Is It Just Lockdown That’s Driving Children Towards More Challenging Books?

Recent studies have shown that children are reading more challenging and longer books during the lockdown. They’ve been checking out longer texts and novels on more challenging topics than ever before.

While you might think that kids would be less inclined to read with schools closed and so much technology at their disposal, they’re actually reading more books and ones that involve more complex ideas and plot points.

That’s a great thing: reading can help kids with everything from increasing their vocabulary to helping them to learn more about different cultures and experiences. It’s an important part of life and it can be really vital for kid’s development.

Fantasy novels topped the list of books that kids read during the past year, with Rick Reardon’s The House of Hades coming out on top. Other popular titles included Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban and The Hate You Give. As you can see, the titles are predominantly fantasy. The Harry Potter title was an obvious one; that series is like comfort reading. However, that particular book marks the point in which the series turns from a cheery children’s saga into a darker, more complicated set of books.

So, it’s clear that children are enjoying more complex books over the past few months. Obviously, this study doesn’t reflect every child in the world, but it does give us a unique insight into how kids are reading and what’s going on in the world of children’s literature.

While I agree with the study that the amount of extra time they had during the lockdown has contributed to their improved reading habits, I also think that there are other issues at play here.

For example, I think that the fact that kids couldn’t go outside and learn by playing made them want to enter into an imaginary world. While TV shows can help, there’s no better way to transport yourself to a fantasy world than reading a good book.

So, I think that the lockdown has definitely impacted on the choice of books that kids read. However, I also think that there are other factors that have pushed kids into the arms of more complex and challenging novels.

For example, I definitely reckon that the recent social situation has pushed kids to read more widely, and to choose books that explore a more diverse range of topics. The Hate You Give, in particular, is about racial inequality. Considering the BLM protests and recent increased media focus on the murders of innocent black individuals at the hands of the police (it’s been happening for decades, but it’s only really since 2020 that they’ve been the focus of public outrage and extensive, critical media coverage), it’s clear that these factors have influenced children’s choices.

Also, another thing to remember is that while kids choose what they want to read, it’s often the parents and other relatives who buy books for them and help to influence their choices. After all, they’re the ones that have the money, particularly when the kids are too young to have their own jobs or earn significant pocket money.

Therefore, I feel like the recent social unrest has also been, at least partially, responsible for the change in children’s reading habits. It’s led their parents to provide them with a wider variety of reading materials on different topics. The increased focus on diversity in today’s society, which is frankly long overdue, is driving parents to purchase a wider range of authors and topics.

That’s how it goes with both younger kids, as their parents and guardians tend to purchase their books. Older children and teenagers tend to be exposed to more TV and have access to their own cash, so they’re even more likely to be influenced by factors such as social change. Therefore, it’s understandable that young adult books such as The Hate You Give are more popular now.

I also reckon that another issue that’s changed the way children read is what I’m terming ‘screen fatigue’. After months of having to do their schooling online and spending hours everyday staring at screens, I think that many kids are probably sick and tired of staring at screens. I don’t have kids myself, but I do know a lot of people who do, and I know that between virtual schooling, playing video games and watching endless TV, they’re a bit tired of screens.

They all want to play outside and spend time in the real world. That’s why I think that books, particularly longer books, are more popular with kids right now. Children want to spend more time doing cool stuff, but between poor weather (it’s the UK) and the quarantine restrictions, they’ve been stuck indoors with limited options. Long books give kids a unique opportunity to dive into a new world and stay there.

With shorter books, you don’t really get the chance to immerse yourself in the novel’s setting and plot before it’s all over again and you have to start a new book. That’s why longer, more complex books and series are ideal when you’re looking to get away from it, which today’s kids definitely are.

Ultimately, I think that the lockdown has definitely had a major impact on children’s reading, and adult’s reading for that matter. It’s changed all of our lives in so many different ways, and I’m sure that it’s affected our reading habits- I know it has changed mine. However, I think that as the world is changing and kids are being exposed to more turmoil and social change from a young age, there are other factors that have impacted on the reading habits of kids in 2021.

