Our Top Five 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! Read on to find out the books that our Editorial Board think really stand out from the crowd.

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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