To Read is to Fly

Advice and book recommendations to get your children reading
By Child magazine

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Recommended reads
It’s never too early to introduce your child to reading and books, or to start building a library of books for them to cherish. These books, recommended by librarians, teachers, and Nal’ibali will help you choose appropriate reading for children of different ages. This is just a rough guide, as younger readers may enjoy books recommended for older children too.
0 to three year olds
Young children will fall in love with reading with pop-up, lift-and-flap and sound books, such as Alfie and Betty Bug, by Amanda Leslie; the Noisy Noisy series and Touch and Count with Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter.
three to six year olds
  • Busytown series, by Richard Scarry
  • Hairy Maclary series, by Lynley Dodd
  • Noisy Nora, by Rosemary Wells
  • Mr Gumpy’s Outing, by John Burningham
  • A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by Philip Stead
  • Three Friends and a Taxi, by Maryanne Bester
  • The Cool Nguni, by Maryanne Bester
  • My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes, by Eve Sutton
  • Little Bear, by Elsa Minarik
  • Peek-a-Boo!, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
  • Six-Dinner Sid, by Inga Moore
  • Oh No, George!, by Chris Haughton
  • The Bear’s Toothache, by David McPhail
  • The Odd Egg, by Emily Gravett
  • A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka
  • The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore
  • The Story about Ping, by Marjorie Flack
  • Mouse Paint, by Ellen Stoll Walsh
  • Hello Beaky, by Jez Alborough
  • The Very Quiet Cricket, by Eric Carle
  • A Fish Out of Water, by Helen Palmer
  • Hot Hippo, by Mwenye Hadithi
  • Oliver’s Vegetables, by Vivian French
  • A Pig Called Shrimp, by Jonathan Langley
  • Not so Fast Songololo, by Niki Daly
  • The Berenstain Bears and the Missing Dinosaur Bone, by Stan and Jan Berenstain
  • My Hands, by Aliki
  • Bootsie Barker Bites, by Barbara Bottner
  • Crocodile’s Sore Tooth, by Fundisile Gwazube, Lulu Khumalo, Linda Pantsi, Nompuleleo Yako
  • Jungle Drums, by Graeme Base
  • Come over to my house, by Dr. Seuss
  • When Dad Cuts Down the Chestnut Tree, by Pam Ayres
  • What Made Tiddalick Laugh, by Joanna Troughton
  • Caps for Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina
  • The Mr. Men and Little Miss series, by Roger Hargreaves
  • The Fancy Nancy series, by Jane O’Connor
grade 1 – six year olds
  • A Classic Treasury, by Dr Seuss
  • A Squash and a Squeeze, by Julia Donaldson
  • The Owl and the Pussycat, by Edward Lear
  • Books by Michael Morpurgo
  • Under a Silver Moon, Ivan The Terrible and How to Write Really Badly, by Anne Fine
  • The Madeline series, by Ludwig Bemelmans
  • Dr Xargle books, by Jeanne Willis
  • The Water Horse, by Dick King-Smith
  • The Gruffalo books, by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
grade 2 – seven year olds
  • A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas
  • Babe the Gallant Pig, by Dick King-Smith
  • Pongwiffy series, by Kay Umansky
grade 3 – eight year olds
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney
  • Eating Things on Sticks, by Anne Fine
  • Boy with the Lightning Feet, by Sally Gardner
grade 4 – nine year olds
  • Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O’Brien
  • The Roald Dahl Collection
  • Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
grade 5 – 10 year olds
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, by Jeff Kinney
  • Goosebump series, by R. L. Stine
  • Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • The Tree that Sat Down and The Stream that Stood Still, by Beverley Nichols
  • Madiba Magic, by Nelson Mandela
grade 6 and 7 – 11 to 13 year olds
  • Emma Tupper’s Diary, by Peter Dickson
  • His Dark Materials trilogy: Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman
  • Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
  • Once and Future King, by T. H. White
  • The Changes: A Trilogy, by Peter Dickinson
  • Twilght series, by Stephenie Meyer
Read, Read, Read
ways to get them to read
Tandi Erasmus, of Story Club, offers the following ideas to get your children to read.
  • To get your children to appreciate books, instil a love of reading from an early age.
  • Read a story at the end of each day. Your child will relish the undivided attention and will associate books with this good memory.
  • Be a reader yourself; children follow by example.
  • Place books around your home so they are easily accessible.
