The Secret Garden (1911) by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A classic of children’s literature, The Secret Garden is accessible and beautifully written. Its nuanced look into class, family and friendship comes from a place of profound empathy and insight. This is a particularly good read for girls, although the boys whom I’ve tutored have also enjoyed it.
Animal Farm (1945) by George Orwell
A very worthwhile project for a tutor if combined with the history of the Soviet Union. Orwell’s Animal Farm has been a source of great delight to my own tutees, especially when the full extent of its allegory is revealed. The novella’s naïve and indoctrinated narration also provides a great opportunity for the student to fully comprehend the distinction between author and narrator.
The Old man and the Sea (1952) by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway’s iconic style of prose, together with its themes of nature, dignity, friendship and resilience, makes this novel a captivating read for children of this age, especially boys.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (2003) by Mark Haddon (11+)
A masterpiece of contemporary literature, Mark Haddon’s novel tells the story of family breakdown through the eyes of a genius teenager, Christopher who has Asperger’s syndrome. Full of fascinating scientific insights and with a unique form of narration, this novel is as gripping for adults as it is for children. Contains some adult themes.
The Time Machine (1895) by H.G. Wells
This staple of science fiction literature contains some wonderful ideas and is fertile ground for discussing evolution and the nature of humanity. It does contain some difficult vocabulary, and is quite old-fashioned in its style of prose and dated gender roles.
The Hobbit (1937) by J.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit should probably be attempted before embarking on its much more ambitious and protracted sequel. A classic of children’s literature, and a good gateway into Tolkien’s world.
The Lord of The Rings (1954) by J.R. Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings is not for everybody. It requires a particular type of obsessive memory for endless characters and stories within stories, and a predisposition to the fantasy genre to really enjoy this trilogy, both those who do often become devoted lifelong Tolkien readers.
A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) by Ursula K. Le Guin
Much more accessible than the works of Tolkien, A Wizard of Earthsea offers both a magical world of wizards and warriors, but also a coming of age story, as its protagonist, Ged, learns to cope with his powers and the essential truths of life.
The Diary of a Young Girl (1952) by Anne Frank (11+)
It is a miracle that Anne Frank’s diary, a literary treasure written in a remarkably intelligent and sensitive way for a young girl, survived its terrible context. When reading, it is important to consider the fact that some parts of it were never intended to be read publicly. This text should be accompanied by some historical work on WW2.
Goodnight Mr Tom (1981) by Michelle Magorian (11+)
Another text which should be accompanied by some historical background information, Goodnight Mr Tom is a touching read and highly captivating for children of this age. The story centres around the unlikely friendship of a traumatised boy from London, evacuated to the countryside during the war, and his new guardian, a reclusive old man named Tom. Contains themes of physical and psychological abuse.
His Dark Materials (1995) by Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman’s acclaimed trilogy His Dark Materials has become a household name in children’s literature. Part fantasy, part coming of age story, His Dark Materials is an immensely creative work of fiction. It is easy to become totally absorbed in Pullman’s world of daemons, angels and dark matter.
The Dark is Rising (1965) by Susan Cooper
A wonderful syncretism of various mythologies, The Dark is Rising is Susan Cooper’s series of contemporary children’s fantasy novels. Cooper’s writing is rich with symbolism and instantly alluring.
Little Women (1868) by Louisa May Aclott
A semi-autobiographical novel, Little Women is an eye-opening window onto the thoughts and desires of three sisters of a distant era: the American Civil War. Particularly appropriate for girls who are avid and confident readers. It’s useful to note that this is the sort of text that often comes up in reading comprehensions.
A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens
Another favourite of entrance exam reading comprehensions thanks to Dicken’s elegant prose and imagery, A Christmas Carol is not an easy read for children of this age due to the complex sentences and rich vocabulary, but if you can get through that, it is a very entertaining and enlightening novel, and one which forms part of Britain’s cultural bedrock.
The Little White Horse (1946) by Elizabeth Goudge
Typically a more attractive read for girls in the younger end of this range, The Little White Horse tells the tale of Maria Merryweather, a 13-year old orphan, sent away to Moonacre Manor where she soon finds herself engulfed in a fantastic world of magical beasts, and a struggle between good and evil. The Little White Horse was cited by J.K. Rowling as her favourite book growing up, and its influence on the Harry Potter series is noticeable.
Written by Roland Witherow, Director of Witherow Brooke