My eleven-year-old son has always loved stories. When younger and I was still reading to Paddy at bedtime not a single night passed without him demanding "just one more" story. Like many children, I suspect, he has found the transition to reading to himself a little difficult. Distracted by the electronic ephemera of modern life - iPods, the internet, television - books have fallen away somewhat.
Between the age of about 8 and 11 he read very little. Together we read Charlie Higson's Young Bond series (reviews: By Royal Command, Hurricane Gold) as well as his teen zombie series (reviews: The Enemy, The Dead) but on his own he read relatively little. One source of this was the Harry Potter audio collection we have at home, so beautifully read by Stephen Fry. Paddy became somewhat obsessed with these, listening to them over and over again. Sometimes he wouldn't even worry about listening to them in order, but would simply pick up the nearest tape or CD available and drop it into machine, thereby skipping from book to book with no continuity whatever. He also listened to Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series (as well as reading a couple of the later books).
I think the tapes and CDs - and latterly audio on iPod - made him somewhat lazy. Why read when you could be read to? I worried about this for a while and occasionally regretted having started down the tape ruote with him, but usually concluded that in the long run it would propagate his love of stories and eventually he would find his way back to the printed word.
To encourage that, at Christmas we bought him a Kindle, in part hoping that the caché of the technology would help. And it has to a point. In early 2013 we saw signs of life. Inspired by a teacher at school he read The Hobbit and is now three-quarters of his way through The Fellowship of the Ring (a book I couldn't get past page 50 of until my late 20s). He also rapidly read all of David Walliams' books, and still raves about how funny Gangsta Granny was.
Encouraging as it was, nothing could prepare us for what we have seen in the last six weeks. At a country fair in mid-June my wife picked up the first couple of installments in Robert Muchamore's 12-book Cherub series at a used book stall. As I sit here tapping away now, he is downstairs reading the last few pages of the final book on his Kindle. Twice in the past seven days we have had to make emergency dashes to the nearest Wifi cafe to our Spanish holiday destination to add new books. Since we arrived in Galicia 10 days ago, he's read six.
Now, of course it helps that the Ashes are not showing on Spanish TV and that our rental doesn't have Wifi on which he can watch Jeremy Clarkson and crew smashing cars on YouTube. But even so, for Paddy to have read six books in 10 days - on one occasions reading until 4am - suggests Muchamore must be doing something right.
I'd not heard of Robert Muchamore before Cherub follows the adventures of orphans recruited and trained to be part of the British Secret Service who as teenagers are sent on missions. Paddy can't quite articulate what it is that has captured his imagination quite so much in these books, but when he starts talking about them he becomes very animated. With the end in sight of the Cherub series we have already taken the precaution of downloading the first book in the Henderson's Boys series - a prequel series that tells the origins of Cherub - as well as a new Cherub series, subtitled 'Aramov'.
The real trick will be sustaining and developing his reading beyond Cherub, and if readers have any ideas that might fly. We'll certainly be returning to Alex Scarrow and his highly acclaimed Time Riders series, but even if the pace slows down from a book every 48 hours to one that is more affordable (and doesn't include 4am reading) we'll need more than that! All help and advice welcome.