64 books to inspire reluctant readers. Do you agree?

Tes and Hay Festival teamed up to seek out the books with the power to engage even the most unwilling of readers

Kate Parker

Reluctant readers: Tes and Hay Festival have teamed up to select 64 books to inspire unwilling readers

The joy of reading is like no other. Books have the power to make us laugh, to make us cry, to transport us to far-off planes, to inspire us in our everyday lives. 

All books hold the potential to do all of the above and more – and there are dozens that do it effortlessly and with a touch of magic. It's more important than ever that our pupils, both primary and secondary, are aware of and have access to these books.

Not only is reading for pleasure shown by Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development research to be the single most important indicator of a child’s future success, it’s also proven to be formative in other ways, helping to increase empathy, deepen relationships with others, reduce the symptoms of depression and improve wellbeing. 

And so, three months ago, Tes teamed up with the Hay Festival to ask teachers, parents and pupils: what books inspire you? We had hundreds of nominations, and managed to whittle them down to two lists of 32 books: one for primary, and one for secondary. 

Julia Eccleshare, children's director at Hay Festival, said: “Here are books with the power to change lives, the books we think every library and school should have on their shelves because they are full of engaging perspectives and important stories for young people to encounter. These stories transcend difference, highlighting the shared experiences that unite us all: love and death, sadness and laughter.

"This list is a celebration of books for young people and the incredible talents of the people that write and illustrate them. Each offers lessons that can benefit young readers today and arm them with the tools to take on the world and instil a love of reading that will last a lifetime. Race you to the library!”

Books for primary school

  • A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
  • Asterix in Britain written by René Goscinny, illustrated by Albert Uderzo
  • Baby Goes to Market written by Atinuke, illustrated by Angela Brooksbank
  • Coraline written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell
  • Dr Maggie’s Grand Tour of the Solar System by Maggie Aderin-Pocock
  • Funky Chickens by Benjamin Zephaniah
  • Harry Potter (series) by JK Rowling
  • How to Train Your Dragon (series) by Cressida Cowell
  • Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
  • Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers
  • Matilda written by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake
  • Overheard in a Towerblock written by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Kate Milner
  • Pig Heart Boy by Malorie Blackman
  • Pippi Longstocking written by Astrid Lindgren, translated by Tiina Nunnally, illustrated by Lauren Child
  • Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo
  • So Much written by Trish Cooke, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
  • The Boy at the Back of the Class written by Onjali Q Rauf, illustrated by Pippa Curnick
  • The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness (series) by Michelle Paver
  • The Complete MAUS by Art Spiegelman
  • The Diamond Brothers (series) by Anthony Horowitz
  • The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
  • The Illustrated Mum written by Jacqueline Wilson, illustrated by Nick Sharratt
  • The Little Prince written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, translated by Katherine Woods
  • The Lorax by Dr Seuss
  • The Lost Words written by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris
  • The Promise written by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin
  • The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
  • The Truth Pixie written by Matt Haig, illustrated by Chris Mould
  • The Way Things Work Now by David Macaulay and Neil Ardley
  • When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • You're a Bad Man, Mr Gum! written by Andy Stanton, illustrated by David Tazzyman


Books for secondary school 

  • Aarhus 39 Quest & Odyssey: Stories of journeys from across Europe by various
  • Crongton Knights by Alex Wheatle
  • Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama
  • Dr Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson
  • Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates
  • Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods by Tishani Doshi
  • Goggle-Eyes by Anne Fine
  • His Dark Materials (series) by Philip Pullman
  • How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
  • Mabinogion by Anon
  • Nothing by Janne Teller
  • Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
  • Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence
  • Small Island by Andrea Levy
  • Tape by Steven Camden
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox
  • The Wheel of Surya by Jamila Gavin
  • Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
  • We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World edited by Malala Yousafzai
  • We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith
  • Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
  • Wonder by RJ Palacio
  • You Got This by Bryony Gordon
  • Zoom! by Simon Armitage

View the full list with book descriptions here.

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateParkerTes

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