World Book Day. Top 20 Childhood Books from Teachers and Schools Revealed.
Books change lives. They take us to places we have yet to travel – or maybe never will.
Books make us feel, and in some cases remember how to feel, when adulthood immunises us against the passions and sensitivities of youth and adolescence. Taylor Swift chose the following lines at the end of Miss Americana to capture the openness you need to be able to write and change the world: ”I want to still have a sharp pen …. and a thin skin ….and an open heart” to describe the qualities needed to write and inspire.
The best books make us alive to the world, rather than taking us away from it – however far we may have travelled through it across our thoughts, feelings, geography and perception.
Comforting or antagonistic, thought provoking or moving, mind blowing or incendiary … books are made by us as we read them. We all read books differently, bringing to them our own experience and psyche. Books teach us things too we simply do not enough time to learn.
Few of us will ever forget those books that made us who we are – they leave an imprint on us that guide us through every moment of our lives.
There are so many wonderful, inspirational and enchanting books in the world: books that are utterly life affirming, magical and important to us as we grow older. To simply list them would not be doing their power justice.
So at Schoolscompared.com we thought that we could ask some of the educational leaders in the UAE, who have a huge influence on our children, to tell us what books inspired their love of reading.
Let the stories begin ……
The SchoolsCompared.com Top 20 Childhood Books from Schools Revealed by Schools and Educators across the UAE.
1. The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien
“This book was read to me as a ten year old. I can still see the pure white pages that promised a tale of excitement. Waiting every day for another 20 minutes worth was a great part of the day, and to date the film will never match with my mind’s eye!”
Joanne Wells. Principal. South View School, Dubai.
2. One Lonely Lion by Gill MacLean and Sue Harris
“This was a book I read to each of my 3 children and they never got bored of it. It reminds me of my children growing up and all the amazing bedtime discussions it led to about animals and friends.”
Mark Leppard MBE, Headmaster. The British School Al Khubairat
3. Alfie Gets In First by Shirley Hughes.
“The take away for me was don’t race ahead, play the long game and work in a community where everyone helps out and comes together over a cup of tea……just what we do at SBS!”
Zara Harrington. Principal. Safa British School.
4. Heidi, by Johanna Spyri
“Mason Colley said that, ‘reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.’
My favourite book, Heidi, is set in the beautiful Swiss Alps and is the story of a girl who goes to live with her paternal grandfather. Initially unhappy that she has left her immediate family, she soon makes friends with a boy called Peter, a goat herder and a girl from a wealthy family called Clara, who is unwell and has very limited mobility. The story is about Heidi, her journey and her change of heart, but more so about how the friendship of three children from very different backgrounds, becoming best friends and making memories together.
As a child I read this book and was fascinated by the dynamics of the friendship and their adventures. Most of all I remember that every time I opened the book, I could absolutely see where they were and I was transported there with them. It was so well written that despite it lacking illustrations, I became a part of their world. Afterwards. I always wanted to visit those mountainsides where Heidi, Clara and Peter played.
I’ve yet to visit the Swiss Alps. Maybe after all this I will …..”
Tracy Crowder-Cloe, Head of Senior School, Repton Dubai School
5. Goodnight Mister Tom, by Michelle Magorian.
“It wasn’t really a book that I read as a child, but when I was a teacher in Hong Kong, I read it to my class and they loved it, and so did I.
It’s a book about a little boy, Willie Beech growing up in wartime England. He’s very badly treated by his mother, then gets evacuated to the countryside to escape the bombing, to live with ‘Mister Tom,’ a miserable old man who doesn’t take to Willie at all, and Willie is scared of him.
The relationship that develops between the two of them is truly memorable and teaches children so much about character. The movie of the same name, starring John Thaw was good but not a patch on the book.
The children in my class would do anything to have an extra 5 minutes of the book at the end of the day. Through their reactions, this also became my favourite book. I read the follow up book, ‘Back Home’ and thought it was terrible!”
Graeme Scott, Director, Fairgreen International School
6. 2001 A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke.
“This book impacted my life by giving me the desire to be an astronaut and love everything dealing with science and technology.”
Bill Debrugge. Director. Dunecrest American School
7. Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton
“This was one of the first books I can remember reading independently as a young girl, in a tent in the garden of my family home in Wales!
I wanted to share it because it was the first time that I can remember experiencing the wonderful feelings of possibility, excitement and escapism that accompany a good story.
Whilst certainly not a literary classic, this book nonetheless invoked the ‘can’t put this down’ effect that I still have today when reading a really good book. “
Lizzie Robinson. Principal. The Jebel Ali School.