  • Read age-appropriate books.
  • Use fun voices and faces to help bring the story to life.
  • Story books with a CD promote and develop listening skills.
ways to get children to read better
  • Always praise children and have patience as they are learning to read.
  • If your child is battling to read, buddy read with them to build their confidence.
  • Play word games such as broken telephone and Scrabble.
  • A good way to interpret the story is by acting it out.
  • Story recall helps to develop comprehension skills.
ways to get children to read more widely
  • Read different stories as well as informative books.
  • Join a library.
  • Start a book club.
  • Begin collecting monthly children’s magazines. These are colourful and informative, and cover a wide variety of topics.
  • Get books that contain rhyming, illustrations and good vocabulary.
Reading for Different Learning Styles
There are three main learning styles – visual, auditory and kinaesthetic or movement – and children, while stronger in a particular mode of learning, may process information in a combination of the three.
auditory learners
Children who prefer audio stimulation learn by phonics and sounding out, decoding and synthesizing words. They find it difficult to read silently for extended periods, so to make reading fun, encourage them to read out loud, use different accents for the characters, and sing, rap or rhyme the contents of the book. Lynley Dodd’s Hairy Maclary series, which follows a small “terrier” and his friends, uses simple plots and rhythmic verses that flow easily. The repetition allows young children to anticipate what’s coming next and gets them repeating the words. Audio books can expose auditory learners to books and stories.
visual learners
Children who find visual material more stimulating are easily drawn to picture books with bright involved illustrations and large print. Robert Sabuda’s elaborate pop-up books bring stories to life with colourful castles, dragons and fairies rising from the folds. The Where’s Wally? series has children from the age of five glued to the pages for hours, as they try to pinpoint a set of items among the crowds in weird and wonderful locations.
kinaesthetic or tactile learners
For children who prefer being active and hands-on, books with flaps and tags, scratch-and-sniff panels, cookbooks, crafts and science experiments keep them constantly stimulated and allow for spontaneous activities. The Peek-a-boo board book by J. Ahlberg is great for young children getting used to books while playing the classic peek-a-boo game. For older children, The Everything Kids Science Experiments Book by Tom Robinson has loads of easy experiments.
help from a furry friend
Reading difficulties can hamper the emotional development of your child, says Marieanna le Roux, who is researching the effects of animal-assisted reading programmes at Stellenbosch University’s Department of Psychology. She says international studies show that children with low self-esteem would rather speak or read to a dog than an adult. “The unconditional and non-critical acceptance of the pet or dog creates calmness and boldness that enable the learner to read freely, regardless of how many mistakes are being made.” For more information on animal-assisted learning programmes, visit or
Why Read Aloud?
If you wonder about the benefits of reading aloud, consider this from Jacky Bellon, librarian at King David Linksfield Junior Primary in Joburg: “Reading aloud is a way for children to share the books they enjoy with their families – memorable experiences can be created as discussion ensues about topics raised during the reading.”
A fluent reader, such as the parent, is a role model for a child’s oral reading. You give a voice and meaning to text that children cannot give to the story on their own. You demonstrate to your child the mental processes they use to make sense of what they are reading, such as asking yourself questions, predicting, making connections to what you already know in the story, relating information to personal experiences and checking whether you truly understand what you are reading. Reading aloud also helps children to:
  • familiarise themselves with difficult words and learn correct pronunciation;
  • improve on listening comprehension;
  • gain confidence to become effective communicators, both orally and in writing;
  • become involved in the drama of a story and become expressive, creative and imaginative readers;
  • expand their vocabulary and learn the meaning of words in context;
  • learn the intricacies and oddities of language;
