A friend reached out to me the other day, asking for reading recommendations for her 10-year old daughter.
“She read five books in a week, and I am running out of ideas!”, she lamented.
One of the best problems to have, in my opinion. And one that is easily remedied by reaching out to your favourite Russian.
After a brief chat, not only I have been caught up in reminiscing on all my childhood reads, but also realized that my reading list was quite old (1890s, 1930s, 1950s – no Dora The Explorer here!) and impressively multicultural – as Europeans seems to be a tad less ethnocentric in their reading habits than North American folk.
Here is a brief (ha!) sampling of the books I read around the age 10-12. Be warned, I read Greek mythology at seven, and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” at eight, so these might be deemed questionable by some parents. ????
This particular 10-year old is into fantasy, so let’s start with something predictable.
Make sure you have “Harry Potter” (English), “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” (English) covered. I am personally not a fan of Tolkien (yes, I tried), but whether or not the kid likes those books can also inform your further recommendations. Then try Eragon.
To up the ante, check out Edgar Rice Burroughs (American) and his Tarzan series (a more obvious choice), and his Mars series (a less obvious choice). From here, I’d like to take the preferred genre (e.g. fantasy) and push it out into somewhat related, but different genres.
Mary Poppins (English) – this series will have those beautiful nonsensical scenes reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. The Russian film adaptation is… brilliant. And I am super picky when it comes to book-turned-movies.
Brothers Grimm (German) were less authors, and more academics obsessed with folk tales. They collected such stories as “Cinderella”, “Hansel and Gretel” and many more. If you read these, you might learn that Disney took many liberties with the corresponding plot lines. And that the originals are much… darker. For example, the evil sisters were instructed by their mother to cut off their toes in order to fit the slipper. The prince realized he was fooled when blood kept dripping from their feet. Um. Yeah.
The Moomins (Swedish) is a comic strip and a series of books, describing lives of hippo-like characters. They are… adorbs.
Karlsson-On-The-Roof (Swedish) is another character most Russian kids grew up with, thanks to a great cartoon adaptation from the 70s. Karlsson is a bit like the Swedish Homer Simpson. But clever.
Hans Christian Andersen (Danish) is best known for his fairy tales, which are now so ubiquitous, most people do not know their author. Think Little Mermaid, Ugly Ducking, and The Snow Queen. Once again, the original stories read darker than the rainbow coloured Disney adaptations you might be used to. Let’s just say, Little Mermaid does not marry the prince in the end…
Greeks are gods (haaa!) when it comes to mythology. And then you pick up transferrable knowledge that lasts you for the rest of your life. I once got a free coffee at a coffeeshop, because they had a trivia-like question on their blackboard, and I knew that “Boreas” refers to the god of wind. You can’t go wrong with adventures of Odyssey, and Heracles.
One Thousand And One Nights is a collection of tales, originally in Arabic. So good. There are some… risqué scenes and sexual innuendos, but if you are seven, they don’t really arise much interest. At least they didn’t for me. Now though… ????
The Finnish epic Kalevala, and the stories of Vainamoinen – expect creation myths and Hercules like adventures. Vainamoinen possessed the ultimate wisdom from the moment he was born, because his poor mother carried him in her womb for hundreds of years. It is said that he was the source for Tolkien’s Gandalf.
Jack London (American)’s stuff would be heavier than dragons and mermaids, and chances are, Martin Eden won’t be super interesting to a 10-year old, but hey, he writes about dogs, and wolves. Kids like those. Right?
On that note, I am tempted to include animal fiction writing by Ernest Thompson Seton (English). More wolves! But also grizzly bears, along with their habits, hunting strateies and more. I loved the exploration of the human-wild animal relationships in his stories.
Jules Verne (French) practically raised me. This is travel adventure at its best. Some also consider him to be the father of science fiction. You may be familiar with Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, but my favourite is The Adventures of Captain Hatteras – an ill advised but passionate expedition to the North Pole. Expect pemmican, scurvy, and some death.
Montezuma’s Daughter (English) will include shipwrecks and human sacrifice. I loved it.
Sherlock Holmes (English), Robinson Crusoe (English) and The Three Musketeers (French) come to mind. If you make your way through the Three Musketeers (as a historical novel, it starts out pretty slow, so I limped my way through the first fifty pages or so, but then… OMG), move on to The Count Of Monte-Cristo. Do yourself a favour and do NOT watch any film adaptations until after you read the book. None of them do it justice.
If you are reading this list, and thinking to yourself: “Gosh, there is a child who was not very athletic”, you’d be right. LOL.
And… I am now tempted to re-read all of these. ????