A reading list for starters…

Some years ago E.D Hirsch made his recommendations about what US kiddies should know and we all know Gove is following a similar route with his new curriculums, prescribing what students must know by certain ages. Let me be less prescriptive and suggest a reading list – by no means exhaustive – of the novels and stories children should read on their way through school. And you should catch up on as well!

A good starting point for reading what is considered good quality are the short lists for the various literary prizes, eg The Booker, Miles Franklin, Pulitzer and YA prizes. Go to past years and see what’s there. The internet proliferates with lists of 50 best of… so check them out too.

Let’s remember why reading is important

1.Reading teaches us about language, about syntax, vocabulary, sentence structures and text cohesion – it is invaluable in learning how to write effectively. A good reader becomes a good writer. When language (or grammar) skills are taught explicitly the child already has something to hook the new learning into, something to contextualise the knowledge so it makes sense and is ‘absorbed’ into the growing skill base.

2.Reading teaches us about the world – we learn facts, we learn about places and events, we learn about who we are and how we operate in the world. This is as true of fiction as it is of non-fiction, of factual texts.

3.Reading teaches us about how to be human. There is a lovely body of evidence that shows that the fiction readers amongst us are more in tune with others, more empathetic and able to understand other people, their emotions and motivations.

4.Reading also helps develop concentration, the ability to focus on one task for an extended time, which we all need to do, especially students in school and given the alarmingly range of short snappy distractions in this modern world we need a way to develop concentration skills. Twenty-thirty minutes a day is not a lot of time but it may be the best use of half an hour there is!!

5.Reading is also an immensely pleasurable task – personal, private, portable, cheap. A life without reading really is an impoverished life, regardless of all the above reasons.


A beginning non-comprehensive reading list:

Early Years – Pre-school & Primary

The caveat being that you MUST read to your child every day. And then you MUST listen to them when they begin to read. Reading together is the act that shows both love and the importance of reading to you both. I would suggest that you buy books as presents – always one for birthdays and Christmas. This simple act builds reading and books into young people’s lives as a natural and normal thing.

wind in w

Myths and Legends from across the world – Greek and Roman, Arthurian, Aboriginal, Chinese, etc. There are a range of versions from picture books through to the originals – begin gently

Bible stories – again children’s versions, Moses, The Ark, Exodus, Jesus and his miracles, etc

Spot books – a family favourite

Picture books – many coming out all the time – look for areas of interest and presentation of content and illustrations

Enid Blyton – The Far Away Tree is still lovely

Winnie the Pooh

Paddington Bear

The Wind in the Willows

Peter Pan

Alice in Wonderland & other Lewis Carroll works, do not forget Jabberwocky

Ogden Nash poetry

Snugglepot and Cuddle Pie, The Magic Pudding (Australia)

Goosebumps series – wonderful for learning how to read independently

A Wizard of Earthsea

Chronicles of Narnia

The Hobbit

The Jungle Book

Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stephenson


Middle Years – 12-15

Some of this list will be taught in school as part of the English curriculum. This list and the one for 16+ will be wholly dependent on your child and their ability and interest. But what I am stressing here is more of the classics than much modern stuff – which isn’t to say that The Hunger Games and Alex Rider books aren’t worth reading, just that you need to keep an eye out for quality, so your child has a rich reading experience.


One Dickens – Oliver or Great Expectations

Harry Potter, much as I hate to admit it – they are now loaded with cultural and social references – but go to The Lord of the Rings for the original references!

Shakespeare – poetry, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet

Lord of the Flies – a bit dated now but worth a read

To Kill a Mockingbird

Animal Farm and 1984 – you cannot escape Orwell and these are essential to understanding our modern world and how we fit in it

Brave New World – worth a look

Some Agatha Christie – the original queen of crime – Murder in Mesopotamia

Some Hemingway

Steinbeck – Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath


Later Years – 16+

This really is classics land and only a sample of what is possible – many writers have a range of texts to choose from. But these texts – novels, short stories and poems will inform the rest of your reading and connect you to a range of experiences, times, cultures and societies and that’s what reading is meant to do!

robinson c



Robinson Crusoe

Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Pride and Prejudice

A Clockwork Orange

The Romantic Poets – Keats, Byron, Shelley

Hamlet, King Lear, Julius Cesar


Classic Poetry

cant tales

L’Morte D’Arthur

The Canterbury Tales

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Under Milk Wood

The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock


Classic European Novels



All Quiet on the Western Front – if you are going to read a war novel then this is it – or see below – Catch 22??

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovick

Anna Karenina or War and Peace

The Brothers Karimazov

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Les Miserables

Madame Bovary

Don Quixote


Classic American Novels


Catch 22 – perhaps the best anti-war novel ever written

Catcher in the Rye

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

On the Road

Moby Dick

The Last of the Mohicans

The Sound and the Fury

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn – there must be some Mark Twain!

The Great Gatsby

Maus, Night – Eli Weisel

+ Edgar Allan Poe short stories

+ Margaret Atwood, who is Canadian, lest we forget that country!


African Literature*

things fall

Things Fall Apart

Doris Lessing – novels and stories, especially Through the Tunnel


South American Literature*

100 years

100 Hundred Years of Solitude

Like Water for Chocolate

House of the Spirits

*I know I have just ignored the countries for the sake of the continents but please forgive and/or add more books!


Classic Australian Novels


Schindler’s List, Thomas Kenneally

Bliss and Illywhacker, Peter Carey

Cloudstreet, Tim Winton

Capricornia, Xavier Herbert

My Brilliant Career, Miles Franklin

For the Term of His Natural Life, Marcus Clarke

The Well, Elizabeth Jolley

Lillian’s Story, Kate Grenville

For Love Alone, Christina Stead

Maestro, Peter Goldsworthy

Gould’s Book of Fish, Richard Flanagan

The Eye of the Storm, Patrick White

See also: http://blog.booktopia.com.au/2011/01/11/50-must-read-australian-novels-as-voted-by-you-in-2010/


Classic Indian Novels

midnight's children

A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

Midnight’s Children and any other Salman Rushdie

+ VS Naipaul


Chinese Literature

woman warrior

The Woman Warrior – Maxine Hong Kingston

Wild Swans

1000 Paper Cranes


There is so much more than this – it is just a start. Yes, I have read most of these and the ones I haven’t read are on my bookshelf and my to read list. There are many wonderful modern novels and stories out there too, don’t ignore them. Remember this is a list to enable you to better enjoy and understand what you do read. Popular culture is full of references to stories and people from literature. Where would we be without George Orwell and Big Brother???
What would you add? (Book cover images courtesy Google Images)


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2 Responses to “A reading list for starters…”

  1. tattoos pictures family Says:

    Good article. I’m experiencing a few of these issues as well..

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