As a bookseller, I obviously get asked a lot of questions about books. One of the most frequent, however, is this: “I need a book for an X-year-old child, they like Y and Z, can you help me?”
And it’s not necessarily an easy question to answer.
There are so many books being written for ages zero to eighteen nowadays. In my bookshop alone we have an entire room dedicated to storybooks and board books (so pre-reading). We have two giant spinners for beginning readers (organized in four tiers according to proficiency). Then we have early chapter books, elementary level, middle school level and Young Adult. It takes up an entire half of our main floor. There is so much material out there for children and teens it’s no wonder people are in a dilemma. They are spoiled for choice. Or overwhelmed. Or both.
And, currently, much of children and teen literature is dominated by science fiction and fantasy and all the shades of those two genres.
Which makes this nerd incredibly happy.
But what if you’re a fantastic, beautiful, amazing nerd wanting to impart a love of Nerdery and Geekdom onto your child or your sibling’s child or your friend’s child? Where do you start? How do you start?
I have some suggestions for you.
Now, I have no doubt that most people have their favorites. Their beloved stories that they will no doubt be passing onto the next generation. The five books/series listed below are simply my favorite suggestions, my go to recommendations for the youngest of burgeoning nerds when I get asked for my professional opinion at work.
Some are obvious. Some are not. All are amazing and, if you haven’t read them yet, you should totally go get them!
1. Journey and Quest by Aaron Becker
These two books are perfect for sitting down with a child and crafting a narrative together. Becker’s artwork is downright gorgeous, depicting a colorful and imaginative world of airships, castles and magical chalk. The books have no words, instead relying on whoever has opened them to supply the story that is laid out in the pictures. It’s a great way to get interactive with a book and build a world and characters around a visual medium. Great for kids who are not yet reading on their own (but even those who are will enjoy them)!
2. Mister Max and the Book of Lost Things (and sequels) by Cynthia Voigt
Ok. So this one is technically not science fiction or fantasy. But the Mister Max books follow a narrative arc that will do doubt sound familiar: a young boy loses his parents and is thrust into a strange new situation where he uses his wits and skills to survive and uncover the mystery of what actually happened to his mother and father. Swap a couple things around, change a few words, it sounds like the start to so many fantasy novels, right? Mister Max is more of a suspenseful mystery reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes but it’s a great introduction to certain narrative tropes and a certain type of young, heroic figure for kids in elementary school. Its chaptered structure will work well if you’re reading it with them in stages or will provide a good challenge for them to tackle on their own. Also features gorgeous illustrations by Iacopo Bruno.
3. Howl’s Moving Castle/Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones
Anything by Diana Wynne Jones really. I mean it. But here’s where you should start: Howl’s Moving Castle and Charmed Life. They are both terribly charming, well written and focus on young people thrust into strange adventures they never thought possible. There are witches and wizards and magic of all kinds to delight and entertain. Jones is a powerful writer who never lost her sense of the whimsical. Every burgeoning nerd should read her work!
4. The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques
Redwall. Oh, Redwall. Full disclosure and warning: I’m about to gush. Brian Jacques is the author who made me fall head over heels in love with reading, with stories, with adventure. From the moment I opened Mariel of Redwall I was hooked in his world of mice, badgers, otters and other creatures fighting the many battles of good versus evil. Jacques’ world is populated by animals who live in castles and fortresses and (of course) an abbey made of red stone. Each book is its own epic adventure in the history of Redwall Abbey (though a few take place before Redwall is founded they always tie in in some way to its history or location). Magic exists in small ways throughout the world. It’s in the spirit of Martin the Warrior protecting the Abbey even after his death. In the wilting and blooming of the Laterose. It’s in the dreams and prophecies and riddles that Jacques lovingly crafts. They are truly wonderful stories and there are enough of them (twenty-two in fact) that you can start off reading them with whatever tiny one you are introducing to the wonders of nerd-things and gradually leave them to their own devices.
5. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
An obvious one, but a good one. The Hobbit is a simple, linear tale. It’s fun. It’s charming. There are dragons and wizards and goblins. I’m not going to go into too much depth with this one, because it’s place in the canon of Nerdery and Geekdom is so established, but I will say that it’s a great one to read with kids (even before I could read I poured over the beautiful map at the back of my dad’s copy) and acts as a great gateway into Lord of the Rings (that’s for when they’re older though) and beyond!
Well, there you have it! My five recommendations for Training Your Baby Nerd! Get them reading, get them storytelling and get them nerding!
EDIT: Read Part Two!