This is both, very difficult and very easy. Easy, because I have easily more than ten books that I would want to recommend for little things. Difficult, because I have to choose ten. So I’ll have to leave out some, which I will then feel very bad about leaving out. Ah well. Life is full of tough decisions. So here’s my list of holiday must-reads for children from ages four to around seven. Or eight. Or actually (why not), nine.
Where the Wild Things Are Though I’d decided to avoid the obvious ones, this is one that cannot be overlooked. Maurice Sendak’s wild fantasy is a book that will appeal to every child who has ever been told off for being a bad girl or boy. The illustrations are marvellous and scary, and express the dangerous exhilaration of being bad better than words ever could.
Tabby McTat Everyone knows of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler because of The Gruffalo. But here’s a charming book by the same pair, which has a singing cat, the most delightful verse and a story with such a satisfying ending that you sit back at the end of it with a smile and a sigh.
The Lorax I could recommend a summer’s worth of Dr Seuss, but I shall show great restraint, and only talk about one. This book is the story of the Lorax, who speaks for the trees, and the Once-ler who allows greed to get the better of him. It has all the Dr Seuss trademarks – characters who only exist in the world of the book, pitch perfect verse, humour and allegory. So read it, and then go and read all the other Dr Seusses. (Why do you need the rest of the list?)
The Magic Finger Roald Dahl is another writer whose oevre could fill your summer days with joy, but I have a soft corner for this one because it was one of my first ‘younger’ Dahls. What’s not to like? Magic, characters you love, characters you hate and the most satisfying comeuppance for the bad guys. That’s quintessential Roald Dahl, and that’s why he will figure on every summer reading list ever made by any person with sense. And by some persons without.
Book Uncle And Me Uma Krishnaswami won the Scholastic Asia Book Award for this one, and when you read it you know why: it’s an utterly charming book, written in rhythmic prose, which has a lovely story, told with an admirable lightness of touch. To add to the treat, it has delightful illustrations by the fabulous Priya Kuriyan. It’s the story of a little girl’s attachment to a pavement library, and her struggle to save it.
Unprincess What a zany book! Manjula Padmanabhan’s politically horribly incorrect book makes you realise that political correctness is overrated. It is a set of whimsical stories about unlikely characters – my favourite is Urmila, who is so ugly, she becomes an agent of Mass Horrification. I can see the PC-types going ‘Gasp!’ Read it, people, and you’ll be gasping with laughter.
The Monkeys’ Fast A folk tale retold by Kaushik Viswanath, the book has illustrations by Shilpa Ranade, one of the most versatile children’s books illustrators in India today. It’s a treat to look at and a treat to read. Even if it’s a story that you’ve heard before, read it, because a story well told never goes stale.
HenSparrow Turns Purple This gorgeous book opens out into a wall hanging. Each page of the book is like a painting. Pulak Biswas knows how to create characters with a brush. But beautiful as the illustrations are, it’s Gita Wolf’s writing that made me read this book over and over. I love the quaint and incongruously Brit way the characters talk! It lends a whole different level of charm to the book. I’m not sure this book is still in print, though.
Hello Charlie Hilary McKay has been a top favourite in our home since my daughter and I discovered her books in a library and read all of them one summer, long ago. But those were middle grade books. The Charlie books are chapter books for early readers. This one’s a bind up with four stories about Charlie and his best friend Harry, who seem to be unable to keep out of trouble. No one can get into a child’s head like MacKay can. Read all her books. All of them.
Dial a Ghost When a nasty uncle and aunt hire ghosts to haunt their nephew, things go horribly wrong for them. Because of a mix-up at the agency, the ghosts are not scary at all, and the lonely nephew is glad for the company. But the nasties won’t give up so easily … This book has everything an Eva Ibbotson fan would look for: terribly endearing children in deep trouble because of a bunch of nasties; ghosts and ghouls who don’t scare you; humour, pathos, drama and fun!
But what’s a summer without a platypus? For some Duckbilled entertainment, there are the Duckbill hOle books:
The Vampire Boy by Sharanya Deepak
Trouble with Magic by Asha Nehemiah
The Monster Hunters by Parinita Shetty
Maya Saves the Day by Meera Nair
And then there’s one without a hole:
The Stupendous Timetelling Superdog by Himanjali Sankar