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There’s no doubt about it: reading classic books is a great way to improve a child’s literacy skills – whatever the reason. However, if you’re getting ready for the 11 Plus (and the English and verbal reasoning exam in particular), delving into some classic literature is a must. This will help to improve a child’s vocabulary, comprehension skills, and even their writing style (enhancing grammar, spelling, and their ability to identify literary techniques – such as similes and metaphors – as well as deepening their understanding of why such devices might be used).
To help you get started, we’ve collated an Classic Reading List that is suitable for children in years 4, 5 and 6, and which covers a broad spectrum of classic texts. To encourage maximum engagement, we recommend reading aloud together to begin with, as some of these novels contain challenging themes and vocabulary (though they’re all compelling). Happy reading!
Carrie’s War was inspired by author Nina Bawden’s own experiences as an evacuee during the Second World War. The novel charts the journey of Carrie and her younger brother, Nick, who are evacuated to Wales and placed in the care of fearsome shopkeeper Mr Evans and his sister Louise. During their stay, they meet some colourful characters, including Hepzibah Green, who is rumoured to be a ‘wise woman’ (a white witch) and tells the children tales of curses and enchantments. However, when Carrie begins to suspect that one of her new friends has committed a terrible deed, she decides to enact a curse Hepzibah has spoken of – with disastrous consequences.
Like Carrie’s War, Goodnight Mister Tom focuses on a World War II evacuee and an unexpected friendship: this time between nine-year-old William Beech and curmudgeonly widower Mister Tom. When William arrives in the village of Little Weirwold, he is thin, fragile and timid – and Mister Tom, who is avoided by the community due to his reclusive ways, and seems distant and bad-tempered. However, when Mister Tom realises that William has been both emotionally and physically abused by his strict mother, his attitude changes; and William flourishes under his care. As William grows in confidence, Mister Tom, too, finds himself changed – for the better – by their growing bond. A heartwarming tale about unlikely friendship and the transformative power of kindness.
Written in an autobiographical style, Robinson Crusoe is a thrilling narration of the naval adventures and shipwreck of sailor Robinson Crusoe. After he is marooned on an island – a period that lasts 27 years – Crusoe faces many dangers, encountering mutineers, cannibals and more! A gripping and exciting tale.
One of the most popular literary adaptations of all time, and responsible for a host of recognisable tropes and sayings (such as ‘X’ marks the spot’), Treasure Island is Robert Louis Stevenson’s masterpiece about ‘buccaneers and buried gold’. An exciting take on the traditional coming-of-age structure, Treasure Island introduces readers to a world of ships, pirates, and hero Jim Hawkins, who is on a quest to find treasure that has been buried by the dastardly pirate Captain Flint.
A brilliant book for children and adults alike, Animal Farm is – at its heart – a fable reflecting a pivotal time in Russian history (the events leading up to the Russian Revolution and its aftermath). However, though political parallels are undoubtedly present, and could also form the basis of an interesting discussion with a confident young reader, the story is gripping in its own right. Orwell’s famous novel is about a group of animals and their plot to stage a rebellion against the humans who run the farm, with the aim of creating a fair and equal society. An engaging, thought-provoking story with many layers of meaning to discover.
Written in 1876, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is one of the most popular novels by the great American author Mark Twain and serves as an excellent introduction to classic American literature. Similar to Animal Farm in its multifacetedness, children will find much to enjoy about this rollicking adventure story, whilst adults will note the satirical elements. Twain’s much-loved novel introduces Tom Sawyer, a fun-loving scamp who lives with his Aunt Polly and brother Sid in Missouri. Along with his friend, Huckleberry Finn, Tom is always getting into scrapes; but when he witnesses the murder of Dr Robinson by Injun Joe, things take a more serious turn – particularly when Injun Joe points the finger at someone else.
If your child is gripped by modern fantasy novels like Maze Runner, Gone, and The Hunger Games, point them straight to Lord of the Flies: the story that inspired them all. Written in 1954 by Nobel Prize-winning British author William Golding, Lord of the Flies concerns a group of boys who find themselves stranded on a deserted island after a plane crash. Newly orphaned, their attempts to govern themselves soon descend into murderous savagery, bringing to life the concept of ‘survival of the fittest’ in an unexpected and shocking way…
A much-loved classic, Little Women tells the story of the March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy – as they grow up in Concord, Massachusetts during the 19th century. The novel explores the uncomfortable transition between childhood and adulthood, as Alcott’s flawed yet highly endearing characters grapple with societal expectations, varied hardships, and the struggle to find their place in an ever-changing world.
Narrated in the first person (or rather, horse!) by the eponymous Black Beauty, the novel is set in Victorian England – a period in which horses were vitally important for transport and trade. The reader follows Beauty throughout his life, from the countryside to the city and back again, during which he encounters both kindness and cruelty from the humans and animals he meets.
Oliver Twist is a Victorian child born into awful circumstances: orphaned, brought up in a workhouse and then sold into apprenticeship with an undertaker. When Oliver runs away to London, his fortunes change for the better – or so he thinks – when he meets the ‘Artful Dodger’, a member of a young pickpocketing troupe under the dubious care of Fagin, a seasoned criminal. As Oliver’s eyes are opened to the sordid realities of the criminal underworld, he longs to escape – but Fagin and his thuggish acquaintance, the villainous Bill Sikes, have other plans. A fantastic introduction to the works of Charles Dickens, and a searing exposition of contemporary criminality and the brutal treatment of Victorian orphans.
For more top book recommendations, see all of our reading lists.
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