Last week a friend asked me for book suggestions for her daughter who loves the Rainbow Magic fairy books. She loves the fantasy aspect of the series, and the slim volumes that don’t intimidate her. But what could she read next? What should she move on to?
It struck me that it’s probably a common question. The Rainbow Magic books are quite a phenomenon, with children lapping up the books and enjoying following a series. But there are so many beautifully written and illustrated books out there – so many wonderful new characters to meet and authors and illustrators to discover. So a quick look through the bookshelves and a lot of twitter chat later, here are some ideas that may help.
I’ve split the books by type and in each section the books get progressively trickier to make it easier for you to judge which books will suit your children’s reading abilities.
The Rescue Princesses by Paula Harrison (Nosy Crow)
A fantastic series of books that shows children that princesses can be smart, independent and great role models. Think ninja-princesses working together and using magic jewels to rescue animals and help the environment. The book format is very similar to the Rainbow Fairy books with short chapters, lots of line-drawing illustrations to break up the text and confidence-boosting slim volumes. They will appeal to children who enjoy the fantasy of Rainbow Fairies while gently nudging children in a slightly more ‘girl-power’ direction. Plus bonus points for character diversity. Hurrah!
When they’ve worked through The Rescue Princesses they could try Faerie Tribes by the same author. (Nosy Crow)
Paula Harrison’s Faerie Tribes series offers magic, mystery and excitement with a new quest at the heart of each book. The books are longer than The Rescue Princesses books and more advanced in language and structure.
You can find out more here.
Amazing Esme by Tamara Macfarlane and Michael Fowkes (Hodder)
Meet Esme and her cast of weird and wonderful friends. Follow her wild and imaginative adventures as she leaves behind her circus home to spend the summer with her cousins. When hundreds of baby penguins hatch in Esme’s top floor bedroom, the children have to figure out how to get them outside. Esme and her cousin have the ingenious idea of building a helter skelter around the castle turret, but this is just the start – soon Maclinkey Castle is turned into a full-on Fairground Circus with a big wheel, Bumper Bears, and the show stopping Flying Tigers starring Esme herself!
Amazing Esme is the first book in a series that celebrates the freedom to have adventures. Think Pippi Longstocking with a pirouetting donkey. The Esme books are well-written, short, easy to read, fast-paced and full of fun and adventure. Loads of illustrations throughout and follow on activity ideas at the back.
The Secrets of Flamant Castle by Frances Watts and Gregory Rogers. (Allen & Unwin)
The complete adventures of Sword Girl and friends includes six books about Tommy, a kitchen girl at Flamant Castle. She dreams of becoming a knight and when she is made the Keeper of the Blades, caring for all the swords in the castle, it seems like her dream might come true. Fun stories about standing up for yourself and following your dreams. Tommy is a great role model with a team of fun characters -like Lil the talking cat and the ghost of a young squire. Short chapters and large text, the book itself is large as it has all six volumes in one, but each individual story is only about 80 pages long.
Sally Gardner’s Magical Children (Orion) series is a collection of six books about children with magic powers.
Well written stories about ordinary children with extraordinary powers, these books use magical adventures to look at real life problems that children might face – like absent parents, bullying, friendship problems and finding the bravery needed to follow your dreams. Large text, slim volumes with some illustration.
After the Magical Children series, children who are comfortable reading independently could try Sally Gardner’s Wings & Co. fairy detective agency books (Orion).
Operation Bunny is the first in the series. When Emily Vole inherits an abandoned shop, she discovers a magical world she never knew existed. But a fairy-hating witch, a mischievous set of golden keys, and a train full of brightly coloured bunnies are just a few of the surprises that come with it. With the help of a talking cat called Fidget and a grumpy fairy detective called Buster, it’s up to Emily to get to the bottom of Operation Bunny.
Brilliantly written by Gardner, and exquisitely illustrated by David Roberts, these are longer books (180 pages in Operation Bunny) with smaller text. The wide line gaps and short chapters (about 6 pages each) which are broken up by a couple of illustrations per chapter, make these books excellent stepping stones towards longer novels. Sally Gardner’s books are beautifully gender-stereotype-free with positive characters and strong role models aplenty.
The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy (Puffin)
I loved these as a child, and last year the 7th book in the series, The Worst Witch and the Wishing star was published alongside lovely large format new editions of the first six. Start with The Worst Witch – Mildred Hubble is the worst witch at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches – she’s always getting her spells wrong. But she manages to get by until she turns Ethel, the teacher’s pet, into her deadly enemy…
Large format paperbacks, with large text and illustrations throughout, children who can read the Rainbow Magic books independently will be comfortable with these.
Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles by Rupert Kingfisher. (Bloomsbury)
This is the first in a series of books about a girl called Madeleine who works for her horrid uncle. She discovers Madame Pamplemousse’s shop selling the strangest, rarest and most delicious edibles in the whole world. Madeleine joins forces with Madame Pamplemousse and Camembert the cat in a magical adventure to protect the incredible edibles from her uncle. These are slim and sparkly volumes with large text and line drawings throughout.
Baby Aliens Got My Teacher by Pamela Butchart (Nosy Crow)
One day Izzy and her friends are surprised to find that their teacher, Miss Jones, is actually being nice to them. This is the woman who was caught secretly smiling when Maisie Miller fell off her chair. There can only be one conclusion: she’s been taken over by aliens, and now she wants to make them all aliens too! A very funny book with large type and fast paced writing that will have children racing through to the end. Lots of illustrations at the edges of pages throughout to break up the text.
Witchworld by Emma Fischel (Nosy Crow)
More confident readers who are ready to read a longer novel may like Witchworld. A contemporary witch school story, Witchworld tells the story of Flo, a thoroughly modern witchgirl. She has a spellstick, travels about in her skyrider and wouldn’t know a cauldron if she fell into one. But when her grandmother turns up on an actual broomstick, warning that ghouls are about to attach Witchworld, Flo realises everything she’s been told about being a witch is just hocus pocus.
A very funny story, this is the first book in the Witchworld series. This is a full sized novel with smaller type and no illustrations to break up the text, although it does have character illustrations by Chris Riddell at the start – and a gorgeous bright green edging.
Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends by Shannon Hale (Little, Brown)
Shannon Hale demonstrates that a popular series with spin offs and merchandise can be beautifully well written. She has smashed all my preconceptions and taught me never to judge a book by its merchandise. Her Ever After High series is fantastic and her use of language shines through. The first book, The Storybook of Legends, tells the tale of the students of Ever After High and their pledge to fulfil their destinies as the next generation of Snow Whites, Prince Charmings and Evil Queens. A fantastic concept and brilliant mix of school story and reimagined fairy tale, showing children that they have the right to choose their own destinies and follow their dreams. These are full sized paperbacks suited to confident readers. (Once you have the Shannon Hale bug, try her prize-winning Princess Academy series for a beautifully feminist twist on the traditional princess-in-training story. Her writing sings throughout.)
The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler (Orion) is the first in a series of books centred around mermaids, friendship and family.
Emily Windsnap lives on a boat, but her mother has always been oddly anxious to keep her out of the water. It is only when Emily has her first school swimming lesson that she discovers why: as soon as she gets into the water, she grows a tail! Great writing and a very collectible series, these are longer books for confident readers.
Zoe’s Rescue Zoo by Amelia Cobb and Sophy Williams (Nosy Crow)
The Zoe’s Rescue Zoo books follow Zoe’s adventures living at her uncle’s very special zoo. He travels the world rescuing animals and bringing them back to the zoo to be nurtured back to health. It’s Zoe’s job to help them settle in and she has a secret that helps her – she can talk to the animals! Each book in the series focuses on a new animal. The reading level is very similar to The Rainbow Fairies books – slim volumes, beautiful illustrations, large text and short chapters.
Lucy’s Secret Reindeer by Anne Booth and Sophy Williams (Oxford)
A magical winter’s tale about a very special friendship, perfect for Christmas. Lucy has a big secret . . . Santa’s left her a little reindeer in the garden shed! But Starlight is poorly, and Santa won’t be able to deliver any presents if he’s not well in time. Can Lucy make Starlight better and save Christmas?
This is a beautiful book with a gentle tone that children will love to read independently. A slim volume with large text and illustrations throughout.
Seal Island by Julia Green (Oxford)
For more advanced readers, try Julia Green’s animal books. Seal Island follows the adventures of Grace as she spends her holidays with Granny at her house by the sea. Grace makes friends with local boy Col who knows the secrets of the island. When Grace discovers a small seal pup separated from its mother after a storm, she’s not sure if she can help it, but she has to try.
A great step between small novels and full sized ones, this book is a slim volume but with smaller print and very few illustrations. Julia Green has written more animal stories for children to collect and would make a wonderful step towards the Gill Lewis animal books.
Broadening their horizons
Life after Rainbow Magic doesn’t have to be all about magic, glitter and cuddly animals. Books can be a child’s window to a whole new world, or a mirror to see themselves from a different perspective. How about something a bit different…
The Girls FC series by Helena Pielichaty (Walker) is a highly collectible and beautifully inclusive series about a girls’ under 11s football team.
