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Inspiring children to read can be difficult at the best of times (particularly if the activity feels at all exam-related)! The key is to make sure it doesn’t feel like ‘work’ – and to find the right books. Our lists have been carefully compiled to spark the interest of any reluctant reader.
In this article, we’ve collated a fantastic collection of books that will help hone comprehension and literacy skills in preparation for the 11 plus. Moreover, whilst any book can be enjoyed by a person of any gender, the themes and characters in these novels may prove particularly engaging for boys.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is perhaps most famous for his detective creation, Sherlock Holmes, but we think The Lost World is a great introduction to Doyle’s writing.
The Lost World charts the adventure of Ed Malone, a journalist who is sent to South America to discover the truth behind the findings of Professor Challenger – an imposing and notorious explorer and academic. However, what he finds in South America is beyond his wildest imaginings: a real lost world full of frightening creatures and unforeseen dangers.
There’s no better way to get into C.S. Lewis’ acclaimed Narnia Chronicles than with a trip through the wardrobe. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe tells the tale of Lucy, Peter, Edmund and Susan Pevensie, who are evacuated to the countryside during World War II. Whilst staying in Professor Digory Kirke’s rambling house, the children discover a portal to a magical land – Narnia – which can be accessed through an old wardrobe. In Narnia, the children discover a plethora of mythical creatures who are suffering under the rule of their queen, the fearsome White Witch; and they soon become involved in an epic battle between good and evil. A beautifully-written and gripping tale.
In this novel, we meet the endearing inhabitants of Redwall: a community of mice who have lived in peace and harmony for many years. However, it’s not long before their tranquillity is threatened by rumours that Cluny, the legendary one-eyed rat, and his savage army, are on the move: heading for Redwall, which they’ve vowed to conquer. The Redwall mice – and their loyal band of woodland chums – must find a way to defeat the fearsome horde. This thrilling and richly-painted world will delight young readers, and is perfect for fans of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.
When young Emil, on his way to stay with relatives in Berlin, is robbed, he is determined to find the culprit – but, as a stranger in a new place, he doesn’t know where to start. Fortunately, he falls in with a band of cunning and kind boys, who – along with Emil – set out to recover the funds. With nothing but their wits, can they outsmart the thief? Philip Pullman has described the tale as ‘a great political story: democracy in action.’ A fantastic adventure that all young readers will enjoy.
Artemis is one of the 21st century’s greatest literary creations. Fantastically clever – and fantastically devilish – Artemis may be young, but he has grand plans… something that many young men will find inspiring! In this, the first of Eoin Colfer’s popular series, Artemis has an outrageous scheme in mind: to steal something from the fairy realm. Full of colourful characters, daring feats, cunning tricks and bags of humour, Colfer’s original and wickedly funny world will have young readers gripped until the last word.
Who doesn’t want to be part of the Outlaw gang? William Brown, the eponymous hero of Richmal Crompton’s popular series, is as endearing as he is troublesome: a true mischief-maker you can’t help but love (and admire!). Funny and pacy, the Just William books capture the spirit of the time perfectly – and also the timeless fun of boyhood pranks and friendship. A great introduction to a classic period in literature, as well as one of literature’s most loveable young protagonists.
From William to Alex: two very different young heroes, but heroes all the same! Alex Ryder, a fourteen-year-old orphan, is catapulted into a dangerous and compelling new world when his guardian is suddenly killed – and Alex is forced into espionage training with MI6. An exciting story about the amazing things young people can achieve, and the importance of guts and guile above all. Sure to hold the attention of even the most reluctant reader!
A beautiful story that is not just a great yarn – but also a moving and original take on the Holocaust. Boy in the Striped Pyjamas focuses on Bruno, who moves with his family to Berlin. Missing his old friends and neighbours, Bruno searches for friendly faces: but, instead, the only people he can see are the ones living in the peculiar fenced-in area close to his house. Bruno wonders who these people are – and why they only ever seem to wear striped pyjamas; but when he sets off to uncover the truth, what he discovers is more shocking than he could have imagined.
Stanley Yelnats comes from a family who have suffered many misfortunes: and Stanley’s luck doesn’t seem to be changing. After a miscarriage of justice, Stanley is sentenced to a term in Camp Green Lake Juvenile Detention Centre – a place that is decidedly not green, and also doesn’t have a lake. Things only get worse when he and his fellow inmates are ordered to dig a series of holes each day – which must be five foot deep and five foot wide – and provide details of anything they discover to the camp’s sinister warden. Why must they dig these holes? And what is the warden hoping they’ll find? Sachar’s novel is both humorous and moving: an engaging survival tale that is sure to keep readers guessing until the end.
A more challenging read than some others on our list, perhaps, but a fantastic novel nonetheless – and, for confident readers, a great introduction to 19th century language. A classic adventure tale, Around the World in 80 Days focuses on the travels of Phileas Fogg, who has bet his fortune that he can make it round the world in, well, you’ve guessed it… 80 days. Fogg’s journey takes him from ocean to jungle to mountain, as he and his foolish servant Passepartout race against time to complete their journey.
This timeless story has been adapted many times, in many different ways, which makes it a great starting point for uncertain readers. To capture your child’s interest, you could watch one of the film versions together, listen to a radio adaptation, and then revisit the novel, and discuss how the story works (and changes) when told in different mediums.
For more top book recommendations, see all of our reading lists.
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