A Primary School Librarian’s List Of 125 Books That A Child Might Want To Read.

these are your kids on books

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. Whilst 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 list 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 also 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 is by no means prescriptive, and it is not in order of preference. “Top books” charts are far too subjective, and the books on this list are all great. 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. 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.

Every one 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 these books too.

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)
36. Shackleton by William Grill
37. Monkey in the Stars by Jamila Gavin
38. The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl
39. The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson
40. Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre
41. Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell
42. Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell
43. Mr Majieka (series) by Humphrey Carpenter
44. Astrosaurs (series) by Steve Cole
45. How to Write Really Badly by Anne Fine
46. Cartoon Kid by Jeremy Strong
47. My Dad’s a Birdman by David Almond and Polly Dunbar
48. Nelly the Monster Sitter (series) by Kes Gray
49. Dirty Bertie (series) by David Roberts and Alan MacDonald
50. Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
51. Necklace of Raindrops by Joan Aiken and Jan Pienkowski
52. Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf by Catherine Storr
53. Horrid Henry (series) by Francesca Simon
54. Betsey Biggalow (series) by Malorie Blackman
55. Astounding Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce
56. Give Peas a Chance by Morris Gleitzman
57. Cliffhanger by Jacqueline Wilson
58. Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos
59. Dinkin Dings (series) by Guy Bass

Moving on….. (longer chapter books and/or stronger themes)
60. Dragons of Crumbling Castle by Terry Pratchett
61. Emily Windsnap (series) by Liz Kessler
62. Varjak Paw by SF Said
63. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
64. Box of Delights by John Masefield
65. Great Ghost Rescue by Eva Ibbotson
66. Mr Stink by David Walliams
67. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
68. Awful End (series) by Philip Ardagh
69. Uncle Montague (series) by Chris Priestley
70. The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
71. Dream Master (series) by Theresa Breslin
72. Molly Moon (series) by Georgia Byng
73. Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
74. Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
75. Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer
76. Whispers in the Graveyard by Theresa Breslin
77. Charlotte’s Web by E B White
78. Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
79. The Dark Is Rising (series) by Susan Cooper
80. Chrestomanci (series) by Dianna Wynne Jones
81. Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome
82. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
83. The Owl Service by Alan Garner
84. Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce
85. Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
86. Holes by Louis Sachar
87. Last of the Spirits by Christ Priestley
88. Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
89. Clockwork by Philip Pullman
90. Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner
91. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Transition books (stronger themes for transition from primary to secondary school)
92. The Tulip Touch by Anne Fine
93. Noughts and Crosses (series) by Malorie Blackman
94. Mirromask by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
95. Alex Rider (series) by Anthony Horowitz
96. Strawgirl by Jackie Kay
97. The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier
98. Once by Morris Gleitzman
99. Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson
100. City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende
101. Krabat by Ottfried Preussler
102. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
103. Dark Satanic Mills by Marcus and Julian Sedgewick
104. Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy
105. Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgewick
106. Spooks series by Joseph Delaney
107. Wonder by R J Palacio
108. Diary of Anne Frank
109. Tamar by Mal Peet
110. Maus by Art Spiegelman
111. Witch Child by Celia Rees

OH – and you can’t nurture a love of reading without poetry – so the list gets a bit longer with some poetry…
112. Puffin Book of Brilliant Poetry edited by Brian Patten
113. All the Wild Wonders by Wendy Cooling
114. All The Best – selected poems of Roger McGough
115. Quick, Let’s Get Out Of Here! by Michael Rosen
116. Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl (illus Quentin Blake)
117. Wriggle and Roar by Julia Donaldson
118. The Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear
119. Give The Ball To The Poet – an anthology of Caribbean poetry
120. Silly Verse for Kids by Spike Milligan
121. Highwayman by Alfred Noyes (illus Charles Keeping)
122. Wicked World! By Benjamin Zephaniah
123. Nightmares by Jack Prelutsky
124. I Had a Little Cat (collected poems) by Charles Causley
125. 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.
Extra footnote– I mean no offence to any of my writer friends if I’ve left off your work! If this was a list of all of the books that I love for primary age children, I would need to buy more webspace as it would be hundreds of pages long.

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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33 thoughts on “A Primary School Librarian’s List Of 125 Books That A Child Might Want To Read.

  1. M.D. Shaw says:

    I know that I am ‘old school’ but I remember enjoying Beowulf and Arthurian Legend when I was 12-14 years old . . . it was an introduction to a world that was foreign and very exciting – my American, religious-based education – wonderfully different than the bland, officially approved ‘stuff’ I was normally allowed to read.

  2. Rowena says:

    Thanks for the list- lots I had forgotten but really enjoyed years ago. My suggestions:
    The Bagthorpe Saga (a series) by Helen Cresswell. Wish I could give it to every 10 year old I know!
    The Mysterious Benedict Society (part of a series) by Trenton Lee Stewart.

