A child engrossed in a book

Reading for pleasure is a habit that can last a lifetime and instilling the joy of reading in children early is vital. Recent research published by Big Think even suggests that reading fiction regularly can heighten empathy and improve our social skills.

This year’s National Storytelling Week runs between 27 January and 4 February. It aims to celebrate the joy of telling and reading stories and to encourage children to ditch screens in favour of a good book.

Here are just five great books to read with or to your children this National Storytelling Week.

1. Impossible Creatures by Katherine Rundell

Award-winning children’s author Katherine Rundell released Impossible Creatures in September 2023 to instant acclaim. It quickly became a Sunday Times bestseller and beat the likes of Zadie Smith and Ann Patchett to win Waterstones’ fiction book of the year prize.

When Christopher Forrester visits his grandfather in the Scottish Highlands he rescues a griffin, a mythical creature with the head and wings of an eagle but the body and hind legs of a lion.

He also meets Mal Arvorian, a girl from the Archipelago, an unmapped and mystical set of islands where all the creatures from myth still exist.

From here the pair set out on an incredible adventure to save the Archipelago and its creatures, both of which face an untold threat with consequences for all worlds.

A fast-paced adventure, and the first in a projected trilogy, you’ll find something for kids of all ages.

2. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

American-British author Patrick Ness is only the second person to win two Carnegie Medals for two consecutive releases (in 2011 and 2012).

He first won for Monsters of Men, the final part of his Chaos Walking trilogy that would later be made into a film starring Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley.

In 2012, he won for A Monster Calls. The original idea came to the writer Siobhan Dowd when she was diagnosed with a terminal illness and she died before she was able to write the story.

It follows a 12-year-old boy called Connor, whose mother is seriously ill. A monster visits Connor and tells him stories that reflect the boy’s anxiety and suffering.

A highly emotional story of illness and grief, it has much to teach children and adults about family, love, and loss. It is considered suitable for children aged 10 and over.

3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Wonka, an origin story from the team behind the recent Paddington films, is currently in cinemas. And that makes now a great time to introduce your children or grandchildren to one of Roald Dahl’s most enduring stories.

Charlie Bucket’s extended family live together in a small house where they struggle to make ends meet.

When a local chocolate factory owner, the eccentric and hermitic Willy Wonka, launches a competition to win a lifetime supply of chocolate, Charlie can only dream of winning.

The golden tickets are hidden inside Wonka bars and the family must save for a whole year for one of those, to be given to Charlie only as a very special treat each birthday.

This magical story has captured young readers’ imagination for decades and celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

4. Mortal Engines by Phillip Reeve

In the far future, long after the 60-minute War has ravaged the world, traction cities on wheels fight each other in a city-eat-city battle known as “Municipal Darwinism”.

The story follows Tom Natsworthy, a young London apprentice. When Tom steps in to protect head historian Thaddeus Valentine from a vicious attack, Tom finds himself unceremoniously flung into the wasteland.

There he will meet Hester Shaw and ride headlong into an adventure spanning the four books of the Mortal Engines Quartet.

This intricately imagined fantasy world encompasses political intrigue, high adventure, and huge stakes. As the story unfolds Tom and Hester will find themselves in the ultimate battle between the tractions cities and the Green Storm, a fanatical offshoot of the Anti-Traction League.

Fast-paced and full of humour, Mortal Engines is followed by Predator’s Gold, Infernal Devices, and A Darkling Plain.

5. Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

A winner of the 2004 Red House Children’s Book Award and the Blue Peter Book Award, Private Peaceful is a first world war novel about love, innocence, and courage.

Young soldier Thomas “Tommo” Peaceful looks back over his short life, reminiscing on the harshness of his rural childhood and the realities of the battlefield. As Tommo remembers his life to this point, he gets ever closer to something monumental.

Taking place over just 24 hours in Tommo’s life, this meticulously researched book for older children builds to a deeply moving conclusion that will stay with children and adults alike.