“My favourite books as a child were the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton with my real favourite being ‘Five on a Treasure Island’.
These books really inspired me to explore, to try new things and to travel – the key reason why I moved to Dubai 6 years ago.
I want to share this because they are very well-written and place the importance on spending time with family and friends which given the current situation has never been more important.”
Neil Matthews. Principal and CEO. GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail.
8. A A Milne – Winnie the Pooh and House at Pooh Corner
“I chose Winnie the Pooh because in life we are surrounded by the characters in the book: the world is full of Piglets, Tiggers, Kangas and Roos, Owls, Eeyoores and, of course, Winnie the Poohs. The sooner we learn to appreciate them and get on with them the better.”
Mark S Steed, Principal and CEO, Kellett School, The British International School in Hong Kong
9. Catcher in the Rye by JG Salinger, The House that Beebo Built by Phillipe Fix, Alain Gree and Janine Ast, The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde, Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome and The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton and the Narnia Stories by C S Lewis.
“How to choose between these extraordinary and special books …. all formidable giants of my childhood reading?! Catcher in the Rye was so powerful that I named my only son after its protagonist, Holden. The House that Beebo Built is the most beautifully illustrated magical book ever published – and tells the story of the tyranny of bureaucracy and the state – and the power of freedom, belief in the impossible and kindness to save us all. Read at seven years old it provides the bedrock of my politics even to this day. It also inspired my appreciation of engineers. The Selfish Giant is a short story by Wilde that was the first book that made me cry – and helps set the values by which I still try and live. Swallows and Amazons is an adventure story, the perfect childhood adventure story, that once read is never forgotten. Enid Blytons’s Magic Faraway Tree has left me never again being able to walk past a tree without looking for a secret door. And, finally, the Narnia stories remain as magical and timeless today as they did all those years ago – and explain my very strange ongoing fascination with old wardrobes (!)”
Johnathan Westley. Editor. SchoolsCompared.com
10. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.
“The book is about hope.
Everyone wishes for his or her own golden ticket and Charlie Bucket’s story inspired me never to give up pursuing my dreams.”
Monica Valrani, Montessori Directress and CEO, Ladybird Nursery
11. The Chronicles of Narnia – especially The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
“As a young child growing up in a very small city, I was always fascinated to read about other lands, great adventures and magical places. From an early age, my family said I had always had a vivid imagination and a thirst to travel and explore. The books are based around key themes that became important to me; values and people.
In the book it says: “And so for a time, it looked as if all the adventures were coming to an end; but that was not meant to be.”
I take from this that we may reach points where we think there is no way forward and things will not improve. Quite often as adults we can get caught in a rut, or the monotony of routine, that leaves us wanting.
I suppose, at the end of the day, the Narnia books taught me about being brave and confident with the will move forward and the grit to make a positive of our shared adversity.”
Darren Gale. Principal. Horizon International School.
12. The Folk of the Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton.
“I loved the fact that on every branch there was a different character, each with their own special talent.
My favourite characters were Mr Moonface who had a large face and was always happy and Mr Saucepan man, who was very deaf as his pans kept clashing together!
However, each character, even the grumpy Mrs Washalot, was able to help the children to solve mysteries in different ways.
I also remember being very excited to start to the next chapter. Each chapter took the children to a new imaginary land, based on a new cloud which could only be accessed after climbing to the top of the huge Faraway tree and, once at the top, the children had to climb a small ladder and poke their head through a space in the cloud.
From a very young age, I have been curious about different places and to meet people who have different life experiences from my own. I’ve always looked to travel to different countries and learn about different traditions. This fascination for learning about other cultures and other ways of life was one of my main drivers when deciding to move to the Middle East.
In the book, Ms Blyton writes:
“I don’t believe in things like that – fairies or brownies or magic or anything. It’s old-fashioned.”
‘Well, we must be jolly old-fashioned then,’ said Bessie. ‘Because we not only believe in the Faraway Tree and love our funny friends there, but we go to see them too – and we visit the lands at the top of the Tree as well!”
I am a passionate believer that we can all learn a lot more from people that have different backgrounds and experiences from our own upbringing, and this is why I love the UAE.
I feel very fortunate that I am part of an international community made up of people from so many different nationalities and a community that demonstrates tolerance and understanding towards all cultures.”
Kila Barber, Vice-Principal, Repton School Dubai
13. Anything by Enid Blyton! Famous Five, Secret Seven and Mallory Towers.
“In order to expand my repertoire of reading material and authors, my mother informed me that E. Nesbit (author of the Railway Children) was Enid Blyton’s cousin! Which, of course, wasn’t exactly true……But I really must add those books too.
