1 December 2021
From the youngest possible age, an enjoyment of books and reading is essential for the development of knowledge, language and cultural awareness. Quite apart from the thought-provoking and mind-expanding benefits of reading, it’s one of those things that all private schools are keen to see from their applicants. With that in mind, we asked our team of writers and education consultants to name some of their current favourite books for children. What follows is an assortment of new and classic literature strong on adventure, eccentricity, positive role models and a can-do attitude. If you’re after something that will entertain, inspire, educate and not be forgotten about after ten minutes, then read on.
Books for nursery and pre-school children
Not many children of this age are going to be doing the reading themselves, but they can still appreciate pictures and stories, not to mention the shapes and sounds of letters and words. Familiarity with books at this age can set a child on the path to being an avid reader.
Our home counties consultant, Melanie Sanderson, recommended Be Brave, Little Penguin by Gile Andreae. Little Penguin, Pip, builds up the confidence to overcome his fears and leaps into the ocean, discovering a whole new underwater world of joy. The author is better known for Giraffe’s Can’t Dance and here combines similar empowering message with fun rhymes and rhythms.
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss is a famous family favourite in America but not so well known this side of the pond. Janette Wallis, our consultant and writer in Berkshire describes it as ‘a dazzling tale of perseverance, faith, family dynamics, tending your garden, and how the youngest person in a family can sometimes be the wisest’. Not bad for only 101 words!
Books for primary school children
For newly confident readers, welcome to the world of Claude by Alex T Smith as recommended by boarding schools expert Janita Clamp. As you will soon find out, Claude is a small, plump dog with a cavernous red beret and a dear friend called Sir Bobblysock. Hilarious stories of Claude’s haphazard exploits and resourcefulness alongside lively illustrations will delight all generations and, with eleven books in the series (currently), should keep children reading for some time.
For slightly older children, and particularly those looking beyond the tidal wave of rainbow unicorns and pastel princesses, the Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary - first published in the USA in the 1950s but still popular and relevant – are about a spirited young heroine who has a distinctive approach to navigating school, family and friends. Plenty of comparisons have been drawn between Ramona and the better-known Pippi Longstocking books by Astrid Lindgren. Both exhibit boundless imaginations and self-sufficiency although Pippi’s superhuman strength is something of a stand-out characteristic.
The Brilliant World of Tom Gates (and other Tom Gates titles) by Liz Pichon are humorous stories detailing Tom's everyday life. Mischief and mayhem, it’s as much about the doodles and illustrations as it is about the words. “Works nothing short of magic with reluctant readers”, says Kate Hilpern, our resident authority on tutoring and online education.
For those in the upper years of primary school, Roar: A Guide to Dreaming Big and Playing the Sport You Love by Beth Mead is aimed at any child who revelled in the glory of the Euros last year and England's women's march to the final of the World Cup this summer. Recommended by our East Anglian writer and SEN specialist, Nicky Hawkwood, the former World Soccer Player of the Year and BBC Sports Personality of the Year, Beth Mead, has produced a fun, interactive book for designed to encourage children to think about what really excites and motivates them and how to direct this passion into sports or any other goal in life. A great confidence booster and emphasises that we’re all individuals who need to find our own paths towards happiness.
If football ticks your child’s boxes, The Boy Whose Wishes Came True by Helen Rutter is about Archie Crumb, who leads a tricky home life as a young carer and is rewarded by a bump on the head: the unusual kind where you come to see your footballing idol standing in front of you granting nine wishes. Charlotte Obolensky, our expert in all things Bristolian, describes it as ‘a mix of fantasy and gritty reality, gently advising young readers to be careful what they wish for’.
The opposite to gritty reality, Skandar and the Unicorn Thief by AF Steadman, is suggested by our scholarships and bursaries guru Camilla Smiley who says that ‘for once a novel starring a unicorn which is well-written, adventurous, not pink-and-smelling-of-marshmallows'. Fast-paced, magical action where one boy is pitted against the forces of evil. And if mythical beasts is your child’s bag, then Impossible Creatures by Katherine Rundell has them by the bucket load, plus girl and boy protagonists on a thrilling mission in the world of the Archipelago.
Books for secondary school children
All The Broken Places is John Boyne’s sequel to the international blockbuster The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and comes endorsed by editor of The Good Schools Guide International, Selina Boyd. It tells the story of the holocaust from an unusual perspective - that of an elderly German lady, now living in London, who was the daughter of a Nazi commandant - it touches on shame, fear, denial, guilt and trying to live a ’normal’ life built on a bedrock of secrets. A captivating read, aimed as much at adults as historically aware children.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is a classic and rightfully part of the English literary canon. Adored by each new generation that comes across it, Grace Moody-Stuart, director of The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants recommends this Gothic mystery thriller: ‘a chilling exposition of inequality of the sexes in Victorian England as well as being a gripping page turner’.
It may be more than eighty years old but Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, ‘A Novel About Journalists’, is a satire on the news industry and as relevant today as ever. Fake news is by no means a 21st century creation and this novel is a light-hearted eye-opener for any teen who takes an interest in current affairs and how they are reported.
First published in 2022 and now an international sensation, Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus is a witty and feminist portrayal of women in the male-dominated worlds of academia and television in the 1960s. Ideal for more mature teenagers.
Books for all ages
Greek Myths were recommended by a number of our team. Odysseus, Heracles, Medusa, the Minotaur and much more. These stories have delighted children for thousands of years and underpin vast swathes of western literature. What's more, with so many versions out there, you can choose a collection to best suit your child's age, or one of the modern retellings of a particular myth. From easy to read, picture-heavy storybooks to advanced adaptations complete with sex and gore.