I often get asked about book recommendations. There are a lot of great, comprehensive lists out there (for example: by Sevenoaks or by Eton), but I'm building up a list of books that I have personally read and think are exceptional. Brief reviews added for the more obscure ones. Some of them, like Harry Potter, need no introduction.
When preparing for competitive schools (e.g. City of London, Westminster, Eton, St Paul’s etc.), your child should probably be reading a few years above their actual age. This is also true for bright children more generally, so the age brackets I've provided should be seen as a rough indicator of difficulty, rather than something to be stuck to rigidly.
6 - 9 Year Olds
- Demon Dentist by David Walliams. Very similar to Roald Dahl in style. The language is very basic, so probably a little too simple for most 9 year olds.
- The Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce. An amazing read about a girl who swaps places with her brother to become a knight, hiding her true identity.
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series) by Jeff Kinney. A lovely, funny set of books which has taken the world by storm. Very engaging and a great way to a coax a reluctant child into reading.
- Any of Roald Dahl’s children’s books (e.g. Matilda, the BFG, James and Giant Peach etc.)
- A Series of Unfortunate Events (series) by Lemony Snicket. An extremely funny collection of books which is set apart by its grim sense of humour. Probably a little too challenging for most 6 year olds, so more appropriate for 8 - 10 year olds.
- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd. A bestselling, lovely book which is beautifully written and richly expressive without containing too many challenging words. Soon to be a major motion picture. "Conor has the same dream every night, ever since his mother first fell ill, ever since she started the treatments that don't quite seem to be working. But tonight is different. Tonight, when he wakes, there's a visitor at his window. It’s ancient, elemental, a force of nature. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth. "
- Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. An enduring classic that was one of my own favourites. Great for any child that is keen on horses. If you like ebooks, it is out of patent and can be downloaded for free from project Gutenberg here.
- Harry's Mad by Dick King-Smith. A charming, very funny book about a young boy who inherits a parrot capable of holding conversations. Quite simple, but worth a read.
9 - 12 Year Olds
Fun Reads for Reluctant Readers
These books are quite simple to read and will not stretch able readers. However, if you are struggling to get your child to read at all, reading these is a good deal better than nothing, and they are compulsive page turners. There is some good advice for reluctant readers here.
- Cirque Du Freak (series) by Darren Shan. A gripping read about a boy who accidentally runs away to join the circus. Vampires and superpowers are involved.
- Skulduggery Pleasant (series) by Derek Landy. The book involves a wise-cracking, dead magician / detective and his 12-year-old sidekick. Obviously good fun.
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. A cut above the other two in both difficulty and quality. Be aware that the basic premise is quite grim: poor children aged 12 - 17 are randomly selected to fight to the death for the amusement of the rich.
- Northern Lights (trilogy) by Philip Pullman
- Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
- Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. Everyone in town thinks Meg Murry is volatile and dull-witted, and that her younger brother, Charles Wallace, is dumb. People are also saying that their physicist father has run off and left their brilliant scientist mother. Spurred on by these rumours, Meg and Charles Wallace and their new friend Calvin O'Keefe embark on a perilous quest through space to find their father. This is no superhero tale, nor is it science fiction, although it shares elements of both.
- Uglies (trilogy) by Scott Westerfield. A great science fiction series with the premise that plastic surgery has advanced beyond belief. At 16, everyone undergoes high-tech plastic surgery to become extremely beautiful. Post operation teenagers are not allowed to speak to pre-operation teenagers for mysterious reasons.
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon. The language in this book is relatively straightforward, but there is some relatively advanced maths and science that will be beyond children in this age group. However, understanding it is not particularly important to the story. An incredible insight into the mind of a young boy with Asperger's syndrome. It might be worth highlighting to your child that the narrator's slightly wooden writing style is to emphasise the way he thinks and is not necessarily something to be emulated.
- What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge. An old classic which, although written in slightly old-fashioned English, is still very readable. The story itself is excellent. It is about a 12-year-old girl overcoming a great set-back, and manages to give good lessons about strength of character without being preachy.
- Hatchet (trilogy) by Gary Paulsen. Quite an easy read for this category, but still a little too complex to be included in the 'reluctant readers' section. A 14 year old boy crash lands a plane in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, and has to survive with nothing but a hatchet. Quite gripping, and I also recommend Ice Race by the same author.
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Beautifully written and very entertaining. I'd put this in the horror/fantasy genre, but it's not very scary despite being set mostly in a graveyard. A good range of interesting vocabulary, without being overly difficult. Highly recommend.
- The Call of the Wild by Jack London.
- The Once and Future King by Terence Hanbury White.
- Treasure Island by R. L. Stevenson.
- The Hobbit by J.R. Tolkein.
- I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban - a good non-fiction option which focuses on Malala's fascinating story.
- Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne.
- Etiquette and Espionage (series) – by Gail Carriger. This book is challenging in terms of vocabulary and grammar, but the plot itself is very funny and not particularly complex. This is a rare combination, and this one of my top recommendations for improving vocabulary for the 11+. I advise that a vocabulary bank is maintained alongside to get the full benefit.
- Ash by Malinda Lo. This is a charming, beautifully written book full of intriguing twists, fairies and pacts. A slightly otherworldly tone pervades.
- Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl.
- The Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry by Brian Patten.
- Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Elliot. A lovely collection of whimsical poems. Suitable for ages 8+.
15 - 18 Year olds
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
- 1984 by George Orwell.
- The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart.
- Dracula by Bram Stoker.
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.
- For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway.
- Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.
- Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu. This is a precursor to Dracula, featuring a female vampire instead. It's a short but incredible read.
- Very Short Introductions. An excellent series on a huge variety of topics. I personally found The Buddha: A Very Short Introduction and Game Theory: A Very Short Introduction very interesting, but students should be encouraged to read on topics that take their fancy.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin. Even if you don’t like romance stories, as I don’t, the book is just so well written that it grips you anyway. The writing style and vocabulary will stretch even able students.
- Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. Be aware that this book contains detailed descriptions of extreme violence. It is also an interesting and philosophical read.