Friendships and collaboration between people with different skill sets, are themes running through all of these books, together with a strong moral purpose. As I reflect on this now these are themes that have been important to my leadership. I value building open and honest relationships with children, staff and families. I truly believe everyone has something to offer- as a leader it is my role to facilitate this and enable individuals to learn from one another and grow and develop.”
Emma Shanahan, Principal, Aspen Heights British School
14. The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide
“I loved The Shrinking of Treehorn because it taught me about the importance of making time for people and it also taught me how NOT to be a school Principal.”
Wayne Howden, Principal, The Aquila School
15. Who can Help Me Remember the Name of the Childhood Book that I loved the Most?
“The book I remember most as a child was called something like “The Sea Knight”. I am not sure who wrote it.
I asked me parents to read it to me over and over.
It had water colour animations and I loved it.
It was about a sailor who killed a dolphin despite being told not to.
A Knight appeared out of the sea and took the sailor down into his kingdom where he was taught about respecting nature and caring for it so that nature would care for people. He was sent back to the surface to teach others about the importance of kindness and caring for and living alongside nature as well as each other.
…. Quite topical at the moment!”
David Flint. Principal. PACE British School (Sharjah)
16. The Mr Men Books by Adam Hargreaves and Roger Hargreaves
“My favourite books as a small child were the Mr Men books.
I would always smile when I was reading them as they would remind me of some of my friends. We have all had friends who were accident prone – Mr Bump. I had a friend called Stuart who was always shorter than us – Mr Small (he grew up to be 6ft 3 – Mr Tall).
There were lots more examples. I always wanted to be Mr Strong or Mr Fast but my Mum always related more to me being Mr Messy!
My eldest daughter has just had her 16th birthday and as part of her present we got her the Little Miss Trouble book. I considered Little Miss Sunshine but unfortunately the irony would have been lost on her!!”
Matthew Tompkins. Principal and CEO. GEMS FirstPoint School. The Villa.
17. The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde
“Wilde’s story has so many meanings but one that resonates with me is the innate ability of children to connect to the world around them, their joy in nature and most of all, their ability to melt the hardest of hearts.”
David Wilcock. Head of Primary. The English College.
18. Little Women by Louisa M Alcott
“My favourite childhood book will have to be Little Women!
Little Women is the kind of book that makes you think about the characters long after you’ve finished reading it.
Jo – I vividly remember Josephine March and the imagery her character conjured up – with her poetry writing, her fear of the dentist’s chair, her relationship with her sisters, the sharing of the gloves and the party dress that was ruined by a burn and yet had to be worn!
Mrs. March’s character too stayed with me, particularly the cold, winter’s night when they shared their dinner with a family that was starving, despite having so little themselves.
It is such books that perhaps shape your own character without you even knowing it!
Books were my absolute world when I was a child.
I just wish I had the luxury of time to read to my heart’s content now!”
Nargish Khambatta. Principal and Vice President-Education. GEMS Modern School.
19. The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier.
“One of my favourite books as a child was the Silver Sword, by Ian Serraillier.
Many years later I ended up as a History teacher.
I think it would be an exaggeration to lay responsibility for that on this book, but it was certainly
Instrumental in developing my fascination with the past – a love that continues to this day.”
Simon O’ Connor. Principal. Jumeirah College.
20. The Mallory Towers Series by Enid Blyton.
“I loved the Malory Towers series by the English children’s author Enid Blyton.
I went to a girls’ castle-like cliff top boarding school that looked very much like Mallory Towers – right down to the swimming pool that was actually in the sea.
We swam in the North Atlantic every day from April until September.
I still do that when I go home to Ireland.
Catherine McKeever. Principal and CEO. GEMS Wellington Primary School.
More about reading…
Reading and books have never, ever been more important.
They provide us, as parents, and our children, whilst locked away from the world self-isolating, a doorway out. As the locks click shut, books break open the doors and windows – flooding our lives with meaning, light and possibility.
At SchoolsCompared.com we have a deep-seated, impassioned love of reading. If the whole school system crumbled and technology went down, if power cuts ravaged the world and social media crashed, if telephone lines failed and television disappeared, with enough books our child’s education could still flourish. Books are the single most powerful possession and gift we have as we live our lives, and our children learn, at home.
