Our Top 5 Reads

The English 4-11 Editorial Board has a host of experience of children's books. We can spot a child's reading tastes at five paces, and we reckon there really is a book for everyone. The problem is, with so many books out there, finding the right one can feel a bit like the stuff of legends! With all the books out there to read, we thought we'd ask people to tell us what their five top reads would be. Read on to find out the books that our Editorial Board think really stand out from the crowd. Updated November 2020

Can you choose your five favourite children's books? It's really hard, say our contributors, some real favourites have to be missed off...

Have a look at some of the top five reads, and then why not send us some of your own?

Our Authors' Top 5 Reads

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Marion Hampton's Top Five Riffs on Fairy Tales

Snow White in New York book cover by Fiona FrenchSnow White in New York by Fiona French, Oxford University Press

A beautiful retelling of the Snow White Fairy Tale with illustrations full of contrast and originality. Set in the ‘Big Apple of 1920’s America, Snow White’s wicked stepmother is ‘Queen of the Underworld’ who the New York tabloids call the ‘classiest dame in New York’. Abandoned, Snow White is left to fend for herself in the city, and is befriended by seven jazz -men and a handsome music reporter who help her become ‘The Belle of New York’ City once more. The poisoned apple in this tale is replaced by a poisoned cocktail cherry.


Book Cover of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A Wolf Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith  PuffinThe True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A Wolf Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, Puffin

Written in newspaper style, this inventive book tells the story of the Three Little Pigs from A. Wolf’s point of view and he became known as the ‘Big, Bad Wolf’. However, A Wolf’s version tends to be less than reliable and attempts to ask his neighbours the pigs, for some sugar, leads to much misunderstanding and eventually disaster. A book that provokes much discussion on whether A Wolf’s version is convincing and what really happened that fateful day.


Book cover of The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Fairy TalesThe Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, Puffin

This book is full of parodies of well -known fairy tales. Written in a highly original style, and with titles such as ‘Little Red Running Shorts’, ‘Cinderrumplestiltskin’ and ‘The Princess and the Bowling Ball’, each retelling is one to be enjoyed for its hilarious, zany humour and unexpected twists.



book cover of The Princess and the Pea By Lauren ChildThe Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child captured by Polly Borland, Puffin

This incredible version of the story is set in the world of a Dolls House. Each scene has been lovingly created in miniature scale and then photographed in 3D. The detail is amazing. The tale is told with warmth and humour.



Book cover of Into the Forest By Anthony BrowneInto the Forest by Anthony Browne, Walker Books

Following the disappearance of his father, a young boy sets off on a magical journey through a forest to take a basket of food to his sick Grandmother. Along the way he meets some familiar characters, including a boy with a cow, two abandoned children and a girl with golden hair with the illustrations cleverly signposting references to the familiar tales. When the boy does finally arrive at his Grandmother’s house, an unusual surprise awaits him.

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Sally Wilkinson’s Top Five Reads to Make You Laugh

Sally is the Primary SCITT Leader for Suffolk and Norfolk SCITT leading the team and working with partnership schools to train primary teachers.

Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear


Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear by Andy Stanton

Polly faces a major problem when she needs to rescue her new friend, Padlock the bear, from the nasty Mr. Gum. Andy Stanton’s hilarious tale and David Tazzyman’s wacky illustrations sweep the reader along.



I Say Ooh and You Say Aah by John Kane

This is a really fun book to read aloud. Children will enjoy all the participation by saying ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ - culminating in linking their name to underpants.


Silly Verse for Kids by Spike Milligan


Silly Verse for Kids by Spike Milligan

From the Ning Nang Nong where the cows go bong to limericks and one liners, these poems are ones that children will enjoy learning by heart.


The Brilliant World of Tom Gates by Liz Pichon


The Brilliant World of Tom Gates by Liz Pichon

This is the first book starring Tom a nine year old who in this story has many amusing excuses for not completing his homework. There are many more titles which follow Tom’s exploits.


Oi Frog by Kes Gray


Oi Frog by Kes Gray

When frog doesn’t want to sit on his log, he asks Cat where all sorts of animals sit – some are more comfortable than others! The answer to his last question definitely keeps him quite!

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Sue McGonigle’s Top 5 Novels to Read Aloud in KS2

Sue is an independent consultant and Co-Creator of www.lovemybooks.co.uk

Cover of Varjak Paw by SF Said

Varjak Paw by SF Said

Varjak Paw, a misfit in his family of sheltered pedigree cats, sets off alone to seek help in the city when danger strikes. Gradually he gains allies and learns the secret survival skills of his ancestor, Jalal. Can Varjak help his family, solve the mystery of vanishing cats, and cope with the formidable feline foe Sally Bones? An adventure mystery story guaranteed to captivate young audiences with themes of belonging, and self-belief.


Cover of Sky Song by Abi

Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

Set in the wintry world of Erkenwald Eska and Flint, from different clans, form an unlikely alliance and set off on a quest to save their world from the evil ice queen. This is a gripping fantasy adventure story with themes of loyalty, friendship and trust, written with warmth and sensitivity, particularly in the love between Flint and his younger sister Blu who has learning difficulties.


