Inspiring happiness and hope: Books to mark National Children’s Day
Published on: 15 May 2021 Author: Onjali Q Raúf
Onjali Q Raúf, our Writer in Residence, explores the changes (big and small!) that children want to see happen, and picks seven books to inspire and empower them to make that better world.
'If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.' - Albert Einstein
It is no coincidence that at the end of every annual Mental Health Awareness Week stands a very special Sunday waiting to welcome us all: a Sunday built around the voices of our children and stopping to listen to what they need and want from us, the adults of the world.
That Sunday being, of course, National Children’s Day UK (NCDUK), which this year falls on Sunday 16 May.
Personally, I think every day should be National Children’s Day! But I guess having an actual day to celebrate all the wonderful, mind-boggling and, at times, utterly genius thoughts, phrases and ponderings that children come out with is no bad thing. Especially when it comes to asking them to speak out on a particular subject matter.
Free chocolate and uniform bans
This year’s NCDUK theme is centred on listening to what changes our children would like to see in the world, and which would make them feel happier.
Not one for guessing what kind of those answers might crop up, I asked some of the kids I know this very question, and promptly receieved the following answers:
'I think everyone should get free chocolate! That way, everyone would be happier and stop fighting all the time.'
- Rosie, aged 5
'I want the ice caps to stop melting. It’s not fair on all the polar bears and penguins. If we saved them, then they would be happy and that would make things better for everyone.' - Musa, aged 9
'I would like all the schools to ban uniforms and for everyone to go to school in their pyjamas. Even the teachers. I bet that would make them happier and stop giving us detentions all the time!' - Aneira, aged 7
'It would be nice not to have anyone who’s poor anymore. Everyone should help people who are until it doesn’t exist anymore.' - Henry, aged 10
All gorgeous answers, I think you will agree!
Books as inspiration for better worlds
Barring any of us being able to make those wishes for happiness come instantly true for our children, there is one place where every child can go, to find comfort, happiness and the inspiration they need to build the kind of world they dream of. And that is, of course, the glorious, endless domain of books!
As both a child who was constantly told off for daydreaming, and as an adult who pretty much gets told off all the time for the same thing (oopsie!), books were and will always be my go-to modes of joy and solace. Netflix and epic movies come a close second, but simply can’t compete to the originals! As the only constant in my life and with zero buffering issues or a reliance on unsteady WiFi, books remain my number one place to find new friends, re-meet old ones, and embark on the kinds of adventures that make me believe I am capable of doing anything that the characters I love do.
So here are my top seven happy books (whittled down from about 73)... Every one of them is filled with imaginings that make me smile and either had, or has, my inner child believing that creating a better, kinder and happier world for our children (and everyone) isn’t just a possibility but a life goal to be reached for.
My top 7 happy and inspiring reads
1. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupѐry
If this isn’t the perfect book to mark a day celebrating children’s voices and wisdoms, then I will happily accept that I know nothing! No one who has ever picked up The Little Prince and witnessed the friendship between the mysterious aviator and the laughing prince, overbrimming with innocent wisdom and advice, can ever forget it. It remains a book I go to whenever I want to leave earth and re-meet a star of hope and some sage advice for humankind.
2. Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr Seuss
I am always filled with utter joy when it comes to reading this one to children because it’s a book I fell instantly in love with the moment I read the first stanza at their age. With a message not just about following your heart, but also being brave enough to cope when you find yourself lost and in an unexpected place in life, the book gives the guidelines and seeds of comfort needed for every child, big or small.
3. Alfonso Bonzo by Andrew Davies
OK, bear with me here, because I am very aware I am showing my age. But I hope (hope!) children haven’t stopped reading this gem of a book. My brother and I would have actual physical fights over who got to re-read it again in our household, and for good reason! Billy Webb is an ordinary kid with an extraordinary skill at – swapsies! Until everything changes on the arrival of a rather peculiar Italian exchange student... This story made my world happier on countless occasions, simply through its sheer existence. An eternal reminder that even in the seemingly ordinary, the extraordinary can exist.
4. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and illustrated by Laura Freeman
If you’re anything like me, you have zero shame in squealing in public when a brilliant new book comes out – because you KNOW it will help change the world’s perceptions and a million self-perceptions in some way. This book made me squeal for a full 15 seconds. Having learned of Katherine Johnson at university and having been eternally puzzled as to why every child and grown-up didn’t know the extraordinary stories about her and her peers, it felt as if, finally, the truths were making their way into the world. A must on every book shelf, ever.
5. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Illustration by Briony May Smith from Jeanne Willis' retelling of Heidi
When a simple story about a child and her grandfather makes you feel so much love and care for a character that you don’t ever want the words to finish, you know you are in the presence of magic. The joy to Heidi is that she changes not just one world, but so many, simply by being who she is. And who can’t help but be inspired by that? I still cry every time I read it, and I hope I never stop.
6. Anisha: Accidental Detective by Serena Patel and illustrated by Emma McCann
As a fan of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle mysteries since before I can remember, I always wondered as a child if there would ever be a detective who had any semblance to me or the worlds I was familiar with. Thankfully, I only had to wait three decades (!) for one of the funniest detectives to hit our book scenes – complete with an equally mad family and insane pets! Any character or world often not featured in other stories, and who takes centre stage as the she-ro, is always going to make for joyful reading.
7. Heard it in the Playground by Allan Ahlberg and illustrated by Fritz Wegner
Illustration by Fritz Wegner, from the book cover of Heard it in the Playground
Who can ever forget the sheer ecstasy of heading out to the playground after a long hour or two of lessons? Thus the endless screams which echo for miles, all emanating from local school playgrounds! My primary school teacher had my class read this poetic complication over a week of reading sessions, and I remember thinking: ‘How does this Allan man know so much?’ Easy! The joy of the playground never left him either. It's a gorgeous dive back into time and whispers, and knowing you were a part of a huge, funny little world…And that somehow, it was all going to be more than OK.
I would love to hear what books make the children you know feel happy or inspired to help make our world a far better one.
Meet our latest Writer in Residence
Every six months, BookTrust appoints a new Writer in Residence to write blogs, run competitions and give us their own unique perspective on the world of children's books. Our current Writer in Residence is Michelle Robinson.