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Scholarship Reading List


If your child is a bright spark who loves to read, they may be a candidate for an 11 Plus scholarship (offered by certain selective independent schools). In any case, there’s nothing to be lost from introducing children to more advanced – and expansive – reading materials.

Scholarships won on the English paper usually demonstrate an advanced understanding of narrative techniques and display of sophisticated comprehension skills. These are skills that can be honed by reading voraciously and widely. You can find out more information about this by contacting our dedicated school entrance co-ordinator or speaking to one of our experienced tutors. In this reading list, we’ve collated a selection of fiction and non-fiction books that will test and inspire budding bookworms.

Three children reading in the garden

Remember, though, that some of the language or concepts may be challenging for young minds; so if your child seems initially daunted, don’t be put off. Try reading the first couple of chapters together, slowly, discussing the themes and any unfamiliar terms or ideas together as you go. Be sure to look up – and write down – any new vocabulary that you uncover!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon 

Winner of the inaugural Booktrust Teenage Prize, this best-selling novel is a unique adventure story that is sure to grip both adults and children. Focusing on Christopher, a highly intelligent young man who also suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, it opens with a compelling mystery: a dog is found murdered on Christopher’s neighbour’s lawn.

For Christopher, who is also a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes, this is a mystery that must be solved: but his search soon takes him down an unfamiliar – and disturbing – path, turning his ordered world upside down.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

A real challenge for young readers, this beautifully evocative book is like no other. Author Yann Martel conjures up a diverse landscape as he takes readers on a meandering voyage with lead character Piscine Patel (the eponymous Pi), whose blissful sea journey is disrupted part-way through. Following a terrible storm, Pi is forced to take shelter in a lifeboat with a cast of characterful animals: a zebra, hyena, monkey and a tiger named Richard. Eventually, only Richard and Pi remain, and as they try to find their way to safety, they meditate on everything from the meaning of life to survival tactics.

An energetic and mind-bending tale that will introduce the reader to many complex ideas and different cultures.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte 

Jane Eyre is often called the greatest love story of all time (though fans of Pride and Prejudice may have something to say about that!). However, what’s more exciting – particularly for young readers – is to note that this book was actually ground-breaking in another way. It was one of the very first novels to use a first-person narrative, providing true depth and insight into Jane’s moral and spiritual journey. From her unhappy childhood to challenging times as a governess at Thornfield Hall (where she falls in love with her employer, Mr Rochester), Jane’s spirit and strength are continually tested and the reader is offered a front-row seat as she grapples with contemporary notions of morality, feminism, religion and class.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 

Atticus Finch, one of literature’s great heroes, is also given one of literature’s most famous lines: ‘Shoot all the Bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird.’ The real ‘mockingbird’ is actually Atticus’ client: a black man who has been accused of the rape of a white girl. Young bookworms will find much to identify within the character of Scout, Atticus’ spirited daughter and her older brother, Jem. Through their eyes, readers are introduced to a fascinating (and disturbing) depiction of prejudice, hypocrisy and social justice. A true American classic.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 

Both a compelling story and a unique look at World War II – exploring the lives of the German people under the Nazi regime – The Book Thief is certain to grip readers of all ages. A little like Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, this tale has a bookworm at its heart: this time an 11-year-old girl who becomes obsessed with reading after she steals a gravedigger’s handbook. Though filled with notions of death and mortality (in fact, the tale is narrated by Death itself), the story manages to be both moving and uplifting, largely due to the author’s deft touch. 

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Oliver Twist, another of Charles Dickens’ best-known works, has already featured on one of our 11 Plus Reading Lists; so it’s safe to say that we are big fans! And with good reason: Dickens is widely regarded as the greatest Victorian novelist – and the creator of some of literature’s best-loved characters. In addition, his novels are imbued with layers of social criticism, which, for advanced young readers, makes them a delight to dissect.

Great Expectations is an excellent example of a bildungsroman (a coming-of-age story). It centres on Pip, who experiences a series of life-altering events (such as a thrilling encounter with an escaped convict and a mysterious bequest from an anonymous benefactor) during the ‘first stage’ of his life. Pip’s unexpected wealth sets him on a new path: and, as he strives to become a gentleman, he starts to question everything he thought he knew. Will his ‘great expectations’ bring him happiness – and enable him to win the heart of his beloved, the cold Estella – or will it lead to his ruin? 

Trash by Andy Mulligan

This award-winning novel is a must-read for any teenager. Shortlisted for the 2021 Carnegie Medal and selected for ‘Diverse Voices – 50 of the Best Children’s Books’ due to its cultural diversity, Trash offers a window into another world.

Trash is set in an unknown third-world country and transports readers from the grime of a rubbish dump to scenes of urban wealth. At its heart are three endearing young characters: Raphael, a ‘dumpsite boy’ and his friends Gardo and Rat. All three spend their days on the dump sorting through huge piles of rubbish. But when they find something they don’t expect – a precious something; a something full of clues and hope – their lives are changed forever. One thing is for certain: if the three friends are going to uncover the mystery behind their finding – and stay ahead of the police – they’ll have to use all their cunning and nerve. An emotional rollercoaster of a tale that will open children’s eyes to another world.

Non-Fiction Bonus Round

In addition to reading great fiction, 11 Plus Scholarship candidates should also tackle notable non-fiction works in order to broaden their minds: everything and anything from biography to science. Our top three recommendations for this category are:

I am Malala. The autobiography of Malala Yousafzai, the young activist who was shot by the Taliban for championing the importance of female education.

A Little History of the World. Written by E H Gombrich, this book chronicles human development throughout time in an accessible and entertaining way. History without too many dull facts and figures!

George’s Secret Key to the Universe. Somewhere between a story and a physics lesson, this book, which was written by Stephen and Sophie Hawking, introduces challenging scientific concepts to young minds in an engaging way. A sense of wonder awaits all who open this book!


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