The Patient Man Review: The Gripping Tale Of A Deadly Small Town Crime Spree

With a nomination for British Book Awards under the Crime/Thriller Book of the Year category, it’s safe to say that Joy Ellis’s latest novel, The Patient Man is turning heads, and it’s easy to see why.

Set in modern times, the book is a gripping thriller that captures your attention from the off and keeps it right the way through to its intense conclusion. From the first chapter, it’s clear why the awards committee decided to nominate this intense thriller for this prestigious accolade. It’s an almost timeless story that is unsettling and almost frightening, adding a tinge of excitement to the reading experience without going too far.

Ellis is up against some stiff competition for the award, with household names such as Lee Child and Ian Rankin also nominated. She’s also the only writer on the list whose book was launched by an independent publisher, which just shows that indie publishing houses are definitely worth checking out. There are some awesome independent publishers out there offering incredible content, and while some, like the wonderful Urbane Publishing, have sadly closed, there are still plenty of them out there.

The Patient Man is one phenomenal example of a book from an independent publisher that’s definitely worth checking out. It’s a combination of police procedural and serial killer thriller that perfectly encapsulates the terrors of a murderous psychopath with the challenges of small town policing. As such, it’s clear why it was nominated for this award and if it doesn’t win, then that will be a very big shame.

From the very beginning of the book, the tension is palpable in this fast-paced thriller. It begins with a dream, in which DI Jackman’s nemesis, serial killer Alistair Ashcroft , AKA the novel’s namesake patient man, returns to the picturesque English countryside town of Saltern-Le-Fen. As if it was a premonition, suddenly Ashcroft returns and begins terrorising Jackman and his team. He’s been gone for a long time, but he’s been hatching an evil plan to torment the village and get back at Jackman, his nemesis, through the people and places he loves.

While Ashcroft’s crime spree is unfolding, there’s a break-in at a local gun club, and it quickly becomes apparent that the crime is linked to the deranged serial killer. Minor farmyard thefts, including the abduction of some pigs and the attempted theft of red diesel also take up the team’s time, and there could potentially be a link between them and the serial menace. The crimes are soon connected to a small local family of uneducated individuals, who quickly start their own vendetta against Ashcroft after he dupes them.

Luring specific members of Jackman’s team to the scene of his crimes, Ashcroft makes his crime spree personal. He also targets Jackman’s girlfriend and photographs him at his home and workplace, which adds an immensely creepy edge to novel’s plot. Ashcroft is both a typical insane serial killer and an inventive psychopath, so while he does have some traditional tropes, he’s also incredibly unpredictable. Thanks to the author’s skilful handling of the character and plot, you’ll never know what’s around the corner and always be kept guessing. 

The author crafts unique and bold characters that enhance the novel’s tension. Ashcroft is a psychological bully, and he launches a campaign of terror that is both thrilling and terrifying in equal measure. Ellis keeps readers enthralled and ratchets up the tension by showing the reader different perspectives, so that we see the violence play out at close quarters and then watch the madness unfold afterwards from all angles.

As well as Ashcroft, the police team are also a bunch of relatable, two-dimensional characters. Ellis shows the reader just enough personal insight into them to make the reader invest in them emotionally, without filling the novel with erroneous back-story. That means that you’ll feel all of Ashcroft’s menace and evil deeds as if they’re real, and become very invested in the story. Ellis puts the reader firmly on the side of the police, giving the novel some interesting twists and unique coincidences to keep us guessing.

There is one thing that surprises me a little about The Patient Man. In this day and age, where everyone carries a glorified tracking device in their pockets and CCTV monitors our every move, I find it difficult to believe that Ashcroft could live for so long without getting caught. Even though he is hiding out in a small fen town, I still find it a bit weird that he was able to stay underground for such a long time.