Book cover of The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Rauf

The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Rauf

When Ahmet joins the class, everyone wonders why he is silent. Our narrator and her friends are intrigued and when they find out he is a Syrian refugee and his family are missing they decide to help. The plight of refugee children is unfolded in a highly entertaining way with humour and compassion.


Cover of Beetle Boy

Beetle Boy by M G Leonard

Darkus’s father Dr Bartholemew Cuttle has mysteriously disappeared from a locked room at the Natural History museum. Darkus is keen to find out what has happened and mystified when beetles start appearing - one even wants to communicate with him and his uncle’s neighbours seem to have a mountain of beetles in their house. This is a humorous adventure with a dastardly villain and very appealing beetles.

Book cover of Letters from the Lighthouse

Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll

Set in World War Two this is an enthralling historical adventure. When Olive and her brother are reluctantly evacuated to Devon to escape air raids in London, they soon discover the impact of the war on the local community and the differing responses of individuals. With drama, a mystery and a range of intriguing characters this is a great story with themes of prejudice and compassion towards the victims of war seeking refuge.

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Jo Bowers Top 5 Reads with a Welsh Setting

Jo Bowers is an Associate Dean at Cardiff Metropolitan University, lecturing in literacy to student teachers. She has a lifelong love of children’s literature and is a member of the English 4-11 Editorial Board. Jo is can be found on Twitter talking and sharing books with other fellow book lovers at @Jo_Bowers.

Wales on the Map by Elin Meek Illustrated by Valériane Leblond Rily Publications (2018

Wales on the Map by Elin Meek Illustrated by Valériane Leblond Rily Publications (2018)

This is a wonderful illustrated map book of Wales. Each double spread page is dedicated to a county of Wales full of colourful illustrations of familiar and famous places, people, animals and sport alongside hidden interesting facts about that area, sharing the richness of the Welsh culture. It is a book for all ages to browse and pore over, whether living in or outside of Wales.


Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher Firefly Press (2018)

Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher Firefly Press (2018)

The Clockwork Crow and is a story rich with magic and fairytale that story opens with Seren ( Welsh for star) heading alone to her godfather and his family to a cold and snow-ridden Plas-y-Fran, one of the vast Victorian manor houses of industrial Wales, which is a perfect setting for this gothic Christmas mystery. On her way, she is given a package by a frightened stranger, which she reluctantly takes. The contents of the parcel turn out to be the parts of a clockwork crow, which Seren assembles. Together they embark on an adventure to find out what has happened to her godfather’s missing son, Tomos, which then introduces a new setting of a dangerous Celtic Otherworld. This is Catherine Fisher’s first book with a Welsh setting and is a gripping mystery throughout full of great characters and a brave heroine.


The Storm Hound by Clare Fayers   Macmillan Children’s Books (2019)

The Storm Hound by Claire Fayers   Macmillan Children’s Books (2019)

Claire Fayers said this was the perfect place to set a magical adventure story: in and around Abergavenny, Wales, which is surrounded by mountains, which are steeped in legend. Storm of Odin, is the youngest stormhound of the Wild Hunt that haunts lightning-filled skies. He falls to earth in the shape of a cute puppy, when he is unable to keep up with his brothers and sisters and ends up in an animal rescue centre. Jessica comes along and claims him. She has recently moved to Abergavenny, from London, to live with her dad and is missing her mum and friends. When strange people suddenly arrive in town interested in Storm, the adventure and magic begins. This is a lovely story about friendship, rooted in folklore and set in a beautiful part of Wales.

Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean it by Susie Day Puffin (2019)

Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean it by Susie Day Puffin (2019)

Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean it is set in Wales in the village of Nant Glyder around the mountain of Y Ddraig Aur (the gold dragon) where legend says there is a golden lake guarded by a dragon. Both are fictional places but the mountain is based on The Glyders, one of the ranges in Snowdonia, National Park, North Wales. Max and his younger sisters arrive there when his dad disappears from their home in Southend. Max is known for getting into trouble, fears his dad is in trouble decides to run away here as he is convinced no one will find them and will be able to keep them all safe together. What Max does find is new friends and a very old legend and the reality of looking after his sisters with no grown up around. When Max hears about a golden dragon, asleep under the mountain he believe this is what will turn his luck around. A funny and poignant runaway adventure set in a beautiful part of Wales, that will stay with you for a long time after reading.

The Secret Dragon by Ed Clarke Puffin (2019)

The Secret Dragon by Ed Clarke Puffin (2019)

The Secret Dragon is the story of a young girl, Mar, who longs to be a scientist and while fossil hunting one day on the beach finds a tiny, real live Welsh dragon. She sees this discovery as her chance to change science – and her life – forever. But, unfortunately for Mari, this dragon doesn’t want to be studied, it wants to be free, and so the adventure begins. This is a wonderful adventure story with friendship at its heart. It is set in South Wales inspired by the beautiful Heritage Coast of the Vale of Glamorgan. An area rich in fossils abundantly scattered along the shores, where in 2014 a new species of dinosaur was found, called the Dracoraptor hanagini, which means, ‘the dragon robber’.

