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Meet our Book Doctor... Robin Stevens, author of Murder Most Unladylike

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

Robin Stevens, author of the fantastic Murder Most Unladylike series, has joined us to prescribe the best reads for young booklovers.

My 8-year-old (and to a certain extent, my 10-year-old) son(s) enjoy reading and read every night. However, they seem "scared" of long books and prefer ones with lots of pictures and large font (like Tom Gates). Do you have any suggestions for getting them to read "normal", more grown-up, books too? – Lucy

I'm going to say something that will sound counter-intuitive but I promise is not: try graphic novels! A lot of people (and I used to be one of their number) assume that pictures are a less advanced way of telling a story than words, but the reality is that they're simply different. About five years ago I realised this and discovered that I'd been missing out on a whole world of complex, thought-provoking, beautiful stories. Now I can’t get enough of them.

Graphic novel series like Ms Marvel or Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man are accessible, visually stunning and sneak in big vocabulary words and hard-hitting plot lines. The collected editions are also quite thick, which should prove to your sons that bigger doesn't mean harder to get into! Nimona by Noelle Stevenson is a hilarious, weird fantasy story that might also hit if you want something less superhero-based. You might then try Kate DiCamillo's Flora and Ulysses, a book that's told in a mix of text and illustration, and move on to illustrated older fiction like A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Jim Kay (read it first to test suitability – it's incredibly wrenching!) and Brian Selznick's Hugo Cabret or The Marvels.

The Ultimate Spiderman by Miles Morales

I love reading ancient mythology, crime, and action books. I have read quite a lot of books and I'm looking for more. Do you have any suggestions? – Meet, age 13

Meet, I love this question! I'm guessing, to begin with, that you've read Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and Kane Chronicles series. If you haven't, go read them immediately! If you have, the great news is that something called 'Rick Riordan Presents' exists – Rick has personally chosen several great authors to create stories from other mythologies that will be perfect for readers exactly like you. My favourites are the Aru Shah books, by Roshani Chokshi (adventure, mystery and Hindu mythology), but there's also Tristan Strong (African gods), The Storm Runner (Mayan gods), Dragon Pearl (Korean gods) and so much more. They're not all available in the UK yet (I wish they were) but I hope you’ll be able to find some of them here. They're worth tracking down! And if you want great crime fiction, try Sharna Jackson's High-Rise Mystery. It's a proper twisty murder mystery that will have your heart pounding!

High Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson

What is a good book for my 15-year-old daughter with a 16+ reading age that is not to long, with murder mystery kind of feel? – Sarah

Holly Jackson's A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is my current go-to recommendation for YA murder mysteries: it's a really clever mystery, told in a pacy, exciting style – and the sequel is on its way in April! If you're looking for something classic, try Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar, an agonisingly atmospheric stolen identity story that twists itself into a murder mystery halfway through. (YA author Jenny Valentine wrote her own version of the story more recently, The Double Life of Cassiel Roadnight, and it's also excellent.). And finally, I was recently swept up by Brittney Morris's Slay – it's a thriller set in an online game that has some strong mystery elements, and it’s one of my favourite books this year.

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

My 12-year-old daughter loves animal books like Holly Webb's Kitten and Puppy series, which started her reading journey. She's moved onto Megan Rix and Sarah Lean, but she always goes back to younger books by Anne Booth and Amelia Cobb, for example. She refuses to try Stacey Gregg or Olivia Tuffin (not a horse-riding fan) or Michael Morpurgo (too sad). I'm worried that reading young, quick, and easy books will hold her back at school. – Margaret

As a child, one of my favourite series was Animal Ark, very simple books about vet rescues. I read my copies again and again and again, until I was at least fourteen – they were some of my greatest comforts. I loved the simple warmth of the stories, the adorable animals and the hope at the end of each book. I can say with absolute certainty that this did not hold me back – on the contrary, I think it contributed hugely to my continued love of stories, my decision to study English at university and the fact that I am now an author of children's fiction! Rereading is often something that adults fear in children, because it seems that only new books can bring them useful experiences, but this is absolutely not the case. By rereading a book, a child is studying its characters, storyline and word choice deeply, engaging with the story in a way that isn’t possible on first reading. They are picking up skills that will stand them in good stead in later life, and they are doing it in an environment that feels absolutely safe and comfortable. Please do not stop your daughter from rereading her favourite books!

You might suggest to her Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals as a very funny and charming classic, or Lauren St John’s fabulous, environmentally engaged books, but they should be considered an addition to rather than a replacement for the books that already bring her so much pleasure. She will move on in time anyway, when she feels ready, and then when she's 35 she’ll find them in a box and be delighted by them all over again.

My Family and other Animals by Gerald Durrell

I love reading and being read to. My favourite books are the Ottoline series and The Worst Witch series. Books aimed at children my age are too short, but most books for older children have sprouts with bad guys, or people being unkind which I don't like. What books are there for older children that won't scare me or make me upset? – Seffi, age 5

Seffi, your question gave me the most pause for thought! I think one author you might really enjoy is Noel Streatfeild. Her books are about children who act or dance or skate – I used to love reading them and pretending that I was as talented as they were! My favourites are Ballet Shoes and White Boots, and I can promise that there is almost no peril in them, only a lot of quiet delight. I'm also going to recommend two slightly younger series that you might enjoy – these both have lots of books in them, so you won't finish reading them too quickly. The first is the Sam Wu is Not Afraid … series, by Katie and Kevin Tsang. These are funny, mysterious stories where the only real bad guys are the things Sam is afraid of (and they always turn out to be less scary than he expected). Then there's Sibeal Pounder's series Witch Wars. The danger is very minimal (there are no actual wars, I promise, only lots of witches), and the books are hilarious!

Sam Wu is Not Afraid of Ghosts by Katie & Kevin Tsang
The Case of the Drowned Pearl by Robins Stevens

About The Case of the Drowned Pearl by Robin Stevens

An exclusive £1/€1.50 World Book Day 2020 book.

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are best friends, schoolgirls – and detectives. And wherever Daisy and Hazel go, a mystery is sure to find them…

On holiday at the seaside, the girls discover a body on the beach. They soon realise this is Antonia Braithwaite: a famous swimmer, nicknamed The Pearl, who was due to compete at the Berlin Olympics next month. It appears she has accidentally drowned in the sea – but it’s odd that this should happen to such a strong swimmer. Even more mysteriously, she smells not of the sea, but of Pears soap. Rushing back to their hotel, Daisy and Hazel discover several suspicious guests who all had reason to murder Antonia...

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