Children’s book week review:

Skulduggery Pleasant – Last Stand of Dead Men

by Derek Landy. Recommended age 11+

Today sees the start of Children’s Book Week in the UK, and we are celebrating by posting a children’s book review each day between now and Friday. Tomorrow we will also bring you news of an exciting campaign by Save the Children, to focus on improving the the literacy skills of the UK’s poorest children, and foster a love of books that will impact on the future prospects of all children across their lifetimes.

Today we are reviewing the latest in the children’s book series Skulduggery Pleasant, by Derek Landy.

What is the best age to read the Skulduggery Pleasant series of children's books?

GG has always been a prolific reader. She almost literally consumes books, maxing out her library card and finishing her stash within a couple of days. She loves an easy read, but of late she has found herself keen to read something a bit more meaty, and to be honest, I’m pleased that she is moving on from the generic box sets, and relishing a more challenging text.

She has recently fallen in love with the Percy Jackson series, so I put some feelers out for fantasy fiction appropriate to her age. In year 4, her school do not allow her to borrow the Percy Jackson books – they are for upper school only, and I tend to follow their lead, as often the themes are inappropriate, even if the language is manageable. She is just 9, but her reading ability and comprehension is further ahead, which often means that books she is capable of reading, just aren’t appropriate yet in subject matter. Yes, I’m looking at you Jacqueline Wilson!

But Percy Jackson has been fine, so I had high hopes for Skulduggery Pleasant when it was both sent to me for review, and recommended by a lot of Facebook contacts with slightly older children. Here’s what we thought:

Stephanie (Valkyrie) is a feisty 12 year old with a bizarre protector – the undead Skulduggery Pleasant. Together they race through war-torn and magic-strewn mythology in an attempt to save the world from conspiracy and disaster.

Reading reviews of the book series before we got started, I decided that rather than leave her to read by herself, we would read the book together. I knew there would be concepts needing explanation, and every review contains the word horror somewhere. She has coped with the final Harry Potters, and with Pirates of the Caribbean, and comedy is a big part of Skulduggery Pleasant, so I was hopeful.

As we began to read, it quickly became clear that this book was not her cup of tea. It’s interesting that the horror and comedy mix is more palatable to her on the big screen than in the written word; perhaps it’s testament to the quality of the prose that the descriptive passages rendered her squeamish, but it was just a little too much for her 9 year old sensitivities. This particular book also majors on war scenes, and my girl is far more interested in the relationships between characters than she is in action sequences.

So is Skulduggery Pleasant too old for a 9 year old?

Reading reviews of earlier books in the series, an outstanding theme seems to be the comedic value of exchanges between the two key characters, so rather than write off the series until she is into her teens, I’m going to try the first Skulduggery Pleasant book with her, in the hope that it will lead her into the narrative more gently. Various websites quote a recommended age range of 8-12, though the book jacket itself says 11+, and I think that’s a good guide.

So I’d love to know your thoughts. Do you have a child with an ambitious reading age? And do you have any recommendations for challenging reads that are age-appropriate?

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