She worries about research indicating that only 19% of parents still read a story to their children. “Reading to kids relaxes both of you and gives them access to books they might not be able to read on their own,” she says.
Now Jeanne has written an adventure story, The Enchanted Village, commissioned by Alton Towers Resort for the launch of its treehouse-style accommodation next month, to encourage parents to read to their children.
Another option is for parents and children to each read a page or chapter – that way they’re still reading it, but you can skim through the story a little faster. That’s what children’s author Mandy Archer did with her 10-year-old son Will.
Together they read Jack London’s The Call Of The Wild and Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man – and Oliver Twist might be next. “The idea is that we read alternative pages, but some of the archaic language in the classics is difficult and we’ve dropped the weird, like E Nesbit’s Five Children And It. Introducing boys to classics can be harder than girls,” she says, “because a lot of the classics you might start on are romances at their heart.
Getting kids used to the idea that a book starts out slow and builds is the hardest part. One idea is to read them the first 50 pages of the book and then they can pick up where the story has started.
Literary purists may balk at abridged versions, but they can provide a good way in – and may encourage the child to try the original. Archer, whose Sunnyside School Friends picture book series from Simon & Schuster is being released this spring, recommends the Usborne Classics Retold series, which includes everything from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to Jane Eyre and Moby-Dick. “They’re especially good for kids who want to read the classics but are intimidated by the density and page count of the original,” she says.
Another idea is to find classic books in the same vein as their favorite modern novels – so try Brave New World about a teenager who loves dystopian fiction like The Hunger Games. Audiobooks can be a good way to do this, especially if they are not abridged. And boys, in particular, can benefit from seeing the film version first, according to parenting expert Noel Janis-Norton, author of Calmer, Easier, Happier Boys (Yellow Kite, £14.99). Comparing the movie to the book appeals to the brain of the boy making the list.
It also helps to choose your edition carefully, suggests Tania Vian-Smith of children’s publisher Puffin. They’re republishing a series of 20 classics this month with bold, modern covers, including Heidi, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Treasure Island, and Black Beauty.
She also suggests trying classics reinvented by modern authors: in July, Jacqueline Wilson publishes Katy, a modern take on What Katy Did, and next month Cathy Cassidy publishes Looking-Glass Girl, inspired by Alice’s adventures in the country. wonderful things. These may interest children in the original: when Wilson published Four Children And
In 2013, sales of E Nesbit’s original Five Children And It also increased.
The trick is to be realistic about what you read and when – did you really read Great Expectations at 11 or are you more likely to be 15? And don’t insist on a book they hate – try another or you’ll turn the books into medicine that will have to be forced.
“I probably romance what I read and when,” admits Mandy Archer. “Not everyone is the type to read classic books. If your child is like that, maybe it’s best to leave them alone for now – or you risk killing any future love of books.
Classics to try
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Walker, £9.99)
Book of Old Possum’s Practical Cats by TS Eliot (Faber & Faber, £7.99)
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin (Puffin, £6.99)
Stig Of The Dump by Clive King (Puffin, £6.99)
Mary Poppins by PL Travers (HarperCollins, £6.99)
Mary Norton’s Borrowers (Puffin, £6.99)
The Lion, The Witch And
The Wardrobe by CS Lewis (HarperCollins, £5.99)
Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (Vintage, £5.99)
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce (OUP, £6.99)
Watership Down by Richard Adams (Puffin, £6.99)
The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier (Vintage, £7.99)
Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner (Vintage, £5.99)
Oliver Twist, narrated and illustrated by Marcia Williams (Walker, £4.99)
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Usborne Classics Retold, £6.99)
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl (Puffin, £6.99)
JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit (HarperCollins, £7.99)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon (Red Fox, £7.99)
Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (Scholastic, £7.99)
The Owl Service by Alan Garner (HarperCollins, £6.99)
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
by Mark Twain (Puffin, £6.99)
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Penguin, £5.99)
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (BBC, £7.99)
1984 by George Orwell (Penguin, £7.99)
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (Penguin, £4.99)
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Vintage, £8.99)
John Wyndham’s Triffids Day (Penguin, £8.99)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (Penguin, £5.99)
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (Simon & Schuster, £7.99)
A Room with a View by EM Forster (Penguin, £5.99)
Moonraker by Ian Fleming (Vintage, £7.99)
Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene (Vintage, £8.99)