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Meet our Book Doctor... Tamara MacFarlane, author of Dragon World

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

Tamara MacFarlane – owner of the award-winning bookshop Tales on Moon Lane, and author Dragon World – has joined us to prescribe the best reads for young booklovers.

My daughter reads a chapter of a different book every day. Should I let her carry on like this, or should I try and get her to finish one book before starting another? – Maya

This sounds like a very familiar scene. My own bedside chair is piled with books that I am various chapters into. Sometimes I am obsessed with finding out about a particular idea or subject and want to only read non-fiction, sometimes I am tired and want something light and entertaining, and other times I want to be completely transported away. I read very happily like this for a while, and then one book will grab me and I won't want to put it down until I have finished it.

I think with all the distractions that are around now, any reading, of any kind, is to be celebrated but there are ways to make finishing some books easier if the pile of unfinished ones is mounting up. I am not sure how old your daughter is, but if she is happy to be read to, sometimes some of the books that may be a bit more challenging to finish might be great for you to read aloud, perhaps do alternate chapters between you.

Alternatively, audiobooks can help to carry readers, building their confidence up through the story. This is also an excellent way for the language to be modelled in a way that helps unfamiliar words to make sense. But, most importantly, if your daughter is happy reading a bit of something different each day, it is just wonderful that she is reading. One day soon, a book will come along that really holds her and she won’t want to tear herself away until the very last word.

The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

I've always loved mythology and have found myself reading lots of retellings recently. I'm very excited about your book about dragons and would love to read more books focusing on mythical creatures. Any recommendations? – Lauren

Hi Lauren, thank you so much for your question! One of the parts that I enjoyed most about writing Dragon World was reading all the wonderful different versions of dragon stories and then being able to create my own. Two of my favourites are The Mermaid Atlas by Anna Claybourne and illustrated by Miren Asiain Lora and the stunningly illustrated Mythopedia by Good Wives and Warriors.

For fiction, I have asked the brilliant Kathlyn at Tales On Moon Lane for her advice on this one, as her children's book knowledge knows no bounds and I am a bit behind with my more general reading! Kathlyn has recommended the following for you, all of which I am now desperate to read as well! Darwin’s Dragons by Lindsay Galvin is a brilliantly blended mix of history and fantasy. This is a completely enchanting book. Dragon Mountain by Katie and Kevin Tsang is set in China and about four children who awaken the legend and end up riding dragons. The Polar Bear Explorers Club is a fun read and good for 8+. The book is full of mythical characters like zebra unicorns, yetis, pygmy dinosaurs and it also has a good, strong message about letting girls be explorers. Finally, The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson is for 11+ and based on a mix up of folktales with Baba Yaga and a house with chicken legs as its main characters.

Dragon Mountain by Katie & Kevin Tsang

Hello Tamara. My name is Hannah and I love reading books especially books about adventure, magic and mystery. Can you suggest any good books for my age? – Hannah, age 12

Hi Hannah, these were all my favourite kind of books too. To answer your question, I am going to assume that you have read most of the really well-known series in these areas, as you sound as though you are a prolific reader, and suggest a few of my all-time, but less well known, favourites for your age…

Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente is an astonishing adventure, full of humour, twists and turns and so beautifully told. The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo – I am recommending this wonderful book twice here as I want everyone in the world to read it, or have it read aloud to them. The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud as I have now had two booksellers tell me that they started this in the shop and both couldn't put it down and were genuinely scared while reading it. It's brilliantly written but quite terrifying! Finally, The Foreshadowing by Marcus Sedgwick is a masterpiece in suspense and adventure. Marcus Sedgwick's writing has been described as having 'each sentence … as polished as a pebble' and the effortless reading of this book demonstrates this amazing skill perfectly.

The Foreshadowing by Marcus Sedgwick

How do I encourage my youngest to keep persevering with his reading as he's put off by his older siblings being much better and faster than he is? – Fiona, and Calin age 9

Hi Fiona and Calin, every single child develops fluent reading skills at their own pace but the two ingredients that are essential are; actually reading, and not losing confidence. It is really important to read what you love and remember that there is no race to get to an end point. Set aside any ideas about reading levels/difficult big books and choose books purely for fun and interest. The Dogman series by Dav Pilkey has been brilliant at engaging a lot of less confident readers, as has the wide range of brilliant non-fiction books that are being published now. Barrington Stoke books are great for an engaging but shorter read with all the satisfaction of having read a complete book.

If possible, take your son to a good bookshop (I would say this ??) where the staff really know children's books and let them help him to choose something that really excites him – even if you think it might be too easy or hard for him. If he can read it easily, it will help to develop his fluency and keep his confidence up until he feels ready to take on something with a little more complexity. If he prefers to choose a book that is more of a challenge, I have found that having the audio book going, alongside a child reading the page, is hugely helpful for developing fluency while not losing the pace of the story.

A lot of the more graphic novel style books, like Dogman, Freddy vs School, and the excellent Phoenix Comic series, will also help to develop his visual literacy, a key reading skill. They are so funny and engaging, that they will also probably have his older siblings trying to steal them from him.

Dog Man by Dav Pilkey

What books would you suggest to bring adults and children together? And how would you create an environment to read them in? – Samantha

Hi Samantha, this is such an interesting question. A wonderful children's book transcends any age categorisation and so I would start with some of the children's classics. These work particularly well to be read together as the language gap for this generation can be overcome by being read aloud by an adult. They are also the books that are often referenced in adult literature and so familiarity with them can help to build the foundations for connections later.

I would also include some good poetry collections as everyone in the group can take turns choosing and reading a poem out loud and enjoy the pattern of the language coming alive. Over my nearly 20 years of children's bookselling, the following books are the ones that I consider modern classics. They still play out scenes in my mind. The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo – probably best for 8+ as there are some sadder scenes in this one. The Silver Donkey by Sonya Hartnett is 6+ and to be read to – Sonya Hartnett's writing is so beautiful that I found myself trying to take her sentences apart to work out what she was doing – I failed miserably with this and have decided that she must have some kind of magic. Thirdly, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. There is a scene in this book involving a surprise feast that is my all-time favourite moment in any children's book

As far as creating an environment to read together, warmth, comfort, an abundance of treat food (if possible, linked to the book that you are reading) and enough light to just be able to see the words, would be my suggestion. All devices, including adults', put far away, enabling a feast of fun, food (because what isn't made better by hot chocolate and chocolate biscuits?) and imagination to begin.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Dragon World by Tamara MacFarlane

About Dragon World by Tamara MacFarlane

Meet the fire-breathing beasts of mythology in this beautifully illustrated book brimming with scaled behemoths.

Lurking in every corner of the earth, from the deepest depths of the oceans, to the tips of the tallest mountains, even tucked beneath the very ground that you tread on, dragons watch and wait. They take many forms - sea monsters, serpents, wild cats, eagles, and they represent many different things; Gods to be revered, evil kings to be feared, wise friends and fierce foes.

Dragons have breathed fire into our minds since we could first imagine, but why do they exist in stories from every land in the world? Come in and explore Dragon World. Look into their lairs while they make shape-shifting mischief, playing with the weather and protecting earthly treasures. Soar across continents into tales as old as time. Prowl through the pages to discover rare dragon species. Find clues to track them and master how to draw them. Behold the earthly dragons of today!

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