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Ever thought what books your child should have read by the time they were 18? Or just looking for the perfect reading list of educational, inspirational and thoughtful literature. If these questions have crossed your mind, especially for some of us a million times, you are reading the right blog! Below we have a collection of books and their summaries: a list to inspire, to educate and for fun!

Put together by one of our top English tutors, having just got accepted (on full scholarship) to do her PhD in English Literature at Stanford University, PrepWorks brings you their favourite under 18 book list. We recommend you to get these books today or borrow them from our updated PrepWorks library!

Disclaimer:

  • Books chosen are intentionally a little more challenging than the average level appropriate for the age range.
  • Books chosen also lean a little towards my specialty (World Literature) and corresponds with my aim to encourage more “global/non-white” reading. Given, I still include many classics (that are more white than not) in order to prepare readers for English syllabuses in school or university. Also given, despite consciously looking out for non-white authors/stories, the list is still biased towards white/Western authors or perspectives.
  • If you find the recommendations for your age range too easy, move on to the books in the older range (and vice versa).
  • *** marks a book that contains mild to average amounts of vulgar language, elements of horror, sensitive political issues, and/or depictions of drug abuse.

7-9 year olds

Books to Inspire
Aimed at introducing unusual ideas or expanding the reader’s scope of reading.

  1. Wonder by R.J.Palacio – An intimate and likeable story following a main character who has Treacher Collins syndrome, a genetic disorder characterized by deformities of the face. Full of characters that the reader will root for, and a simple narrative; this book can introduce ideas of difference and empathy.
  2. The Breadwinner (or Parvana) by Deborah Ellis – The book is about 11-year-old Parvana, who is forced by circumstance to be the breadwinner for her family in war-torn Taliban Afghanistan. Despite its simple language, the author’s research is thorough. She spent several months at refugee camps in Pakistan and interviewed many of its inhabitants. This book gives some perspective of the world outside our national or presumably middle to upper class context.
  3. Big History Timeline Wallbook – Incredibly accessible introduction to non-fiction reading – this specific edition includes illustrated timelines that can be expanded in size, “newspaper articles”, activities and a magnifying glass. Any book published by What on Earth Books would equally serve as a fun entrance into topics ranging from “Absolutely Everything”, to science, British history, dinosaurs, and the Magna Carta.

Books to Educate
Aimed at introducing the reader to as many themes, styles, and issues most relevant or most discussed at UK/US universities or schools.

  1. Animal Farm by George Orwell – Depiction of a historical event masked by an accessible and short fairytale. A well-read and profound classic that depicts the
    shortcomings of Soviet era communism.
  2. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – A beloved classic with a very simple story line. It manages to toe the line between sophistication and childlikeness.
  3. Holes by Louis Sachar – A humorous tale of Stanley Yelnats who is sent to Camp Green Lake to dig holes as detention. It weaves together interconnecting stories that touches lightly on themes such as racism, homelessness, illiteracy, and arranged marriage. Also adapted into a movie by Disney.

Books for Fun
Aimed at getting the reader into the rhythm of reading. These books are generally page-turners, and can vary from escapist fiction to relatable stories that speaks to life.

  1. Cinder by Marissa Myer – An adaptation of the Cinderella fairytale with a cyborg twist. Quite large at 390 pages, but easygoing enough to keep the reader plowing. Though it sits within the well-worn ‘chosen one’ story arc, it exposes the reader to new ideas that are foundational to the science-fiction genre like post humanism.
  2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – A combination of adventure, science and even philosophy all wrapped up within a simple read. With the added advantage of having a movie out as accompaniment.
  3. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S.Lewis – Full of pure magic and wonder. A classic that fully deserves its place. Completely possible to whip through all 7 books in no time. What is you/your child doing if they haven’t read it?! (Obviously a biased fan here.)

10-12 year olds

Books to Inspire
Aimed at introducing unusual ideas or expanding the reader’s scope of reading.