Instilling that love of reading in children is about more than ticking a box in their education or increasing their reading levels. It is about the joy that is inspired by an amazing book and the doors to a child’s potential that can be opened by an inspirational story. Its about bravery, passion, love, loss, triumph and despair – no part of human life and our imagination is left untouched. As one protagonist says in Silver Linings Playbook: “Life is not a PG feel-good movie. Real life often ends badly. Literature tries to document this reality, while showing us it is still possible for us to endure nobly.”
And all this from a comfy sofa locked out from the world:
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
Dr Seuss. I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!
Why is reading important for children?
Here are our top four reasons why reading is important:
- Reading expands the vocabulary. Being able to effectively express our feelings and thoughts clearly and with confidence means greater social skills and positive interactions. A child that can communicate well performs better in school, makes deeper social connections and is generally well received socially. Equipping a child with great communications skills through reading is a cost-effective, easy win, which sets them up for a successful future. Bottom line is that being articulate in life is a powerful asset.
- Reading broadens their horizons. Children in the UAE are amongst some of the luckiest kids in the world. They live in a beautiful country that is full of opportunities and one of the best education systems in the world. Our school system today in the private sector is world class. But many children around the world are not so lucky. Reading about the kinds of lives other people live can help a child to understand and appreciate their privilege and instil a sense of empathy for those less fortunate than themselves. Empathy is one of the key building blocks of emotional intelligence – something that modern employers, like Google and Facebook, argue is the single most important quality they look for in candidates – and often one more important than qualifications.
- Reading is a great way to relax. Reading as a form of stress relief goes hand-in-hand with mindfulness, and many global studies have shown that reading has enormous physical benefits too. The 2009 study by the University of Sussex found that reading reduces stress by up to 68%. It is more immediate than other forms of relaxation, such as listening to music because our minds are transported instantly into a literary world that is free from the usual daily stresses worries – there is no better escape from the Covid19 pandemic than one in which it simply does not exist.
- Reading takes our children’s minds off troubled times. Children are extremely receptive. Although, as parents, we do attempt to shield them in age appropriate ways, it is impossible, in the face of Coronavirus Covid19, to keep them quarantined without them asking millions of questions as to the reasons why. For hints and tips on how to talk to your children about the Coronavirus pandemic look here. As parents, we would love to keep them wrapped in cotton wool but, for the benefit of their ability to manage stress in the future, we have to allow them to be somewhat exposed to the situation that is occurring. By doing so, we enable our children to process it, come to terms with it and move on when the time is right. There is no more powerful way to take our children’s minds away from the pandemic and its impact on our lives than immersing them in a book and the wonders of reading.
Why Reading is Important for Adults
- Reading Is Relaxing. Life can be stressful anyway and with the added pressure and uncertainty of the impact of Coronavirus Covid 19, it has never been more important for us, as parents, to take time out. With the constant bombardment of information (and disinformation) that comes with (often negative) social media and news channels it is healthy to disconnect and gain a new perspective.
- Reading slows down mental deterioration. A recent 2020 UK-based study shows that reading, for even just a few minutes everyday, significantly reduces the onset of Alzheimer’s and other mental degenerative diseases by keeping the brain active and engaged.
Why Reading Is Important for The Whole Family
- A wonderful way to reinforce the family bond is for Mum and Dad to read aloud to our children. Context is everything, and many of us, as parents, will say that our children’s initial love of reading stemmed not from the act itself, but from the memories that they cherish of sitting on their parent’s lap, or cuddled up for bed under the covers, while being read a story.
- Reading improves focus and concentration. It is very easy in the modern world. It is easy to be distracted, making simple tasks take longer or go unfinished as our thoughts are drawn away by gadgets, tablets, phone calls and the rushing madness of twenty first century life and work. Studies have found that reading a book absorbs our entire focus helping the mind to practice concentrating on one thing at a time helping us to remain more focused on our key tasks and improve your productivity.
- Reading boosts quality sleep. Most people who enjoy reading have fallen asleep half way through a chapter. This is because of the mental work out that reading requires combined with its capacity to relax us and reduce our stress. In these stressful, housebound times where usual routines are out the window, finding a way to prepare the mind and the body for sleep is vital.
There can be no doubt that reading has endless benefits, benefits that we would love to enjoy for ourselves and for our family.
How often, when we all plan for our holidays, do all of us think “Wow! I will have time to read”? How often, when we start packing, do most of us rush to the bookstore to get books ready for our holidays?
Top Tips for Instilling A Love Of Reading In our Children
Of course, encouraging our children to read when they have the allure of video games and social media pulling them in a different direction can be tough.
Not all children take to reading in the face of these diversions. Many children too struggle with phonics, learning issues or ever shortening attention spans in the face of the immediate gratification of movies and games.