  3. Ruth says:

    Nice list and I am glad Diane Wynne Jones made the list. Pratchett’s Diggers series is good for younger ones. I suppose Biggles would be too old fashioned nowadays. But what about Andrew Lang’s Fairy books. In fact fairytales don’t get a mention at all.

    • Dawn Finch says:

      The children enjoyed listening to them (and watching them) but the old fashioned or flowery language in them put kids off. I’m a huge lover of fairy tales so I often tried to get kids to read them, the main thing they said was “but I know that story already so why would I read it again?”

  4. adathecadre says:

    You are, of course right about librarians. My list is an exercise in personal nostalgia and a rehearsal for the visit of a two year old, a five year old and a seven year old next week. Picture books: Rosie’s Walk (Pat Hutchings), Katie Morag (Mhairi Hedderwick), Dogger (Shirley Hughes), Mrs Plug the Plumber (Ahlberg) Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain (Edward Ardizzone). Many of the ones I loved most in their day (1950s me, 1980s son Sam) are probably out of print, perhaps they are now dated. They included ‘Orlando the Marmalade Cat Becomes a Doctor’ (Catherine Hale) and The Little Boy and His Boats (Adshead) which are really really not feminist ! and Garth Pig and the Wicked Ice-Cream Lady (Mary Rayner) which is. The first proper book I read on my own was The Cave Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins. The Wheel on the School Meindert De Jong. Read Little House in the Big woods aloud to a succession of children but still do not know how a panther screams. My son Sam had a long Vlad the Drac period. Longer chapter books. ‘The Sea is All Around’ (Elizabeth Enright). ‘The Bonnie Pit Laddie (Frederic Grice) ‘Kidnapped’ (Robert Louis Stevenson) which my mother read aloud to me when I was eight & visiting Scotland for the first time. As you say Chrestomanci. Better stop now, this is pure self indulgence, and get back to writing adult non-fiction that contains the odd children’s story by way of change of pace.

  5. Alastair Gooderham says:

    Great list, helpful as a parent of 4 boys. Our older two have loved the ‘Rangers Apprentice’ series by John Flanagan. I’ve read them with them and thoroughly enjoyed them, I’ll be reading them to our younger two.

  6. Deborah says:

    This is a wonderful resource, thank you! Was so happy to see some old favourites of mine on there that I didn’t know anyone even knew about – like Krabat, which I knew as The Satanic Mill, and Ian Serailler’s The Silver Sword. Of course, there’s Chrestomanci – I have all of DWJ’s books. My son is turning 7 and currently we’re working our way through Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, but I’m definitely going to order some of these…

    • Dawn Finch says:

      Why not make a lucky dip of pictures of book covers and let him have a random pic! Lots of these books are great to read aloud too so even if he’s not ready for the longer ones you could share them together. If you need any other title suggestions, just ask. 🙂

  7. Pam Thomas says:

    I too was very surprised at the omission of Harry Potter and Michael Morpurgo. Here are some others my sons enjoyed – Ian Whybrow’s ‘Little Wolf’ series, books by Anthony Horowitz and Charlie Higson, ‘Carbonel’ by Barbara Sleigh, ‘The Sword in the Stone’, ‘Six Dinner Sid’, all the Hairy McLairy books, and the Garth Pig picture books by Mary Rayner. Second the inclusion of ‘Polly and the Wolf’ – small children just love the threat of being eaten!

    • Dawn Finch says:

      Hi there. I opted to leave off a lot of the usual suspects like Harry Potter not because they are not great, but because no one really needs those very familiar authors on a list (same goes for Dick King Smith and Michael Morpurgo) The big name titles that I have chosen are the ones most loved from a large back catalogue and it’s impossible to do that with Dick King Smith and Michael Morpurgo as I’d be listing dozens.
      I haven’t put Higson’s on because this is a list for 7-11 yr olds and whilst some do read them it wasn’t enough to tip the scales. He writes them for 12+ and many parents have issues with the violence in his zombie series. They are certainly not for everyone!
      I agree with all the others (and Higson’s and the usual suspects too!) and the list should have been 1125 books long really!

  8. A nice list, thank you. Another good suggestion under poetry would be the cautionary verses and quirky animal rhymes of Hilaire Belloc. Also my 4 year old really enjoys AA Milne’s poems.

  9. Rosaleen Palmer says:

    Great list! I would add anything by Jackie Morris.

  10. Hilary Foster says:

    Oh I love a list, thank you, particularly as I have a 9yo who is apparently the incredible book-eating girl and I can’t keep up with her. No book is a sure hit with any kid (we’re a bit meh about Harry Potter tbh) plus age suitability is so subjective. Eg 9yo read several Swallows & Amazons age 7 but finds lots of Jacqueline Wilson distressing so won’t touch. Except Hetty Feather & Opal Plumstead. Historical distance helps, apparently. The Dark Is Rising still scares me shitless and I wouldn’t give her The Owl Service for another few years but I bet she’d love Anne Frank.
    Personal favourites we recommend to others: All the Ruby Redfort books by Lauren Child; Tom Gates; Zita the Space Girl (for the graphic novel inclined, plus it’s nice to see a girl wearing a cape). Oh and Lyn Gardner’s Olivia series for those of a thespian bent.

