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Meet our Book Doctors... Cressida Cowell and Francesca Simon

In our Book Doctor feature, we welcome a guest to prescribe just the right read for any mood or occasion.

Cressida Cowell, author of the bestselling How to Train Your Dragon and The Wizards of Once series, and Francesca Simon, author of the bestselling Horrid Henry series, have joined us to prescribe fantastic books and reading advice. for young booklovers. 

How would you give children a love for the magic of books? Can you recommend one book to start the journey when there's somebody to read to them, and one when they're ready to fledge and read on their own? – Russell

Reading together far beyond the age they can read for themselves is the best way to give children a love of books, so I'd say every book is one that can be read to them. If a kid sees that a book can make an adult laugh and cry, then it signals that books are important. Don't be scared to do ALL the voices. When I started writing How to Train Your Dragon, I put in lots of illustrations and created the storyline thinking about parents as well as children.

I'd also say follow their interests, and try lots of sorts of books. Don't force them to finish a book they find boring. Depending on the child's age, a few of my favourites are: The Ogre Downstairs by Diana Wynne Jones, Wonder by RJ Palacio and The Lorax by Dr Seuss.

Listening to audiobooks in the car on holidays can be brilliant. I'm so lucky that my books are read by David Tennant, and it's his genius that gets a lot of families into How to Train Your Dragon and The Wizards of Once.

Do go to your local library and bookshop and ask for recommendations – they can be a wonderful resource. – Cressida

The Ogre Downstairs by Diana Wynne Jones

I'm a 10-year-old girl. I want to become a writer when I'm older. What type of books should I write? – Kaitlyn

Whatever interests YOU. I would get a Magical Ideas Notebook, which you use for use for drawings, beginning stories, and research. Research sounds so boring, but it’s actually very exciting: one of my tips about writing is that it's is like telling a really big lie. The more detail you put in, the more believable it is. For The Wizards of Once, I did a lot of research into Ancient Britain, and for How to Train Your Dragon, I read a lot about Vikings (did you know that Vikings believed in dragons?). I wrote the most interesting bits of this research into my notebooks, and a lot found its way into the finished books. Have a look at for some of my story starter ideas.

Don't worry if you aren't finishing stories, that comes with practise. Enter competitions like the Wicked Young Writers Competition, because nothing concentrates the mind like a deadline... – Cressida

Book Doctor

I love reading and assumed that my 11-year-old daughter would be the same. I've tried everything, but she still sees reading as a massive chore/punishment. How can I get her to fall in love with it? – Abie

I sympathise. I have three children and one of them was a real struggle (mostly because she would never sit still). There is no easy or quick answer, I’m afraid, you just have to keep trying. You just need that one book that they really enjoy to get them going. I left books I thought she might like lying around, and eventually she picked up a Louise Rennison book when she was 13, and has been a reader ever since. Make sure you and other people are reading in front of her. Read with her, if she’ll still let you. Take her to see films of books; listen to audiobooks in the car. Don’t give up hope! – Cressida

My son also wasn't a keen reader but he always enjoyed audiobooks. Perhaps she would enjoy them as well? Your daughter must have keen interests or hobbies or subjects she loves, so I'd try to get her books/ magazines, etc. which mirror her interests. My brother, for example, loved collecting coins so he basically learned to read from coin catalogues. Have you found out WHY she sees reading as a punishment? Is she reading books which are too difficult for her? Or on subjects she isn’t interested in? A visit to an independent bookseller could also help, as the bookseller can find out what interests her and suggest the PERFECT book. Good luck. – Francesca

Book Doctor

My 10-year-old daughter has severe dyslexia and is not a fan of reading because the books she can access are all too young for her. Can you recommend any age-appropriate books she might be able to read? Thank you! – Mary

I know from the letters I get that kids with dyslexia LOVE my Horrid Henry books, and find them very readable. Because they are enjoyed by a wide range of kids, they also don’t feel silly reading them. Barrington Stokes publishes a wide age range of books accessible to dyslexic children and it’s well worth checking out their offerings. – Francesca

Ellie and the Cat by Malorie Blackman

I've recently begun year 8 and some boys have started picking on me because I love reading. They keep calling me a nerd and a geek. I don’t know why they are doing this as there is nothing wrong with reading. What should I do? – Molly, age 13

Nerds and geeks rule our world – haven’t they noticed?! I'm a proud nerd and geek and I would take it as a huge compliment. Truly. Thank them with a big smile. Be puzzled that they don’t like reading.

Reading opens the world to you. Not reading shuts it down. You are flying and they are earth-bound. Reading is the best thing in the world and I feel sad and sorry for anyone who doesn’t love it. – Francesca


Book Doctor
The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell

About The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell

From the bestselling author of How to Train Your Dragon comes an exciting high-adventure series - set in an ancient, magical time, full of Wizards, Warriors, Giants and Sprites.

This is the story of a young boy Wizard and a young girl Warrior who have been taught since birth to hate each other like poison; and the thrilling tale of what happens when their two worlds collide.

Perfect for boys and girls who love fantasy adventure...

Once there was Magic, and the Magic lived in the dark forests. Until the Warriors came...

Xar is a Wizard boy who has no Magic, and will do anything to get it. Wish is a Warrior girl, but she owns a banned Magical Object, and she will do anything to conceal it.

In this whirlwind adventure, Xar and Wish must forget their differences if they're going to make it to the dungeons at Warrior Fort.

Where something that has been sleeping for hundreds of years is stirring...

Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon, illustrated by Tony Ross

About Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon, illustrated by Tony Ross

This book contains HIDEOUS behaviour, terrible dancing, disgusting glop and a trip to France!

Four utterly hilarious and totally brilliant Horrid Henry stories by Francesca Simon, with illustrations by Tony Ross. An irresistible introduction to reading for pleasure.


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