World Book Day: 10 children’s books you must read

Emirates Airline Festival of Literature founder Isobel Abulhoul on how a love of reading begins early at home

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It’s not enough for parents to hope their children grow up to love books — they need to create an environment conducive to inspiration.

That’s the main message from Isobel Abulhoul, chief executive of the Emirates Literature Foundation and founder of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

“My love of books started very early in my life, thanks to my late beloved parents, for whom reading and books were seen as enjoyment and a source of knowledge,” she says.

“Our home had books dotted about, in the main living room, in the bedrooms, on the kitchen table.

“With visits to the library and books given as gifts on special occasions, this meant I have always looked at books as my best friends.”

With World Book Day arriving on Thursday, Abulhoul encourages parents and families to begin a new chapter by bringing the joy of reading and storytelling into their homes.

Here are 10 of her favourite books, from classics to the contemporary, to get you started

1. ‘The Pirate Twins’ by William Nicholson (1929)

“This beautiful picture book was my favourite and one that my father loved too.

"He read it to me repeatedly. I think it gave me a sense of adventure, travel, and excitement. In this book, I was ‘Mary’ waiting for the pirate twins to return to share my birthday cake!”

2. ‘The Famous Five’ series by Enid Blyton (first published in 1942)

“I devoured the stories and tried to re-enact the adventures with my brother and reluctant friends in our garden at home. Our cat had to pretend to be the dog, Timmy.”

3. ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson (1911)

“When the story begins, Mary Lennox was a spoilt, demanding girl who becomes an orphan and must travel to the UK and the forbidding Yorkshire Moors to live with her uncle, whom she has never met.

“Over the course of the story, Mary finds out about the secret garden, why it is locked, and meets Dickon, who has a special way with animals.

“Mary transforms herself over the course of the story and becomes a heroine. I could not stop reading and fell in love with all the characters.”

4. ‘Heidi’ by Johanna Spyri (1881)

“I had not been yet to Switzerland when I read this novel, but I was transported to the Alps, living in a mountain hut, keeping goats. It felt so real. Heidi was an inspirational heroine, a real and believable girl, who achieved so much.”

5. ‘A Baby Sister for Frances’ by Russell Hoban (1964)

“Frances is a badger, and she is the main character in this series of beautiful picture books that tackle normal challenges that occur in family life.

“My children loved these stories and we re-read them many, many times.”

6. ‘Good Night, Mr Tom’ by Michelle Magorian (1981)

“I read this novel as an adult and my children read it, too. It is a beautiful story, tackling difficult subjects, but full of love and kindness.

“It is set during the Second World War and features a young boy who is evacuated from London during the Blitz to a small village and ends up living with Mr Tom, an old widower.

“Both Willie, the young boy, and Mr Tom were transformed over the course of the story. This book is a family favourite.”

7. ‘Mr Friend Flicka’ by Mary O’Hara (1941)

"The Flicka horse series really kept my horse-mad daughter reading.

“She loved these stories set in the USA, with the mustang horse and a young boy named Ken.”

8. ‘Danny, the Champion of the World’ by Roald Dahl (1975)

“I read this with my son and I still have such strong memories of the time we spent dedicated to sharing this inspirational story together.

“It is good to read stories together with your children. After that, they can enjoy reading themselves. It forms a special bond with characters that you love and encourages discussion of the plot.”

9. ‘Holes’ by Louis Sachar (1998)

“I read this when it was first published and then some of my children read it and loved it.

“We spent many happy dinner times discussing what we thought would happen next. The main character is Stanley Yelnats, who is sent to Camp Green Lake, a correctional boot camp in the Texas desert.

“The author really writes a gripping mystery story that appeals so strongly to young readers.”

10. ‘War Horse’ by Michael Morpurgo (1982)

“This author always captivates the reader. This novel tells the story of Joey, a horse bought by the army for service in the First World War in France, and the attempts of 15-year-old Albert, his previous owner, to bring him safely home.

“Great and difficult themes run throughout the story and are tackled in most sensitive ways. This is a novel that builds empathy and understanding.”

Updated: March 03, 2022, 6:39 AM