Book Recommendations

At Read for Good we are passionate about encouraging children to read what they love. We believe that children who are given the chance to find something they can read, and enjoy reading, are more likely to choose to read in their own time and perhaps go on to develop life-long reading habits, which will greatly improve their life chances.

Key Stage One / Infants / Lower Primary

Picture fiction is great for children of all ages, because illustrations aid in the dynamics of reading for those who struggle to decode (try Nick Sharratt’s Shark in the Park); can add another layer of meaning (check out Jonny Duddle’s The Pirate Cruncher); and help readers to learn about narrative flow (see Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson graphic novels, Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man books, and Jamie Smart’s Bunny v Monkey comics), but here are some of our favourites for younger readers.

Hospital Dog – Julia Donaldson

Dot is no ordinary dog – NO SHE IS NOT! For Dot is a hospital dog who in this delightful new Julia Donaldson story, is followed as she visits a variety of children in hospital with her owner Rose. The familiar rhyming language coupled with lively, colourful illustrations, creates a reassuring tale for all children, but especially for those who may have to experience a hospital visit. This is a story full of empathy and gentle humour, well-timed for the present.

Oi Puppies! – Kes Grey and Jim Field

The latest installment in the Oi Frog and Friends series, is a perfect choice for any primary school child who enjoys silly things! With a contagious rhythm and rhyme pattern, and punchy illustrations, even struggling readers will be able to use context clues to decode the text. A teacher we work with told us she shared a book from this series with a child who had recently come to the UK as a refugee. The child told her that she found the book so silly that while she was listening to it, she forgot to feel sad. The teacher also told us these books provide a great opportunity for rhyming word play – a key skill for learning to read, for all children, including English language learners.

Don’t Call Me Grumpycorn! – Sarah McIntyre

Don’t Call Me Grumpycorn is a tale set in an explosion of colour. Unicorn and his friends, Mermaid, Narwhal and Jellyfish embark on a journey into space to discover the most ‘fabulous’ planet which in Unicorn’s mind, will have even more ‘fabulous’ unicorns. Things don’t turn out quite as Unicorn wished, as he comes to realise that the best place to be is where his friends are. Sarah McIntyre’s wonderful illustrations are rich and detailed and there is much to look at and to talk about with younger children. It is a book about kindness and friendship which you will want to feast your eyes upon again and again.

Where Snow Angels go – Maggie O’Farrell

This is a book to share with a child, taking time to marvel at the gorgeous illustrations covering every page. Late one night, Sylvie discovers a snow angel in her bedroom and is determined not only to meet him again, but to ensure everyone she knows finds their own snow angel too. Inspired by a story Maggie O’ Farrell invented to comfort her own children, and drawing on both her experiences of their childhood illnesses and her own period of illness as a child, this beautiful book melds the magic of a fairy tale with the atmosphere of a Christmas story, and demands to be read again each winter.

Key Stage Two / Junior / Upper primary

Books for this age group have to cater for a wide range of needs and interests and possess the potential to significantly influence a child’s reading habits – any book picked up at this point could be the one that hooks a child into reading for pleasure forever! It’s also a time when independent reading really begins, so helping a child to find a book they really want to read is key, as is offering a range of books representative enough to give them a chance of finding characters they can relate to. The children’s book market is growing all the time in this respect, offering more choice than ever. Here are some of our recent favourites.

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet – Zanib Mian with illustrations by Nasaya Mafardik

We know that publishers of children’s fiction strive to reach today’s children with titles that reflect both the ethnic and cultural diversity of today’s society, as well as the issues which affect them. Zanib Mian’s artful debut middle-grade novel Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet deftly winds together threads of casual racism, playground bullying and a child’s attempts to demystify adult behaviour. It’s a page-turner that manages to be both entertaining and completely relatable; Omar is a boy whose fears of moving to a new area are realised when the school’s bully turns on him and a neighbour reacts with hostility to the new Muslim family. Omar’s inner narrative about his family’s bid to beat prejudice with warmth, imagination and empathy, is brought to life by Nasaya Mafardik’s buoyant Tom Gates-style illustrations. We were delighted to get this feedback from a 12-year-old girl in hospital, after she discovered this book on the Read for Good bookcase. ‘I loved Planet Omar because the main character is a Muslim like me. He got bullied for his religion but even though he was bothered he didn’t fight back. I liked it so much that I finished it in one day.’ This book has inclusivity, diversity and empathy a-plenty, plus it’s compulsive reading. What more could we ask for?

