The Help Desk: Books to ward off demon-children

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

It's Summertime and that means car trips with the kids! Both my rugrats love reading, and will happily while away the hours (that they're screen-restricted) with their nose in books. They're seven and ten right now. Any good suggestions for things to keep them happy and humming along so I can listen to my podcasts in peace, and have a bit of time to mess around setting up the tent without them whining that they have dirt in their sandals?

Bob, Queen Anne

Dear Bob,

Fortunately for you, I have a 12-year-old sister and 10-year-old brother (the eggs in my family have a long shelf life). I made a vow when they were younger, and that vow was to buy them books for every major holiday and to never question the origins of their birth, even though – and I'm not being melodramatic here – they might actually be demons.

Look at the evidence: they both shot out of the womb cackling instead of crying, we had to file their teeth down to a congenial size (pity we couldn't do the same for their heads), and last Valentine's Day my brother gave me a homemade card that read: "God has abandoned you. Love Max."

Nevertheless, I do love them. They affectionately call me "Spinster Queen," I affectionately call them human, and I have remained faithful to my vow, except for the Christmas I bought them a trampoline and rape whistles because their parents pissed me off.

Based on my experience, here are a few books your children might like: Wonderstruck, The Book Thief, the Captain Underpants series, and for your older child, anything by the Norwegian cartoonist Jason, whose minimalist stories are especially well suited for road trips (be forewarned: his work is rather dark... I hear my siblings doing spit takes with holy water while reading it).