  1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night Time by Mark Haddon – An award winning novel that uses tropes from the mystery / crime genre to introduce the reader to the main protagonist Christopher, who has Asperger’s Syndrome. The narrative style of the novel allows the reader to step into Christopher’s shoes as he navigates and explains his perspective of life.
  2. Maus by Art Spiegelman – A Pulitzer prize winning graphic novel that depicts the Holocaust via drawing the Jews as mice, Germans as cats, and Poles as pigs. A heavy topic in a deceptively accessible format. ***
  3. I am Malala (Options: Unabridged/Young Readers’ Edition) – A memoir of 10 year old Malala in terrorist-ridden Pakistan, and how she stood up for education. Yet another book that will encourage readers to step into someone else’s shoes, expanding their empathy as well as their understanding of the world.

Books to Educate
Aimed at introducing the reader to as many themes, styles, and issues most relevant or most discussed at UK/US universities or schools.

  1. Across the Barricades by Joan Lingard – A story about Kevin and Sadie who just wants to be together, but are divided by the barricades of Belfast, where a Catholic boy and a Protestant girl cannot mingle. An accessible story that details the historical consequences of “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland, where allegiance to the Republic of Ireland or the British crown collided.
  2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  3. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Both books above share a similar type of protagonist with some overlapping themes. Both protagonists are young boys from underprivileged backgrounds, who throughout the novel have to learn to fend for themselves with the help of a motley crew of side characters. Both boys are used as a lens through which we see the ills of their society. In Huckleberry Finn’s case, the race and slave system in America. In Oliver Twist’s case, the class system in London.

Books for Fun
Aimed at getting the reader into the rhythm of reading. These books are generally page-turners, and can vary from escapist fiction to relatable stories that speaks to life.

  1. The Red Queen series – Part historical drama, part romance, part science-fiction fantasy – this book has it all. From a female heroine to political intrigue, this series is both thoughtful and an epic adventure.
  2. Illuminae – A fast paced space opera that breaks the conventions of what a ‘book’ means. Book 1 of a 3 part series.
  3. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – An adrenaline packed race through references and riddles in a dystopian world. Pacing and plotting at its best.

13-15 year olds

Books to Inspire
Aimed at introducing unusual ideas or expanding the reader’s scope of reading.

  1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield – A series of extremely interesting facts and anecdotes taken from the author’s experience in space. Part
    autobiography, part book of facts, part life lesson – it is extremely readable yet offers so much knowledge and wisdom.
  2. Metro 2033 – A book that has resulted from an interactive experiment online involving 3 million people that has now spawned a video game franchise. This novel
    defies the usual methods of writing and publication. The novel is set in year 2033, in a post-apocalyptic Moscow. ***
  3. American Panda by Gloria Chao – A quick breeze of a novel that is about dating and romance on the surface, but depicts the identity and coming-of-age struggles of
    an Asian American teenager as an underlying theme. A great introduction to the subgenre of Asian American writing.

Books to Educate
Aimed at introducing the reader to as many themes, styles, and issues most relevant or most discussed at UK/US universities or schools.

  1. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – A giant of a novel in the canon of British literature, it includes the typical Dickensian themes of rags to riches, class
    struggle, countryside and city life… and it comes of course with a cast of colourful characters. While relatively thick, Dickens’ writing here is hilarious and will
    reward the patient reader.
  2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D.Salinger – Another giant (in terms of fame), this time in the canon of American literature. The book follows the thoughts and
    adventures of Holden Caulfield. It is often quoted as the original depiction of teenage angst, alienation and rebellion. ***
  3. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy – A recent classic set in India depicting a family whose lives are governed by ‘small things’ that are part and parcel to
    their culture/social environment. Equal parts family saga, forbidden love story, coming of age, and political drama – this novel will please in both its encompassing
    themes and its lush writing.