Cat Kid Comic Club – Dav Pilkey

Haikus, monster cheese sandwiches and lessons in how to fail, help award-winning author of the hilarious Dog Man series Dav Pilkey to establish his latest innovative graphic novel series. Through humorous interconnected stories, Pilkey cleverly employs a variety of different literary styles (poetry, drama as well as prose) to tell his tales of dinosaur lawyers, unhappy squid and reactionary nurses, as well as more serious narratives about nature! The beauty of this book lies in the variety of different media Pilkey uses for each tale; illustrations include photographs, pen drawings and pencil sketches. It’s a hugely enjoyable read, with vocabulary to challenge and ideas which will inspire children to write and create their own comics.

Wonderscape – Jennifer Bell

Wonderscape is an ideal story to hook in children who enjoy playing computer games. Set largely in a virtual-reality adventure, the story follows three 21st-century classmates who find themselves trapped in the year 2473. Arthur, Cecily and Ren need to complete a series of challenges in order to return home, meeting various ‘heroes’ from history such as Isaac Newton and Wangari Maathai along the way. With language that may at times stretch the reader, this action-packed adventure also explores themes of friendship and resilience. We loved it and so did our kids!

The Boy at the Back of the Class – Onjali Q Raúf

Told from the point of view of a curious nine year old who is intrigued by the silent new boy at the back of the class, this story tackles the tricky topic of child refugees to the UK. As the unnamed narrator and her close friends try to discover more about Ahmet, the reader is introduced to the difficult concepts of family separation, drownings and UK government rules and regulations. The success of the book is that whilst it doesn’t shy away from these subjects, they are explained with a light, sensitive and at times humorous touch, which makes for compelling and heart-warming reading. It’s a good choice to read aloud to the class and will produce interesting discussion.

The Midnight Guardians – Ross Montgomery

The Midnight Guardians is a wonderful departure for Carnegie Award-nominee Ross Montgomery, skilfully combining the kind of fantastical adventures those familiar with him will expect, with the magic of folklore and the historical gravitas of 1940s war-torn London. Col, an evacuee to Derbyshire, experiences every child’s wildest fantasy, discovering that his three imaginary friends have come to life. These eponymous ‘Guardians’: a six-foot tiger, a waistcoated badger and a miniature knight, accompany Col on his quest to the London Blitz to save his sister from both the Nazi bombs, and the dark forces of the MidWinter King. Punctuating this terrifying but often humorous set of adventures, are stark reminders of the reality of war; excerpts from the Daily Mail in 1940 and the story of Ruth, a Jewish girl who has arrived on the Kindertransport. Montgomery’s clever interleaving of make-believe, history, humour and tenderness will have a broad appeal.

The Beast and the Bethany – Jack Meggitt-Phillips

This page-turner reminiscent of the gruesomeness of Roald Dahl with a touch of Lemony Snicket thrown in, is sure to become a much-loved classic. We meet 11-year-old Ebenezer Tweezer who lives alone in a 15-storey house with a three-eyed beast lurking in the attic. In exchange for a potion that will bring him eternal youth, Ebenezer has to keep the beast fed, a deal which works well until the beast wants to eat a child! Enter bad-tempered orphan Bethany who then accompanies Ebenezer as he begins to discover that kindness, friendship and having fun are not only the keys to living well, but also the secret to beating the beast. We can’t wait for the sequel, scheduled for next year!

The Night Bus Hero – Onjali Q Raúf

This third novel from Onjali Q Raúf, best-selling author of the award-winning The Boy at the Back of the Class, is as surprising and compelling as her previous hit and we guess, likely to be just as popular with pupils and teachers. Having upset most of his family and classmates, 10-year-old bully and narrator of the story, Hector, fixes his hatred on a local homeless man, who he assumes is responsible for a series of thefts from London landmarks. When Hector discovers he is mistaken, he sets out to track down the true thief, finding help and learning life lessons along the way from the homeless community he previously held in such disdain, as well as from his arch-enemy, the class swot Mei-Li. Deftly tackling bullying, homelessness and the redemptive power of kindness all in one swoop, this story also delivers enough intrigue to interest older readers, whilst the clear language makes it accessible to all. With great pace and humour too, this is an ideal class reader and the extra resources at the end will help to prompt further discussion. We loved it!

Middle Grade / Upper primary / Secondary

Dare To Be You – Matthew Syed

This is best-selling author of adult self-help books, Bounce and Black Box Thinking, Mathew Syed’s second book for children. Dare To Be You follows You Are Awesome with an engaging visual style including fonts of varying sizes, cartoons and lots of orange splashed across the pages. Syed sets out to persuade our anxious, perfectionist children that it’s fine to be yourself, to make mistakes, take risks and to be the person you want to be. He first introduces us to ‘Kid Doubt’ and then in subsequent chapters explores themes of not fitting in, becoming your own action hero, kindness and resilience. Syed skilfully draws on personal anecdotes from his days as a champion table-tennis player, quotes from well-known figures and scientific research to evidence and illustrate his points. It’s a book which can be read from beginning to end, or just dipped into and would make an excellent addition to a classroom bookshelf or to a Thrive curriculum.

