9 great books to engage young readers

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A+ Education asked teachers and librarians for their suggestions of good books to engage young readers

Originally published in A+ Education South East Autumn 2015.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell | Age: 9+

Gerald Durrell’s autobiographical account of his early years spent living on the island of Corfu humorously details the eccentricity of his family and the abundant wildlife that not only surrounds them but, in many cases, ends up living amongst them in their home. In the story, Gerald takes the reader on his explorations of the island, the creatures, people, parties and stories he encounters.

There are so many parts of this book that had me laughing out loud, I had to pass my own copy to an intrigued fellow holiday-maker who had listened to my guffaws as I read the text on the very island it is set.

Amy Mackman, Head of Library, St Lawrence College Junior School, Ramsgate, Kent.


Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge | Age: Mature 11+

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Set in the 1920s, but with the dark, eerie feel of the Middle Ages and a touch of Victorian England, the story opens with the main character, Triss, suffering from an illness after nearly drowning; an incident her sister, Pen, had a hand in. Triss finds everything familiar becoming strange, and starts questioning who she is. She remains likeable, even when she discovers she is an imposter and turning into a monster. When Triss and Pen set out to find out what happened to the real Triss, you forget they are only 9 and 11. You just hope that they will find out before time runs out. Even though there are mysteries and magical twists, the never-fading element of hope remains constant.

Mrs Andrea Jakso, librarian, Cobham Hall, Gravesend, Kent


The Fastest Boy in the World By Elizabeth Laird |Age: 10+

Elizabeth Laird’s writings about Ethiopia are always interesting, engaging and informative and this title is no exception. It tells the story of Solomon, an 11-year-old boy who loves to run, and his ambitions of becoming a medal-winning athlete. Taken on a visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s bustling capital city by his grandfather, Solomon experiences many new situations which enable him to realise the importance of friends and family. He also discovers that his great grandfather was a forgotten war hero. When he has to run the twenty miles home to get help for his sick grandfather, he becomes a local hero. I chose this book for its beautiful descriptive writing and its endearing main character, Solomon.

Sue Nichols, Epsom College, Epsom, Surrey


I Think I Murdered Miss by Billy Bob Buttons | Age: 8-11

I chose this book, because our junior girls were inspired by Billy Bob when he recently visited Lavant House School. During the visit, he read an extract from this book, to our girls. He also provided a literacy workshop where the girls covered planning and characterisation. This workshop encouraged the girls to write independently, and I just find his books full of unexpected surprises, and hilarity.

Mrs Kate Wade, Head, Lavant Junior, Chichester


Half Bad by Sally Green | Age: 12+

This is the story of a half black and half white boy witch. It is Waterstone’s Prize shortlisted and the most translated book ever by a debut author. Think Harry Potter or Twilight for a new generation... The sequel (Half Wild) has just been published. Set in the present day, Nathan’s mother is dead and he doesn’t know his father but is told by all the white witches that his father is the most evil black witch of all. He is caged, tortured and separated from the white witch he loves. He has to escape before his seventeenth birthday to be given his Gift (magical ability) by his long lost father or die horribly. Quite a page-turner.

Mark Hayward, Head of English, Hoe Bridge School, Woking, Surrey


Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman | Age 12+

For parents keen to source books for their children but confused about the sheer wealth of books published these days, a good tip is to access the shortlist of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals (www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk). My recommendation, which grips you from the start, is this year’s Carnegie Medal winner. Charley is a young African-American slave freed at the end of the American Civil War. With an uncertain future and no means to support herself, she disguises herself as a man and joins the army. Inspired by a true story, this book skilfully deals with issues of race, gender, the horrors of war and the essence of freedom.

Alison Fenton, Librarian, Cranleigh Prep School, Cranleigh


The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander | Age 11-12

The five book series tells the story of lowly pig-farmer Taran, who dreams of adventure and who one day discovers the pig he looks after can see the future. What follows is a wonderfully fantastical adventure featuring scary zombie soldiers; plucky young heroines and heroes; dwarves, witches and so on. The stories are loosely based on Welsh mythology and fairy tales, but are funny, moving and brilliantly original. Just the thing to engage young readers; these books are a cracking good read.

John Doy, Head of English and Academic Enrichment, Seaford College, Petworth


Black Swan Green by David Mitchell | Age 14+

Even aficionados of this brilliant writer tend to overlook his coming-of-age novel, Black Swan Green. Part of the book’s appeal is its hilarious evocation of the humdrum stuff of teenage life—skulking in bedrooms, embarrassments and sibling rivalries—but there are big ideas and great pathos here too. Thirteen-year-old narrator Jason Taylor has all the usual teenage afflictions, but his biggest problem comes in the form of the ‘hangman’, Jason’s term for his chronic stammer. Perhaps it is this yearning for a voice of his own that forces him to harbour literary aspirations, and under the tutelage of dotty aristocrat Madame Eva van Outryve de Crommelynck, publish his first faltering verses. His struggles, set against the backdrop of the 1980s and the Falklands War, will resonate with readers of any age. Mitchell is a superbly gifted writer and an excellent role model for younger writers too.

Matthew Oliver, Head of English, Bede’s Senior School, Upper Dicker, East Sussex


Young Sherlock: Night Break by Andrew Lane | Age 11+

Sherlock’s mother has died, his father has disappeared in India and his sister is acting strangely. The Holmes family seems to be falling apart and not even brother Mycroft can keep it together. But while Sherlock is worrying about all of this, a man living nearby vanishes in his own house while Sherlock and Mycroft are visiting. Where did he go, and what is the connection with a massive canal being built in Egypt? The answer will rock the world, and tear the Holmes family apart. Young Sherlock Holmes investigates a new crime and comes up against a fresh crop of sinister, clever crooks.

Karen Cresswell, Librarian, Downsend School, Leatherhead, Surrey

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