Opinion: A librarian's list of books primary pupils 'might' like to read

Dawn Finch is a school librarian, a children's author and vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals

Dawn Finch

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The publication of yet another list of the “top 100 books” that children “should” read in primary school raised an extensive discussion on social media about the books chosen.

Although the books on the list are undeniably classics, and books of quality, do they actually represent the kind of books that will nurture a love of reading in children, or is this instead a list of national curriculum and Amazon favourites?

To challenge that list, I give you the choices of an experienced primary school librarian. These books are the ones that I know have created delight in young readers and have been loved with a passion.

You might not agree with all my choices (and some of them are not to my personal tastes) but these have all been loved by real children who devoured them and wanted more after finishing them. These are not only books that children have enjoyed, but ones that parents have enjoyed sharing with them. Sharing books aloud is an important way to foster a love of books and reading in a child, and no one is ever too old to hear a story.

The list progresses roughly through developmental stages, but it is by no means prescriptive. If you need more guidance and advice on children’s reading there really is only one person to seek out – a school librarian. These titles are all for primary-age children and, with one notable exception in William Grill’s Shackleton, are all fiction titles.

Just for clarification, I don’t believe that any of these books “should” be read by all children, that’s not how a love of reading works. This is list of great books that I know children have loved and, if any of them suit the tastes of children you know, then they too might read them and enjoy them. If they want to.

Your list might be different, and I’d love to know what you’d recommend – please add your titles to the comments on my blog. I’m sure there are many titles that you feel should be added, so go ahead. Please do add newer books that you know have worked, and please remember to credit all creators of the work, and do post links to their websites where possible. I’ll aim to keep the comments open so that we can keep adding to it and share the list as a resource.

All of these books have two things in common: they are beautiful stories, and children love them. All in all enjoyment of reading is the most important thing. It’s all about what children want to read and it should never be about just ticking off a list of books that adults think children should read.

Hopefully you will enjoy them.

Picture Books (for first word recognition, first reading, and sharing):

  1. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
  2. Dr Xargle (series) by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
  3. Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell and Helen Oxenbury
  4. The Shirley Hughes Collection
  5. Meg and Mog (series) by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski
  6. The Blue Balloon by Mick Inkpen
  7. Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers
  8. Elmer (series) by David McKee
  9. Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
  10. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
  11. Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson
  12. Smelly Louie by Catherine Rayner
  13. Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan
  14. This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
  15. Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allen Ahlberg
  16. Whatever Next? By Jilly Murphy
  17. Q Pootle 5 by Nick Butterworth
  18. Here Come The Aliens! By Colin McNaughton
  19. Beegu by Alexis Deacon
  20. Morris the Mankiest Monster by Giles Andrea and Sarah McIntyre
  21. No Matter What by Debi Gliori
  22. Sand Horse by Michael Foreman
  23. Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley
  24. We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury
  25. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  26. Wolves by Emily Gravett
  27. Mouse, Bird, Snake, Wolf by David Almond and Dave McKean
  28. Jim’s Lion by Russel Hoban and Alexis Deacon
  29. The Whale’s Song by Dyan Sheldon and Gary Blythe
  30. Changes by Anthony Browne
  31. Use Your Imagination by Nicola O’Byrne
  32. The Queen’s Hat by Steve Antony
  33. Mr Magnolia by Quentin Blake
  34. Fungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs
  35. A New Coat For Anna by Harriet Ziefert and Anita Lobel

First chapter books (and slightly longer first-readers):

  1. Shackleton by William Grill
  2. Monkey in the Stars by Jamila Gavin
  3. The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl
  4. The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson
  5. Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre
  6. Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell
  7. Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell
  8. Mr Majieka (series) by Humphrey Carpenter
  9. Astrosaurs (series) by Steve Cole
  10. How to Write Really Badly by Anne Fine
  11. Cartoon Kid by Jeremy Strong
  12. My Dad’s a Birdman by David Almond and Polly Dunbar
  13. Nelly the Monster Sitter (series) by Kes Gray
  14. Dirty Bertie (series) by David Roberts and Alan MacDonald
  15. Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
  16. Necklace of Raindrops by Joan Aiken and Jan Pienkowski
  17. Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf by Catherine Storr
  18. Horrid Henry (series) by Francesca Simon
  19. Betsey Biggalow (series) by Malorie Blackman
  20. Astounding Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce
  21. Give Peas a Chance by Morris Gleitzman
  22. Cliffhanger by Jacqueline Wilson
  23. Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos
  24. Dinkin Dings series by Guy Bass

Moving on - longer chapter books and/or stronger themes:

  1. Dragons of Crumbling Castle by Terry Pratchett
  2. Emily Windsnap (series) by Liz Kessler
  3. Varjak Paw by SF Said
  4. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
  5. Box of Delights by John Masefield
  6. Great Ghost Rescue by Eva Ibbotson
  7. Mr Stink by David Walliams
  8. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  9. Awful End (series) by Philip Ardagh
  10. Uncle Montague (series) by Chris Priestley
  11. The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
  12. Dream Master (series) by Theresa Breslin
  13. Molly Moon (series) by Georgia Byng
  14. Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
  15. Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
  16. Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer
  17. Whispers in the Graveyard by Theresa Breslin
  18. Charlotte’s Web by E B White
  19. Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
  20. The Dark Is Rising Trilogy by Susan Cooper
  21. Chrestomanci (series) by Dianna Wynne Jones
  22. Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome
  23. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
  24. The Owl Service by Alan Garner
  25. Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce
  26. Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
  27. Holes by Louis Sachar
  28. Last of the Spirits by Christ Priestley
  29. Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  30. Clockwork by Philip Pullman
  31. Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner
  32. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Transition books:

  1. The Tulip Touch by Anne Fine
  2. Noughts and Crosses (series) by Malorie Blackman
  3. Mirromask by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
  4. Alex Rider (series) by Anthony Horowitz
  5. Strawgirl by Jackie Kay
  6. The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier
  7. Once by Morris Gleitzman
  8. Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson
  9. City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende
  10. Krabat by Ottfried Preussler
  11. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
  12. Dark Satanic Mills by Marcus and Julian Sedgewick
  13. Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy
  14. Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgewick
  15. Spooks series by Joseph Delaney
  16. Wonder by R J Palacio
  17. The Diary of Anne Frank
  18. Tamar by Mal Peet
  19. Maus by Art Spiegelman
  20. Witch Child by Celia Rees

And you can’t nurture a love of reading without poetry: 

  1. Puffin Book of Brilliant Poetry edited by Brian Patten
  2. All the Wild Wonders by Wendy Cooling
  3. All The Best – selected poems of Roger McGough
  4. Quick, Let’s Get Out Of Here! by Michael Rosen
  5. Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl (illus Quentin Blake)
  6. Wriggle and Roar by Julia Donaldson
  7. The Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear
  8. Give The Ball To The Poet – an anthology of Caribbean poetry
  9. Silly Verse for Kids by Spike Milligan
  10. Highwayman by Alfred Noyes (illus Charles Keeping)
  11. Wicked World! By Benjamin Zephaniah
  12. Nightmares by Jack Prelutsky
  13. I Had a Little Cat (collected poems) by Charles Causley
  14. Casting a Spell (an anthology) by Joan Aiken, Wendy Cope and others

Note – almost all of the authors on this list have a whole body of extraordinary work in their catalogues, and many of these books have sequels that are equally worth reading. Please do take the time to look up the other work of these authors.

This article first appeared on Dawn's blog, which can be read here

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Dawn Finch

Dawn Finch is a school librarian and children’s author, and is currently the Vice President of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).

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