Still, I can allow for a little creative licence; after all, it would be a pretty boring novel if the serial killer were caught immediately! Ellis is an amazing storyteller, and she keeps the narrative on a knife-edge from page one through to very end.

So, if you’re a big fan of crime fiction and gripping books that merge modern serial killer troupes with traditional English police fiction, this could be the ideal summer read for you.

In all, with its sleek plotting and witty dialogue, The Patient Man reads like a hardboiled American thriller. The novel has a sophisticated and slick plot with a humble and homely setting, which is a unique and intriguing combination. I’d thoroughly recommend this book to readers who love all types of crime novel and want to read a compelling thriller that will keep them guessing.

Rick R. Reed Interview: “My writing style varies from project to project”

With more than 50 titles to his name and a string of high-profile awards, it’s safe to say that Rick R. Reed has made a smash in the literary world. He talks to me about his career so far and his next exciting project.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. How did you come to write so many different novels?

I have always been a storyteller and have always been fascinated by and comforted by the written word. I’ve been writing fiction since I was a kid and have been doing so professionally since 1991, when Obsessed, my first novel came out from Dell.

My writing style varies from project to project, but I prize simplicity in prose and showing and not telling. I believe fiercely in my characters and making them sympathetic and/or fascinating to read about. I’ve often been told even my evil characters are compelling. My style comes from wanting to NOT draw attention to myself, but creating what constitutes a movie in the reader’s mind. After all, every book (every piece of art, really) is a conspiracy between the creator and recipient.

I’ve written so many books (40+ at last count) because I have yet to run out of stories I want to tell and characters whose lives I want to delve into.

What is your background in writing and how did you become a professional writer?

I have a degree in English with Creative Writing emphasis. As I said above, though, I have always been passionate about telling stories and have been writing since I was a child. This use of my imagination, along with voracious reading, has provided my writing “education” as much as my formal, university-set training. I became a professional in 1991 when I got my first agent and was picked up by Dell, a major publishing house.

What features do you believe are vital to creating good books and how do you incorporate these into your work?

Creating characters who are real in the reader’s mind. Showing and not telling, ie expressing feelings, thoughts, hopes, dreams and more through action and dialogue, rather than simply informing the reader. A good story that has a beginning, middle, and end.

A satisfying conclusion. That doesn’t have to mean a happy ending, but it does mean that when the reader closes one of my books, he/she/they come away feeling their expectations have been met and they’re glad they came along on the journey with me. Between the lines, something that resonates as universal with readers regarding the human condition.

Please tell me about the books you read. How do they influence your work?

My favorite writers are Flannery O’Connor, Patricia Highsmith, and Ruth Rendell. These three women capture a kind of dark, quirky mindset that resonates with me and inspires me to write about obsessed people on the fringe.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

Inspiration comes from all over—dreams, news items, snatches of overheard conversation, other books and movies. I write most every day and always in the morning, when I’m at my best. I usually aim for 1,000 words per day.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I guess it would have to be the great Patricia Highsmith, mentioned above. I’d love to do a crime-based novel with her.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

My next book releases on May 3 from NineStar Press. It’s called Wounded Air. This is what it’s about:

Rick and Ernie found the perfect apartment on Chicago’s West Side. Before they’re settled, Rick begins having all-too-real disturbing “dreams.” Each time, an emaciated young man with sad brown eyes appears, terrifying and obsessing him.

From their next-door neighbor, Paula, Rick learns about Karl and Tommy, who lived there before them. Tommy’s mysterious disappearance pains her. When she shares a photo of her with Tommy and Karl, Rick is shocked and troubled. Tommy is the man who appears to him in his dreams.

The ghostly visitations compel Rick to uncover the truth about Tommy’s disappearance. It’s a quest that will lead him to Karl, Tommy’s lover, who may know more about Tommy’s disappearance than he’s telling, and a confrontation with a restless spirit who wants only to—finally—rest in peace.

Huge thanks to Rick for answering my questions. You can find out more about him and his work here.