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Brenda Marshall's Top 5 Poetry Books

Brenda Marshall is a former teacher and librarian. Brenda organises conferences, is a member of UK School Library Association (SLA), the Reviews Editor of English 4 – 11, and is a Fellow of The English Association.


Book Cover of Collected Poems for Children Ted Hughes Faber and Faber

Collected Poems for Children Ted Hughes Faber and Faber

A fabulous collection by an outstanding poet. It begins with poems to read aloud to younger children and then

moves to poems that Hughes felt were “within hearing” of older children. I enjoy his perspective on the natural world such as Jellyfish and Crab in “The Mermaid’s Purse”, Moose and Wolf in “Under the North Star”, The Fly and Weasel in “What is Truth?” and A March Calf and The GoldenBoy in “Season Songs”.

Book cover of The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes Illustrated by Charles Keeping OUPThe Highwayman by Alfred Noyes Illustrated by Charles Keeping OUP

Haunting illustrations capture and enhance the story of the highwayman and his love for Bess, the landlord's black-eyed daughter.



Book cover A Poem for Every Night of the Year edited by Allie Esiri  MacmillanA Poem for Every Night of the Year edited by Allie Esiri  Macmillan

A treasure trove for adults and children. This selection of poems ranges across the centuries from Keats and Wordsworth to current writers. Each poem has an introduction which explains why it was selected for that particular day. My favourites are: Rachel Rooney’s Property For Sale; Robert Southey The Inchcape Rock, Theodore Roethke The Sloth; Benjamin Zephaniah’s Talking Turkeys; Alan Ahlberg’s Talk Us Through It, Charlotte; Roald Dahl’s Little Red Riding Hood; Norman MacCaig’s Toad and Edwin Morgan’s The Loch Ness Monster’s Song. A treasure trove for children and adults.

Book cover of Poems to Perform: chosen by Julia Donaldson MacmillanPoems to Perform: chosen by Julia Donaldson Macmillan

Performance poetry is a great for children because it helps bring the words alive, inspires collaboration and develops communication skills and self-esteem. This collection includes work from a wide range of poets across different times and styles.  Try Gareth Owen’s Conversation Piece; Gervase Phinn’s Creative Writing; John Foster The Dinosaur’s Rap; A Nail by Anon or Julia’s own poem Hands. Her performance suggestions are excellent.

Book cover of Werewolf Club Rules by Joe Coelho Frances LincolnWerewolf Club Rules by Joe Coelho Frances Lincoln

A delightful collection of poems about school and family life that are accessible and fun, and appeal to children. Joe is also a performance poet who delights in word play, reflection and humour.  I like Hamster Hamster,   Onomatopoeia, M.O.R.E.R.A.P.S. and If All the World Were Paper. Joe has also provided plenty of ideas and tips for teachers on his website.

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Eli Power's Top 5 Wordless Picture Books

Eleanor Power is a Senior Lecturer and English Lead in Primary ITE at Nottingham Trent University. Her interests focus on developing a love of children’s literature in her teacher trainees and promoting reading for pleasure.


Book Cover of Up and Up by Shirley Hughes Up and Up by Shirley Hughes

This is the oldest of my selections and I have fond memories of using it in my Year 1 classroom and also of sharing it with my children when they were young. A little girl dreams of flying and Hughes’ pictures demonstrates all her failed attempts to do so until a thrilling and delightful denouement. There is a simply constructed over-arching story with many mini stories within it. Perfect for sharing and storytelling.


Book Cover of Clown by Quentin BlakeClown by Quentin Blake

Another old favourite. Blake’s Clown is not a clown to be scared of but a toy that has been discarded into a dustbin. This is a sweet and poignant story of his escape from the bin and his attempts to rescue the other discarded toys. Beautifully conveyed through the familiar medium of Blake’s quirky and engaging illustrations, you can’t fail to be enchanted.


Book Cover of Journey by Aaron BakerJourney by Aaron Baker

So many children know that feeling of being bored and everybody else being too busy to play. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to grab a crayon and draw your way into adventure? The illustrations are exquisite and lead us into the world of the imagination which can be fraught with danger. Discover how the little girl of the story manages to find her way home. This is one of a trilogy which is much to be recommended.


Book Cover of Tuesday by David Wienner

Tuesday by David Wiesner

This is, by now, an old favourite with many children and many teachers. Strictly speaking it is not entirely wordless as it provides us with a timeline as a scaffold to our understanding. However, the story is predominately told through the pictures. The moon is up, and the sky is full of frogs tranquilly flying over the town creating confusion and havoc in their wake. The police are certainly stymied. Definitely one to make you laugh.

Book cover of Mirror by Jeannie Baker Mirror by Jeannie Baker

Mirror has an unusual lay out being a book of two halves. The opening pages tell us that each half tells the story a boy and their family; one in Australia and one in Morocco. Through the collaged images, the reader can identify that many aspects of their lives are different but that there are stronger things that connect us. A powerful and important book.


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View our Previous Top 5 Reads by former and present members of the English 4-11 editorial board.

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