  11. […] Then I read what school librarian and children’s author Dawn Finch said about it on her blog, including her own list of suitable books. Many great books, and I couldn’t agree […]

  12. Sue Williamson says:

    I think this list is brilliant but how can you not include Harry Potter in terms of what has excited kids to read, particularly boys? Also, the book that made my son into a reader was The Hobbit & my kids both loved Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh. Actually, the list could be endless as, as a parent, teacher or librarian, the really exciting thing is experimenting and finding new things that kids love!

    • Dawn Finch says:

      Hi Sue, I opted not to include some authors not because I don’t recommend them, but because I feel they have become children’s standards and no one really needs them on a list. It’s not a chart, every book on this list is great – and so are thousands that are not on it.
      I haven’t put Michael Morpurgo or Dick King-Smith on either. People already know those authors and their books, in fact you could go into the tiniest bookshop in the world and find their books on the shelves. I wanted a more diverse list that moved slightly away from the standards that we’ll all still reach for, but I mean no disservice to their superb work.
      In fact, my 22 year old daughter is the biggest Potterhead on earth and grew up with Harry. She’s now an interactor at the studio tour!

  13. Laura Taylor says:

    Some exclellent recommendations here and lots that are popular with primary aged pupils I have worked with however a bit surprised at the inclusion of YA The Owl Service. I read it as a teenager and was riveted in 1969 by the TV series but not sure how the themes and teenage characters would appeal to primary aged pupils. Also Maus, a powerful graphic novel on Nazism, is perhaps more useful in the secondary classroom whilst Roberto Innocenti’s Rose Blanche might be more suitable in the primary classroom on a similar theme. There are some more recommendations on our Pinterest page http://www.pinterest.com/ DCSGLibrary or on http://www.issuu.com/DCSGLibrary

    • Dawn Finch says:

      I mentioned earlier that I read the first few chapters of Owl Service aloud and that made the kids want to read the rest for themselves. I did the same with a number of books that they might not have discovered themselves – for example Jack London’s White Fang.
      Maus is listed here as a transition book, and I know many children who read it after studying the Second World War in year 6. Of course as an experienced school librarian I knew exactly which children would be up to the challenge, and which parents would be understanding enough to allow it.

    • Fiona Crawford says:

      Agreeing with Laura re Maus. I may be underestimating primary school readers but I would have thought the emotional depth of themes in Tamar and Noughts and Crosses are closer to YA territory?

      • Dawn Finch says:

        Not in my experience! I know dozens of them who read all the way through to Deathly Hallows by nine and were reading Twilight, Noughts and Crosses and much more (and Muchamore!) at 11. They are on the transition list though, and maybe that was just in a school with a school librarian. 🙂

  14. Joel says:

    I didn’t notice Brian Jacques on either your list or the list published in TES. Some of his work is my favourite childhood reading.

    • Dawn Finch says:

      This list is compiled from the borrowing in my library, and I’m afraid Jacques didn’t do too well. I had a full beautiful set but the kids just didn’t click with them.

  15. Ah, so much richer than that original list. Hooray, and thank you, Dawn!

    • Dawn Finch says:

      Thanks, Pippa. It’s so hard to choose so I went over my old lending stats and drew out what I considered to be the books that were most talked about, and most shared amongst peers. I would have loved to put Alan Garner on the list but he would have been my favourite and not theirs, and reading for pleasure should always be about free choice, not my choice!

      • Trish B says:

        I thought Alan Garner (The Owl Service) was on the list?

        • Dawn Finch says:

          Oh, I meant that I’d add Weirdstone of Brisingamen and Elidor. For some reason the kids loved Owl Service, but didn’t take to his others. On reflection I think I read the first few chapters of Owl Service aloud and that always made them want to finish it for themselves.

          • I can still remember the spellbound silence in my classroom at primary school when the teacher read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen aloud to us. I think we were aged 9-10 and every single child was hooked and desperate for the next instalment!

  16. Two of my favourites when I was a kid were Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat and The Haunted Mountain. I also enjoyed the books by Nicholas Fisk and Robert Swindells.

  17. Jayne says:

    Great list Dawn. We all know there is no superlative list, that they will always be subjective and so they should be. Authors and librarians being different thoughts to such things. There can certainly never be too many lists!

    • Dawn Finch says:

      You are so right. What all children actually need is a school librarian (like you!) Lists help, but nothing can replace a skilled reading expert who can match the right book to the child. That’s what makes all the difference.

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