Britain, that most bookish of countries, has seen some heated debate about how many books children should be reading. Education Secretary Michael Gove believes an 11-year-old should read 50 books a year.
Some folks agreed, others said it was too many, some people said the number did not matter as long as kids read and others said this statement made no sense while many of Britain’s public libraries are being threatened with closure.
Gove, a very bookish person, said: "Recently, I asked to see what students were reading at GCSE (exam level). I discovered that something like 80-90% were just reading one or two novels - and overwhelmingly it was the case that it included Of Mice and Men. We should be saying that our children should be reading 50 books a year, not just one or two.”
This is my personal take on the matter (not AbeBooks’) and I’m writing as a father of eight-year-old and five-year-old daughters. Reading should be an essential part of any childhood. Teachers and schools can teach you many useful things (although I’ve not used calculus in my adult life) but a steady diet of literature can ensure a young person’s education never ends.
The number of books you read doesn’t really matter. If an 11-year-old took all year to read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace then that would be a feat beyond many adults and he or she would also be much wiser about suffering, humanity and European history. Reading is the important thing.
Of course, I am very biased. The bedrooms of my daughters are piled up with books. They go to the library once a week. I read to each one each night (and it is my favorite time of the day). They carry books about with them. There are books inside our car. We listen to audio books when we do a road-trip.
As a parent, I helped to instill a love of books into my daughters by surrounding them with books from an early age. Sadly, too many homes lack books and too many parents do not encourage their kids to read. Although people can come to love literature late in life, most people get the bug when they are young. Huge responsibility lies with parents.
This year, my eight-year-old had probably read around 50 books by mid-April. I’m not talking War and Peace. She rattles through those young reader books – slim paperbacks with slightly larger text and plenty of illustrations - and loves to work through a set or series in quick succession. Her reading is now totally dictated by her. I tend to agree with Mr Gove’s comments about Of Mice and Men. Reading comes much easier if you read about what you love – let the reader decide. One book usually leads to another.
Below are 50 books that I and a few other colleagues recommend for a typical 11-year-old – some can be read at a much younger age while others are verging on the young adult genre. Some of these books I have revisited as an adult while reading to my eldest. Some are ageless classics and others are hyper modern. Some are better for one sex than the other. Some are sets or series so you are actually receiving more than 50 recommendations.
Many people, let alone an 11-year-old, would be hard-pushed to read all these books in 12 months. Mr Gove’s heading in the right direction - let’s just get young people reading.