husband and I read when we were young and shared with our daughter, others, we chose together.

(1) Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne (Illustrator: Ernest Howard Shepard)

Pooh is described as “the bear of very little brain” or “the best bear in all the world”. I believe we all prefer the latter. This little old bear really knows how to worm into everyone’s heart. The diversity of the characters from the 100-Acre Wood is reflective enough to transcend heartening lessons every time. Parents like me are able to explain plainly to a three-year-old child because of Milne’s use of naivety and simple child-like language and logic to push the message across.

(2) Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park (Illustrator: Denise Brunkus)

The first book is Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, detailing Junie’s first school bus ride to school, which we chose purposely to encourage our little girl (then) to go to kindergarten. This series is goofy-fun and filled with common childish behaviors. Very young readers can easily learn golden lessons behind Junie’s mishaps and misbehaviors.

(3) Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne (Illustrators: Salvatore Murdocca; Okama)

Siblings Annie and Jack discovered that a treehouse in the woods near their house can transport them to historical places and times. We simply love these siblings -their constant encouragements, on being brave, accountability for each other and for their choices. Replete with historical details, scientific facts, and life lessons, children will undoubtedly learn cool stuff from this series. My daughter still collects them up until now.

(4) Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey 

“Who would let their child read a banned book?” I WOULD! Or Did. George and Harold are rebellious enough to pull pranks on anyone in the school including their very own strict principal. This series is banned from school libraries because adults believe that it encourages kids to be rebels, to question authority. Parents need to know that behind all the potty humor it also encourages them to be critical thinkers. We usually asked our daughter what she thought about the book aside from being funny and identify which she thought was wrong. What we learned was that every kid needs a hero, even the most recalcitrant and unrepentant ones. Parents can both leave their kids with their own choices and create their own hero or parents can help them find an ideal one. These series may not be a model blueprint but they’ll know which kind they are supposed to stay away from.

(5) Jigsaw Jones Mysteries by James Preller (Illustrator: R.W. Alley). 

Very much like our beloved HP books, this series is about friendship, family, school, inclusion, and mystery. The books are noir-esque, witty and exciting to read. By the time we get to the middle page, we each have our own inferences and dispute behind it. It really heightens the reading experience exponentially and enhances the kid’s deduction skills, too.

(6) The Magic School Bus by Joanna Cole (Illustrator: Bruce Degen). 

This series is a great way for early readers to learn more about scientific stuff. Ms. Frizzle takes her students to incredible field trips, learning from inside a magical bus that can pretty much do anything. This is a good series to hook kids and love science.  The series is not exactly for read-aloud. It is more advisable that parents and kids read the books separately and discuss or compare notes later.

(7) Wayside School by Louis Sachar (Illustrator: Adam McCauley). 

We love all the zany, odd people in this series. The school is 30-floors high, each classroom built on top of each other, and a lot more crazies happen on the 13th floor. These books are attention-grabbers, so be absolutely prepared for longer reading sessions, rereads, and terrible giggling even after lights out. And these are the only books I know where the author wrote himself into his own books and shared with all the wackiness.

These books were written several decades apart. Most people know about the movies, but hardly know that there are four more books after A Wrinkle in Time. I found a copy of A Wrinkle in Time in my old grade school library, a long way back. And like the first few books I had, I had my elder brother scout for the rest of the books from Recto, a street in Manila where you can find all kinds of second-hand books. The quintet is classified under coming-of-age fiction, which means children come to certain awakenings, and may need closer attention when they raise some questions or concerns. It does not only give children perspectives but also questions them and challenges them to make tough choices.

My husband and I discovered the first book in different fashions. His was more interesting, I admit. Way back in grade school, he needed to make his first book report (a book of his own choice) and found an old Puffin copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in the church library. I’ve always argued that this series should be classified under Christian fantasy, and it’s good to know, that a long time ago, an old church librarian thought the same too. By this time, we know how magical these stories are and the virtues they possess. We all know how four ordinary kids had the journey of a lifetime -filled with secrets, valiance, betrayal, unconditional love- and lived to tell all about it. Exactly the kind of journey parents would like to share with their kid/s.

This is my all-time favorite children's fantasy. It has everything a child can conceive in a series –myths, Arthurian, old magic, time travel, and the Holy Grail. I have no qualms recommending this to any parent with middle-grade kids. The language alone employed by Cooper is a good foothold and unsoiled; it is very savory for any age. This is replete of life lessons –accountability, priorities, sacrifices, and conquering challenges- that parents can discuss in detail with their kids and exercise their problem-solving skills. We took turns reading chapters every night. Those were absolutely wonderful nights.

(11) Inkworld by Cornelia Funke (Translator: Anthea Bell)

This is also a very rich fantasy series, wherein book characters can come to life and real people are sucked into books. Familial love resonates throughout the series and it’s very compelling. My daughter was about ten-years-old when we started reading this series. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone younger because there are some graphic details of violence and disagreeable language. However, this series is an agreeable challenge for pre-teens. Some more delicate readers/parents might disagree with me though.

(12) A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (Illustrator: Brett Helquist)

These are the thirteen unpleasant tales of the unlucky Baudelaire orphans. Certainly, there is violence here, as there is a sinister villain vent on harming the kids and their protectors. However, Daniel Handler is a master story-teller and can blow over such events with good humor. And with his fine writing, he has a clever way of explaining words in context. This is altogether mysterious, adventurous, and grimly engaging. Parents might want to give their kids a taste of The Bad Beginning first, and then ask them how they feel about dark humor before introducing the next book.

(13) Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch (Illustrator: Gilbert Ford)

The key element to these books is the mystery. Parents with mystery-hungry kids will enjoy secret codes and anagrams. We love the family set-ups the author cleverly introduced here. It gives children an opportunity to learn and appreciate different family structures. And, if both parents and kids are [just] a bit curious about Synesthesia, they definitely need to meet Max-Ernest. Or, if in need of first-hand knowledge on survival skills, well then, Cass could be their next best friend. OR, if kids just need some silly reads to blow off some steam, this series is a clear choice.

This is such a fun, fun read. Talk about not-so-little geniuses on adventures. It is smart, mysterious, and adventurous. All the characters are amusingly odd and very engaging. Kids will love the puzzle-solving parts of the stories, including all the twists and turns. By the time we read this, our daughter is already twelve-years of age. So we read the books separately, and then greedily discussed them right after.

When our daughter asked us if she could read the series, we approved but with some apprehensions. We were preparing ourselves for probable questions about Christianity and the human soul, actually. After reading The Amber Glass, she broke into our room crying, accusing us of not warning her about the ending, which was bittersweet, if not heartbreaking. Not every book has an “and-they-lived-happily-ever-after” kind of ending. It involved some really tough lessons and my husband and I agreed that she’s ready enough to learn about them. Parents who want some level-up challenges for their pre-teens can definitely recommend this one. It is an engaging alternative world fantasy with gripping adventures and mystical elements that will allow kids’ imagination to soar high.

In our experience, shared reading is a good bonding motivation for parents and kids. It encourages discussion, allowing everyone to openly share their feelings and thoughts. Problems are easily resolved and secrets don’t hang back because kids are accustomed to discussing them with their parents. Reading with parents also builds their confidence. So next time you read with your kids, make sure it’s not just to lull them to sleep, take it as an opportunity to engage.


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