  • decrease passive listening, which is often what happens with TV and MP3 players, and
  • be creative with language – especially true with rhyming books, which are great fun for reading aloud no matter the age.
how to read aloud effectively
Consider your goals for the read-aloud before selecting the book. Alphabet books are good for teaching letters. Storybooks are good for vocabulary and informational books develop content knowledge and enhance a child’s motivation for reading. Word play books are useful for developing skills such as phonological awareness.
To keep their attention, prompt children to use their background knowledge to develop their understanding of the story. Keep them engaged by asking them questions about the story as it unravels.
Read in a lively way, using voices, gestures, pauses and expression where required, as this helps children understand the story. Encourage children to predict what will happen based on the events that have unfolded in the story, and engage them in both immediate talk, such as asking literal questions, and non-immediate talk, such as discussing the meaning of the story. You can also relate the story to personal experiences.
Wendy Pote, of Linden Library in Joburg, says: “Children like to be involved, so ask them to participate in the story by saying the magic word, or shooing the dog away. They also like stories where they have to find the ladybird that is hidden on every page, or the detailed illustrations of a book, such as in those by Richard Scarry, where so much is going on.” Stories with rhymes appeal to children and are fun to read. Also use stories with repetition, such as the traditional tales of The Little Red Hen and Chicken Licken.
“Of course, any book read with gusto and obviously loved by the parent would make the child love it too. A lot of what makes story time special is the closeness it engenders between adults and children.”
Recommended Read-Aloud Book Lists
What to look for Books that are described as fun, rhythmic and interactive that stimulate sight and hearing, so choose books with colourful pictures and exciting sounding words, and books with songs and rhymes. Also, pick books that encourage early learning, for example, books that introduce the alphabet. Board and cloth books are great as they can be chewed, pulled and patted without breaking. Name objects and colours, make the sounds and count repeated images, then ask them to repeat after you and let them tell you what they see. Once the child begins to respond to the sight of books and your voice, begin on dialogue books.
  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen
  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom: Anniversary Edition, by Bill Martin
  • Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see?, by Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle
grades 1 to 3
What to look for Funny picture books, and basic dialogue books with wonderful illustrations are popular. Remember to expose them to a variety of books, which helps literacy. Children at foundation phase enjoy books with predictable stories and ones that have a build-up, as well as books with repetition. Well-known fairytales and folktales are always a good choice.
  • Beware of Boys and Beware of Girls, by Tony Blundell
  • The Cool Nguni and Mealies and Beans, by Shayle and Maryanne Bester
  • Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss
  • Flat Stanley, by Roald Dahl
  • Isabel’s Noisy Tummy, by David McKee
  • Jim and the Beanstalk, by Raymond Briggs
  • Lady Lollipop, by Dick King-Smith
  • Pirate Girl and Princess Pigsty, by Cornelia Funke
  • Seven Chinese Brothers, by Margaret Mahy
  • Three Billy Goats Gruff, retold by Carole Bloch
  • Willy the Wimp, Gorilla and Little Beauty, by Anthony Browne
  • Zanzibar Road, Pretty Salma, Once Upon a Time, by Niki Daly
grade 4
What to look for Children often want the same book read to them, which tells you that this particular story is their happy place. So indulge them; reading should be a pleasure, plus it’s bonding time for you and your child. In turn, repeat favourite stories to them. Get them engaged with the story by starting a conversation – ask them questions about the story, and the characters’ actions and feelings.
  • Alex Rider series, by Anthony Horowitz
  • Captain Underpants series, by Dav Pilkey
  • Cool!, by Michael Morpurgo
  • Diary of the Wimpy Kid series, by Jeff Kinney
  • How to Train your Dragon series, by Cressida Cowell 
  • Karate Princess in Monsta Trouble and Viking at School, by Jeremy Strong
  • Percy Jackson series, by Rick Riordan