The first book in the series, Do Goalkeepers Wear Tiaras? introduces Megan and how wearing a tiara and fairy wings to football practice led to her starting her own, brilliant girls’ football team.
Great characters to follow
The Daisy books by Kes Gray (Random House) are genius!
They are riotously funny and Daisy is a fantastic character; smart, articulate, full of imagination, creativity…and mischief! The books really celebrate childhood and show children being children. Children may have already come across her in picture books such as Super Daisy And Eat Your Peas. Once children are reading independently the Daisy and the Trouble With… series are perfect books to engage children and boost their reading confidence. These books are a similar reading level as the Rainbow Fairy books, with larger text and short chapters, lots of illustrations and fast paced story lines. The language used is simple but the books themselves are thicker volumes, which will help build confidence and take away the fear of picking up a big book. The Daisy and the Trouble With… books work as stand-alones and can be read in any order.
Susie Day’s Pea books (Random House) are full of fantastic characters, wonderfully written, fast-paced, and beautifully inclusive works of joy.
Pea’s Book of Best Friends is the first in the series. Pea has just moved to London with her mum, her (sometimes annoying) sisters, and Wuffly the dog. She sets out to find a new Best Friend…but it proves to be harder than it sounds. If you want your children to read about characters who are beautifully real and flawed and intriguing, then this is the set for you. I can’t rave about them enough! These books are a step up from the Rainbow Magic books and are best suited to confidently independent readers.
Laura Dockrill’s Darcy Burdock books (Random House) are the perfect follow on from Susie Day’s Pea books.
They share the same energy, humour and pace and they are very similar in size and format. Ten-year-old Darcy Burdock is one of life’s noticers. Curious, smart-as-a-whip, funny and fiercely loyal, she sees the extraordinary in the everyday and the wonder in the world around her. Darcy is a great character to grow up with.
New authors to fall in love with
If you are looking for fantastic writing (and who isn’t) Hilary McKay is the author to head for. Flawless and inspiring writing, brilliant characters, great role models and stories that will engage and excite. You could start with her Lulu stories (Scholastic).
Short chapters, slim volumes and illustrations throughout make these lovely books for newly independent readers.
For older/more advanced readers try Binny for Short or The Casson Family stories, starting with Saffy’s Angel.
Jacqueline Wilson is a hugely prolific author whose books offer a huge variety of characters and story lines. Her skill is in portraying real families and children dealing with real-to-life situations. The Jacqueline Wilson Treasury (Random House) is a full colour illustrated book that includes some of her stories suitable for younger readers and is the perfect introduction to her work.
For more confident readers, you could try the Tracy Beaker or Hetty Feather series, or her most recent book, Opal Plumstead
Graphic novels/illustrated chapter books
Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre (Oxford) are stunning books. Highly illustrated throughout by Sarah McIntyre (Summer Reading Challenge 2014 illustrator) these books are laugh out loud funny masterpieces.
Oliver grew up in a family of explorers – but his biggest adventure is about to begin! With his new friends – a grumpy old albatross, a short-sighted mermaid and a friendly island called Cliff – Oliver goes off in search of his missing parents. But before he can put his rescue plan into action, there’s an army of pesky sea monkeys to contend with…
Astra and her family are travelling through space when their spaceship is attacked! Killer cupcakes, batty battenbergs, and marauding muffins – cakey fiends are on the loose! It’s up to Astra and her robot friend, Pilbeam, to stop them before they destroy her ship… After all, people should eat cakes, not the other way round…
Graphic novels offer fantastic storytelling in a highly illustrated format that can be easier for children to digest than their chapter book counterparts.
Gum Girl by Andi Watson (Walker)
Short stories in a comic book format with a super-heroine who has just moved to a new town. With mild peril and fairy tale twists, humour and modern issues, this is a great place to start.
Hildafolk by Luke Pearson (Nobrow)
Hilda is sitting in her tent at night listening to the rumble of the storm passing overhead when she hears a bell. As she hurtles towards the vanishing tinkling sound, Hilda unwittingly embarks on an adventure into strange worlds ruled by magical forces. The start of a brilliantly contemporary graphic novel series.
What would you add? Please let me know what books you and your children have enjoyed. Join in in the comments below.
A huge thank you to my twitter crew who helped me out with some fantastic suggestions.
Source: review copies of Esme and the Pirate Circus, Opal Plumstead, and The Secrets of Flamant Castle kindly sent by the publishers. All other copies my own or researched online.