Books for Fun
Aimed at getting the reader into the rhythm of reading. These books are generally page-turners, and can vary from escapist fiction to relatable stories that speaks to life.

  1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – Relatable teen coming-of-age (with a movie coming out), which engages really well with difficult ideas like race and politics.
    Easy to read but with incredible intellectual pay-out. ***
  2. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by David Adams – A modern classic that still promises a fun romp accessible to readers at every level. It’s a sci-fi comedy
    travelogue that is littered with thought provoking ideas from science and philosophy.
  3. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind – A sophisticated historical fantasy novel with writing that grips the senses, and a plot that will haunt the
    reader for a long time to come.***

16-18 year olds

Books to Inspire
Aimed at introducing unusual ideas or expanding the reader’s scope of reading.</em?

  1. The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth – An informative but also incredibly interesting book (at times laugh out
    loud) on the normative construction of the English language, and how we can take advantage of these tropes to appreciate or create ‘eloquent’ writing.
  2. The Golden Chersonese by Isabella Bird – An epic romp by pioneering female explorer Isabella Bird through Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Singapore and
    Malaysia; first published in 1880. Sprawling across the genres of Victorian, travelogue, memoir and postcolonial literatures, this book is as illuminating as it is fun.
    Gain immediate respect for Isabella when she cuts through dense Malayan jungles full of tigers in her dress and parasol. Cheer for her when she does brave, taboo
    things like ride horses astride.
  3. Palestine by Joe Sacco – A graphic novel that depicts Joe Sacco’s experience as a comic-journalist during his time in Palestine. He uses the medium of the comic to
    depict an otherwise grave, explosive and controversial topic (Israel-Palestine conflict). It successfully balances addressing the issue with allowing the reader to
    empathize with his characters. ***

Books to Educate
Aimed at introducing the reader to as many themes, styles, and issues most relevant or most discussed at UK/US universities or schools.

  1. Beloved by Tony Morrison – Beautifully written and an important milestone for literary explorations of African American history. Allows the reader to deeply
    empathize with the plight of those forced into slavery. Complex and poetic, this will take time and patience but will almost certainly showcase the impact of
    masterclass writing.
  2. Middlemarch by George Eliot – A substantial classic in the British ouvre, this novel combines comic elements with realism in its depiction of the provincial
    Midlands life, and encompasses various historical events. It contains many relevant Victorian themes like the economy of marriage as found in Jane Austen, and social
    change as found in Charles Dickens. If there was one book you read to get an immediate idea of 19th century British writing, read Middlemarch.
  3. The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – This is one of those books that you will find mentioned in every corner of the literary world. A powerful depiction of
    the Belgian colonization of the Congo, it raises disturbing and provocative questions about morality and humanity. Though slim, its dark poetics will demand your
    time and attention.
  4. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez – The undisputed classic of Latin American magical realism. It tells the story of the rise and fall, birth
    and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendia family.

Books for Fun
Aimed at getting the reader into the rhythm of reading. These books are generally page-turners, and can vary from escapist fiction to relatable stories that speaks to life.

  1. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks – Extremely thought-provoking exploration of the possible political and social landscape of
    different nations if the world is actually forced to face a zombie threat. Max Brooks works out what would happen in a zombie apocalypse down to every sociological
    issue, even imagining the mental health impact on children of growing up in such a world. A gloriously fun read that can still lead to intellectual conversations on our
    current systems and institutions.
  2. Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels – A surprisingly addictive series of novels depicting the friendship between two girls as they grew up in Naples, Italy. These in
    depth character studies make the reader care deeply about everything that happens to the characters, and the novels provide a refreshingly true-to-life mirror of female
    friendships.
  3. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer – A haunting biography of a disillusioned graduate who left every material thing in his life behind in order to seek an isolated life in
    Alaska. A captivating adventure story that also raises many questions about the way we live our lives, complicated by the fact that this story is in fact true.