  • Selby Supersnoop, by Duncan Ball
grade 5
What to look for Short novels are better to read aloud than full-length ones as there are fewer details and descriptive passages. Also, read books that are above their level to stimulate them and get them thinking. Children at this age, especially girls, are emotionally exploding into their pre-teens and are becoming more sensitive to the world around them. They seem to enjoy topics that affect relationships and their family, such as eating disorders, divorce and friendship struggles, which are dealt with in a funny and sympathetic way. Boys may want adventure and escapism that is funny and light.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket
  • Because of Winn Dixie, by Kate DeCamillo
  • Bunnicula series, by James Howe
  • Double Act, by Jacqueline Wilson
  • Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster, by Debra Frasier
  • Superfudge, by Judy Blume
  • The House of Dies Drear, by Virginia Hamilton
  • The Mum Hunt, by Gwynneth Rees
  • Unmentionable and Undone, by Paul Jennings
grade 6
What to look for Clever and catchy rhyming books that make them giggle and allow them to be silly. You could also get them to read a book they know well and can act out more easily. Perhaps they’d enjoy the dramatic, where a children’s horror or a suspense story can be dramatically re-enacted. To bring weird and wonderful characters to life, children can make up accents. You may want to encourage them to start book or reading clubs, where they can focus more on discussing the story with their peers, chapter by chapter.
  • Boy, by Roald Dahl
  • Diamond Brother series, by Anthony Horowitz
  • Flipped, by Wendelin van Draanen
  • Never Mind!, by Avi and Rachel Vail
  • People Who Make a Difference, by Brent Ashabrenner
  • Running Out of Time, by Margaret Haddix
grade 7
What to look for Books that get children thinking about underlying themes, emotions and ideas. Read interesting magazine and newspaper articles to them, as well as poems. Expose them to chapter books, and read a chapter or two a day with them. Choose to read them novels about difficult events such as the arrival of a new sibling, divorce or friendship challenges, all of which can help them process their feelings and face their fears.
  • A Guided Tour of Ally’s World series and the You, Me and Thing series, by Karen McCombie
  • Gallagher Girls series, by Ally Carter
  • The Beasts of Clawstone Castle, by Eva Ibbotson
  • Twist in Time, by Jean Ure
Ideas, tips and recommendations supplied by librarians Jacky Bellon of King David Linksfield Junior Primary, Adele Shapiro of King David Sandton Senior Primary and early biliteracy teacher, Xolisa Guzula, of Nal’ibali. For more helpful tips on reading, visit
bringing books to life
Nal’ibali produces a weekly supplement to inspire reading in homes and book clubs. Register online at or join their Facebook page: You can also find checklists for book clubs, tip sheets and choose books in English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi and Sesotho.
Online books and reading clubs, such as the Disney Book Club, encourage discussions about books.
Take children to book fairs where they can meet the authors and take part in readings and related activities. Visit these websites to find out more about book-related activities:,, (Durban) and (Pretoria).
Contact your local library or book store for a schedule of story times. Also see for events in your area.
Electronic reading devices, such as Kindles, eBooks and tablet computer applications (apps) make reading interactive. Visit for suggested book apps for different ages. Popular book apps include MeeGenius and TabTale books. The LeapPad’s Ultra eBooks offer children the opportunity to listen to and read along with the story and to do related activities.
Many children’s theatres stage productions of popular books. Visit our What's On section for performances in your area. Let older children follow their favourite authors on Twitter, such as @TwilightSMeyer or @RL_Stine.


Rosanne wrote 5 years 8 weeks ago

Hi, Anyone know where one can get copies of the Beverley Nichols Woodland Trilogy: The tree that sat down, The stream that stood still and The mountain of magic? These appear to be out of print and the only second-hand copies I can locate seem to be abroad at a crazy price. Thanks.

Laura Mac wrote 5 years 23 weeks ago

Some great reads here! I am surprised that more of Julia Donaldson's books are not on this list though. Her books never disappoint a 5, 6, or 7 year-old!

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