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 February 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


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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Jo Bowers, co-editor of English 4-11


Goodness me this was hard but here, finally are my five reads:

A Necklace of Raindrops by Joan Aiken and illustrated by Jan Pienkowski
Eight timeless short stories of magic. I read these stories to nearly every primary school class of children I taught and they never failed to capture attention. This was one book that always stayed on my bookshelf in the classroom, not to be taken out, but only read in class!

Hero on a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes
This has just been added to my top reads list having just finished it. Shirley Hughes' picture books were firm favourites with both my own children and the children I taught so I couldn't wait to read her first novel and I wasn't disappointed.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
I have used this picture book many many times to engage children in philosophical discussion and am constantly blown away by the depth of the discussion it generates. It is a story about the relationship between a boy and a tree. Beautiful simple illustrations throughout. I also have a Latin version of this book which the publisher sent by mistake then gave me saying, they didn't think they would ever sell it!

The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green
A teen novel that should never be read on a bus, train or tube as it made me cry so much and stayed with me for a very long time after.

5. Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry edited by Brian Patten
A wonderful collection of poems by a fantastic selection of poets. My children still talk about Michael Rosen's, 'Chocolate Cake' every time I bake one!


Eve Bearne, co-editor of English 4-11


The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame.
Mr. Davies read this to us in what would be now called Year 4. The best chapter is the mystical 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn'… lost and found... redemption…

World Tales, collected by Idries Shah.
Not really a children's book, but it is the ONLY book I’d never lend to anyone but it still has the fingerprints of children who pored over the stories and the wonderful illustrations in my classroom.

The Red Tree, Shaun Tan.  
Threatens to break your heart but is another tale of redemption and hope.

A Swift Pure Cry, Siobhan Dowd. 
A teen read which wrenches your heart out of your body. Definitely her best novel.

The Lost Happy Endings, Carol Ann Duffy and Jane Ray
A beautiful book in every sense – even if it has its scary and ambiguous moments! Wonderful language and stunning images.


Pam Dowson, English 4-11 Editorial Board member

The Midnight Fox, Betsy Byars
I have the late Helen Arnold to thank for introducing me to this book when she used it whilst working with my class.  I don’t know who enjoyed it most – me or the children -  when I read it as a serial to several classes over the years. Wonderful characters, a great story, humour, tension and lessons to learn – it has all the ingredients of a timeless classic.

Little Smudge, Lionel le Neouanic
Using only very simple, bold illustrations on a white background, this wordless picture book conveys deep feelings about loneliness, rejection, love and friendship.  It’s amazing how just shapes and colours can be read and interpreted at such a high level.

A Necklace of Raindrops, Joan Aiken
The title story in this wonderful collection is my absolute favourite for reading aloud.  It’s one of those spell-binding tales that completely captures audience attention – there are involuntary gasps when the awful unexpected happens.  The rest of the collection isn’t bad, either!

Rose Blanche, Roberto Innocenti 
Those who think picture books are simple, easy fare and only for the very young would be surprised, to say the least, by Rose Blanche. There’s so much that is remarkable in this story of a little German girl’s experience of World War II.  It’s heart-rending, but wonderful, with text and illustrations working beautifully together.

It’s a book!, Lane Smith
This wonderful picture book tackles the concerns many have about the rise of e-reading and its threat to the traditional book.  It’s very funny and does what all the best picture books do well – presents a complex situation in a simple way, with much opportunity for discussion.


Margaret Mallett, English 4-11 Editorial Board member


Tom’s Midnight Garden, Philippa Pearce
Once read long remembered and revisited, this book tells us about childhood and about a garden that is reborn when a young boy connects with an old lady’s dreams. Most moving moment? For me and the children in one of my first (what would now be Year 6) classes, this is when Tom realises that the old lady at the top of the house where he is staying is his playmate Hattie grown old.

Stig of the Dump, Clive King & Edward Ardizzone (ill.)
One of the most interesting friendships in children’s literature? Nobody believes rather troubled young Barney when he says he has met cave-boy Stig in a disused chalk pit. But the two boys have wonderful adventures. Beautifully told and superbly illustrated.

What’s Under the Bed?, by Mick Manning & Brita Granstrom
An exciting approach to non-fiction.  We accompany two young children and their cat on an imaginative  exploration of what is underground- finding secret caves and fossils. There are interesting and scientifically sound cross sections (for example of an ant colon).

Dogger, Shirley Hughes
Losing a beloved toy or pet is a universal experience. Here there is a happy ending which comforts . The text and illustrations are perfect.

The Savage, David Almond and Dave McKean (ill.)
A graphic story that pushes at the borders of fantasy and reality in telling the story of Blue who is grieving for his father. Deliciously controversial...

I agree with Eve – very difficult to stick to the discipline of just five books  – amongst many others  I had to do without 'The Secret Garden', 'Think of an Eel' and 'The Tunnel'.


Brenda Marshall, English 4-11 Editorial Board member

The Paradise Garden, Colin Thompson
The Dancing Bear, Michael Morpurgo
Where the Wild Things Are, Morris Sendak
The Snow Goose, Paul Gallico
The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliff

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