The Wolf Wilder – Katherine Rundell

Part fairytale, and part adventure, this lovely story is set in Russia and tells of Feodora’s journey through the winter landscape to rescue her imprisoned mother. Accompanying her are three wolves – not quite pets – and a collection of other children. As she faces danger, Feo begins to understand the importance of teamwork and friendship. Loss and sadness feature too, but Rundell doesn’t shy away from tackling them head-on in this beautiful, compelling read.

Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel – Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl has been given a new look to tie-in with the film and thanks to the number of formats it is available in, this story is now really accessible. For fantasy and adventure-loving children with dyslexia who might find the books tricky, there’s the incentive to read this book before seeing the film. Starting with the audiobook to ensure the story structure and vocabulary are familiar, and then moving on to the graphic novel, can help to link new vocabulary to the written words (while still having the support of the images to aid the narrative) and those who want an extra challenge can finish off with the novel itself!

The Highland Falcon Thief – M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman

Who wouldn’t love a tale which involves a jewel thief, a royal steam train, a cast of characters that could have come from an Agatha Christie novel, plus two likeable children, Hal and Lenny as detectives? When told he is to accompany his uncle, Nathaniel Bradshaw (there are many clues to the authors’ own love and knowledge of trains) Hal is unimpressed by the company of the adults surrounding him, but then he meets Lenny Singh, the train driver’s daughter, who has stowed away on the train. Life becomes more exciting for Hal when soon after the train pulls away, the thief strikes and there follows an exhilarating adventure. We loved Elisa Paganelli’s sketches throughout, which contribute to the story as Hal and Lenny solve the case. This is the first in a series, the second of which, Kidnap on the California Comet, we can’t wait to read!

A Kind of Spark – Elle McNicoll

We think everyone should read Elle McNicoll’s important debut. Blackwell’s Children’s Book of the Year and a Carnegie medal nominee, A Kind of Spark offers a unique insight into neurodiversity from a child’s point of view, by an emerging author who is neurodivergent herself. The story follows an autistic girl named Addie, who is 11 and living with her parents and her older twin sisters. Addie loves sharks and she loves words, but sometimes finds the world a difficult place to live in. Horrified by what she is casually taught at school about the historical persecution of so-called witches – whom she discovers were actually innocent women perceived as different in some way – Addie embarks on a campaign to establish a memorial to the witches in her Scottish town, which then becomes a personal quest to make her voice heard, drawing interesting parallels between the history of the outcast witches and the perception of autism in contemporary society. The publication of this book is the culmination of the author’s own quest to illuminate the everyday experiences of children with autism, which happily matched the aims of pioneering publishers ‘Knights Of’ resulting in this wonderful addition to the growing wealth of representative fiction for children.

The Voyage of the Sparrowhawk – Natasha Farrant

Two runaway children, two slightly chaotic dogs and a canal boat named ‘Sparrowhawk’ are the cast of this engaging tale that takes place in the aftermath of WW1. Ben and Lottie set sail for France to find Ben’s brother, reported missing from a hospital somewhere in Northern France. They are helped along the way by various adults, all of whom are suffering from some sort of war-caused loss. Lyrical descriptions of idyllic British countryside illustrating the boat’s journey along the waterways to the Thames and beyond, are counterbalanced by the devastation the children witness when they arrive in the ruined villages of rural France. This is a warm, humorous book despite the themes of sadness and grief. By the end, the children have come to terms with the prospect of new beginnings and the reader is left wanting to remain with them. A deserving winner of the 2020 Costa Children’s Book Award!

Young Adult Fiction

There is an astonishing rich array of amazing fiction for Young Adults out there, and although at Read for Good we work mainly with children from Key Stage One to Key Stage Three, we love YA fiction too. Bear with us while we get reading more YA books, and in the meantime, check out this one that we have just read!

Concrete Rose – Angie Thomas

American Angie Thomas’ third novel Concrete Rose packs yet another powerful punch; this prequel to her multi-award-winning debut The Hate u Give returns to the impoverished inner-city ghetto of Garden Heights – modelled on Mississippi’s Georgetown – this time to tell the story of 17-year-old Maverick Carter, a member of the King Lord gang, “slinging” drugs to help pay the bills at home while his dad is in prison. Taking care of his family and his girlfriend and cared for by a close-knit community, Maverick feels so far on top of the transition from boy to man, until the shock discovery that he is a father. Complicated worlds collide as Maverick juggles the complexities of child-raising, drug dealing, gang loyalty and the brutal murder of a loved one, all whilst finishing high school. As ever, Angie Thomas’ beautifully nuanced style is simultaneously raw and delicate, conjuring the brutal reality of coming of age in a world where black lives really do matter. This is YA Fiction that is as vital as it is compelling.