One sure way to motivate reluctant readers is to engage all their senses in the reading journey.
Sight – Remove any distractions, like the TV on in the background or a teenager’s mobile phone. Choose a book that includes visual prompts. There are many illustrated Harry Potter books, for example, that ease the leap of children’s minds into the wonders of the printed page.
Sound – Whether it is soft music or complete silence, find a solution that works for your children. Audio books work wonders for younger children or children who struggle with reading. They can follow the words on the page while listening to the narrator to reinforce visual learning.
Smell – The sense of smell has been well documented as a powerful tool that aids the brain in making rich and lasting memories that are linked to emotions. Most avid readers know the distinctive smell of an aged paperback. Add a scented candle to a reading session to help establish a link between pleasant senses and a reading corner. For younger children, there are some lovely “scratch and sniff” books such as ‘The Hardworking Honey Bee’, by Tiffany Briggs or ‘Smelly Old History’, by Mary Dobson.
Touch – Our sense of touch helps us to form the link in our brains between sight and hearing. This helps children learn the art of reading.
For young children a tactile book can reinforce the meaning of the words.
Examples would be the word ‘cotton wool’ written in the page in actual cotton wool or the word ‘tree’ written in scratchy, bark like material.
There are lots of these types of books out there for babies, such as ‘Tickle, Tickle Peter’ by Beatrix Potter.
Tactile books too are a fabulous resource for children of determination and those on the autism spectrum.
Taste – We have yet to see a book on the market that includes something to taste within the story. But you can create this. It is simple to buy jelly beans that can be introduced to a child as they explore, for example, Harry Potter’s spin off book about Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, a wrapped golden chocolate bar as a child enters the world of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or a peach whilst they read his James And The Giant Peach.
Transform A Generic Space Into A Reading Wonderland
Create a reading nook. Every child loves a fort, so when you are trying to encourage kids to immerse themselves in a story, creating an inspirational reading zone can help. Some fairy lights, a soft blanket, a cuddly pillow simply create a magical place where children know they can begin their adventures.
As, because of Coronavirus Covid 19, many of us too have more time on our hands, we can go the extra mile and theme our reading nook according to the setting of the book. A pirates ship, a sandy beach, or interstellar spaceship!
Lead and Read By Example
Children take their cues from adults, especially their parents. Let the children see us reading, share the premise of our books with them and talk about how it makes us feel. Starting a mini family book club is a great way to bond with older children and it is an easy win to set aside half an hour to talk about the books that you have read, what you liked and what you didn’t.
Bring A Book to Life
Sourcing activities that reinforce a theme of a book is a wonderful way of bringing its story to life. Read the first Harry Potter book and then watch the movie, talk about what was different from the book and the movie and what each of you imagined differently in your minds eye to what you saw on the screen.
Read the Lion King and watch a documentary on the animal kingdom or read the Hungry Caterpillar and head to the garden to count bugs. You could dress up as one of the main characters in the book that you are reading and act out a scene … the options are endless.
Bottom Line: Reading is the Single Most Gift we Can Give to Our Children
The list of wonderful books is long and varied. If you would like to add your favourite book – one that you feel is important to share, please email us at [email protected]
In our Top 20, books by Roald Dahl, Oscar Wilde and Enid Blyton had the most mentions, but we could add any numbers of others from 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale to Animal Farm and An Inspector Calls. So too, no list should exclude the wonders of the Hunger Games for older readers. For those who have not experienced the wonderful poetry of EE Cummings, they have surely missed a treat. Of course, there are a million books that will have their admirers and our list makes the point only that books are loved and not forgotten.
Today our world is flooded with uncertainty – and this is often exacerbated by Social Media. As parents, many of us are worried about our families and loved ones….. fretful about the education of our children and the emotional, physical and psychological impact of quarantine caused by the Coronavirus Covid19 pandemic.
Amongst the uncertainty, finding small silver linings amongst the heavy clouds of worry can go along way to easing our minds.
As parents, using our new-found time to reignite the passion for reading within ourselves, and to perpetuate that love of books in our children, is one of those silver linings.
As a parent, as well as a journalist, writing this article reminded me of just how important, just how magical, books and reading truly are.
As the world shuts its doors, books open new ones. The next time our children want some excitement in their lives, reading, as sure as night is not day, is surely the most perfect of all places to start. More than this, as the storms of Covid 19 rage around us and the darkest of night sky crushes out the light, reading and books light our way with hope and the absolute promise that, together, we will all get through this.
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