two kids reading a fairy tale book

 Teaching Children: Books for Young People who want to know more

Some years ago, I met with three serious Chinese folk for coffee in a barn-like farmer’s market outside Boston. They’d heard that I taught writing to adults; would I consider teaching children, too? I was not sure.

            Classes would be just once a week, so I could comfortably slot them into my schedule. I was touched that they were so intent on their children getting the best education that they’d started an after school learning center. I agreed, then panicked, what did I know about teaching children? I’d raised two of my own, but as any parent knows, that is at best a suspect credential. I enrolled to get a Massachusetts teacher certification and started planning classes.

            My fears were quashed by the children. I loved them. And just like being a parent, they don’t know when you’re incompetent, but they do register when you are kind, attentive, interesting and interested, with a humorous bent.

And then 2020 happened to us all. I anticipated lockdowns long before sleepy United States of America (USA) governors and a belligerent covid denialist president (Donald Trump) and recommended to the Chinese school that they go online. I signed up for Zoom and have been enslaved to it since.

            The Chinese community has an app called WeChat, and news of my classes saw me flooded with requests. I taught everyone from children with severe autism (one in 36 children has autism in the USA, according to the Centers for Disease Control) to graduate classes. This was juggled that with book coaching because during the pandemic, many dragged out dusty manuscripts or decided to finally pen that book. I was hectic and sleep-deprived.

            I now teach fewer children, but they remain my best beloveds, here are some books they enjoy, and yours might too.

Teaching Children: Grades 2 – 5:

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, written in 1908. Students love it for its gentle humour, wonderful descriptions and tales of a mole, a water rat, and a badger. Also get his fabulous Reluctant Dragon, about a somewhat camp dragon who has no interest in fighting. You’ll giggle with your kids as you read it.

The Iron Giant by Ted Hughes, written for his children. This book by Britain’s former poet laureate is an incredible tale about misunderstanding and redemption.

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown. Robot Roz opens her eyes on a remote, wild island and struggles to find her place in a hostile world.

The Graveyard book by Neil Gaiman, despite a troubling beginning, this is a sweet, fantastical book.

Anything by Roald Dahl, truly, anything, whether Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach. His books are funny and irreverent.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein; the book that continues to inspire fantasy writing. Tolkein’s immortal tale is of Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf and their adventures.

The Little Prince by Antoine de St. Exupery. The best book in the world about love and loving. Written in New York after St. Exupery fled the Nazi occupation of Paris, this tale is filled with wise insights. Everyone should read this.

Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne. My children banned me from reading this book to them because I laughed so much. They couldn’t understand the story. A book about a bear, a boy, and various toys.

Dragonfly Eyes by Cao Wenxuan, three generations of a family and their lives from France to impoverished Shanghai after the Second World War.

“Where is papa going with that axe?” is the wonderful opening to Charlotte’s Web by EB White about the friendship between a girl and a pig, but mostly between a pig and a spider.

Teaching Children: Grades 6-8

One of my students asked for a book about romance and I turned up my nose. Yet, there is a book with a touching love story and in which the reader learns how Japanese suffered in United States internment camps in the Second World War, and what happened to Jews in Nazi-controlled France. The book I’m thinking of is Andrew Fukuda’s brilliant, award-winning This Light Between Us.

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. This crazy classic makes me laugh every time I read it.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is always worth re-reading and to contemplate this insightful tale about two children living in the racist south of the USA in the 1930s, when their dad takes on a case to defend a black man. 

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin is about the race to develop the atomic bomb and the spying that goes on between Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the USA. A gripping read.

Animal Farm by George Orwell. Classic warning about the dangers of totalitarianism disguised as a tale about pigs and other farmyard animals.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakenauer. About a major disaster on Mount Everest, which includes a scathing account of a team of South Africans.

Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery – Recipient of the Grand Prix of the Academie Francaise. St. Exupery was a French mail pilot who flew between France and the Sahara. These are some of his adventures.

Touching the Void by Joe Simpson – The author falls off an icy edge high in the Peruvian Andes and breaks his leg as a blizzard approaches. What unfolds is a remarkable account of survival. I’m not good with heights and even reading this scared me in sections.

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Charlene Smith is a multi-award-winning journalist, author, book editor, and writing coach. She is also an authorized biographer of Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela.

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