16 Books to Read by 16

In September 2018 the English Department contacted all our school parents and teachers, asking which books they would recommend that our Year 8, 9 and 10 students should read by the time they are 16.

With all the responses weighed and analysed in detail, a final list of just 16 books has now been compiled.  This was a very difficult task indeed!

The list contains an eclectic mix of books.  Some of the novels are modern and some are classics, together with an important auto-biography on the list and a couple are trilogies.  Neither Shakespeare nor Dickens are included in the list, but our enthusiastic English teachers give the caveat that everyone should attempt at least one of their works … and suggest their own favourites in the postscript below.

Schindler’s Ark

by Thomas Keneally

In the shadow of Auschwitz, a flamboyant German industrialist grew into a living legend to the Jews of Cracow. He was a womaniser, a heavy drinker and a bon viveur, but to them he became a saviour. This is the extraordinary story of Oskar Schindler, who risked his life to protect Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland and who was transformed by the war into a man with a mission, a compassionate angel of mercy.

Anita and Me

by Meera Syal

The debut novel from the award-winning screenwriter of Bhaji on the Beach. The story of nine-year-old Meena, growing up in the only Punjabi family in the Black Country mining village of Tollington.

It’s 1972. Meena is nine years old and lives in the village of Tollington, `the jewel of the Black Country’. She is the daughter of Indian parents who have come to England to give her a better life. As one of the few Punjabi inhabitants of her village, her daily struggle for independence is different from most. She wants fishfingers and chips, not chapati and dhal; she wants an English Christmas, not the usual interminable Punjabi festivities – but more than anything, she wants to roam the backyards of working-class Tollington with feisty Anita Rutter and her gang.

His Dark Materials (Trilogy)

by Philip Pullman

Since the first volume was published in 1995, Philip Pullman’s trilogy has been acclaimed as a modern masterpiece, and has won the UK’s top awards for children’s literature. Today, the fabulous story of Lyra and her daemon is read and loved by adults and children alike. The extraordinary story moves between parallel universes. Beginning in Oxford, it takes Lyra and her animal-daemon Pantalaimon on a dangerous rescue mission to the ice kingdoms of the far North, where she begins to learn about the mysterious particles they call Dust – a substance for which a terrible war between different worlds will be fought… “This trilogy is one of the great imaginative works in the English language. And it contains one of the best villains in all literature.” – Terry Jones Philip Pullman has won the CILIP Carnegie Medal, the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award, the Children’s Book of the Year – British Book Awards, the Whitbread Book of the Year, the Eleanor Farjeon Award and the Astrid Lindgren Award.

The Woman in White

by Wilkie Collins

In one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop … There, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth … stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white.

The Woman in White famously opens with Walter Hartright’s eerie encounter on a moonlit London road. Engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie, Walter is drawn into the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his ‘charming’ friend Count Fosco, who has a taste for white mice, vanilla bonbons and poison.

Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the paths and corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, The Woman in White is a gripping story of desire, ruthless ambition and chilling suspense. The first and most influential novel of the Victorian sensationlist genre it combines Gothic horror with psychological realism.  Full of passion, intrigue, hauntings, gothic mystery and shocking scandal, this book divided critics but captured the public imagination of the day and ensured its popularity continues today.

Empire of the Sun

by JG Ballard

The classic, heartrending story of a British boy’s four year ordeal in a Japanese prison camp during the Second World War. Newly reissued with an introduction by John Lanchester.

Based on J. G. Ballard’s own childhood, this is the extraordinary account of a boy’s life in Japanese-occupied wartime Shanghai – a mesmerising, hypnotically compelling novel of war, of starvation and survival, of internment camps and death marches. It blends searing honesty with an almost hallucinatory vision of a world thrown utterly out of joint.

Rooted as it is in the author’s own disturbing experience of war in our time, it is one of a handful of novels by which the twentieth century will be not only remembered but judged.

Never let me go

by Kasuo Ishiguro

In one of the most memorable novels of recent years, Kazuo Ishiguro imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewered version of contemporary England.

Narrated by Kathy, now 31, Never Let Me Go hauntingly dramatises her attempts to come to terms with her childhood at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School, and with the fate that has always awaited her and her closest friends in the wider world.

A story of love, friendship and memory, Never Let Me Go is charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of life.

Recipient of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature, British author Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing career began with 1982’s acclaimed novel A Pale View of Hills. His third book, 1989’s The Remains of the Day, firmly secured his reputation, winning the Booker Prize. 

The Selection

by Kiera Cass

Thirty-five beautiful girls. Thirty-five beautiful rivals…

It’s the chance of a lifetime and 17-year-old America Singer should feel lucky. She has been chosen for The Selection, a reality TV lottery in which the special few compete for gorgeous Prince Maxon’s love.

Swept up in a world of elaborate gowns, glittering jewels and decadent feasts, America is living a new and glamorous life. And the prince takes a special interest in her, much to the outrage of the others.

Rivalry within The Selection is fierce and not all of the girls are prepared to play by the rules. But what they don’t know is that America has a secret – one which could throw the whole competition… and change her life forever.

I am David

by Ann Holm

`You must get away tonight,’ the man had told him.

David escapes from the concentration camp where he has spent his entire life and flees across Europe. He is utterly alone – who can he trust? What will await him? And all the while, how can he be sure that they won’t catch up with him . . .

This is the remarkable story of David’s introduction to the world: sea, mountains and flowers, the colours of Italy, the taste of fruit, people laughing and smiling, all are new to David. David learns that his polite manner, his haunted eyes and his thin features are strange to other people. He must learn to fend for himself in this strange new world.

Robinson Crusoe

by Daniel Defoe

After surviving a terrible shipwreck, Robinson Crusoe discovers he is the only human on an island far from any shipping routes or rescue. At first he is devastated, but slowly, with patience and imagination, he transforms his island into a tropical paradise. For twenty-four years he lives with no human companionship – until one fateful day, when he discovers he is not alone…

The Wind in the Willows

by Kenneth Grahame

Spend a season on the river bank and take a walk on the wild side . . .

Spring is in the air and Mole has found a wonderful new world. There’s boating with Ratty, a feast with Badger and high jinx on the open road with that reckless ruffian, Mr Toad of Toad Hall. The four become the firmest of friends, but after Toad’s latest escapade, can they join together and beat the wretched weasels?

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

When Miss Elizabeth Bennett first meets eligible bachelor Mr Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

The first and best-known of Maya Angelou‘s extraordinary seven volumes of autobiography is a testament to the talents and resilience of this extraordinary writer.

Loving the world, she also knows its cruelty. As a Black woman she has known discrimination and extreme poverty, but also hope, joy, achievement and celebration.  In I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsMaya Angelou beautifully evokes her childhood with her grandmother in the American south of the 1930s. She learns the power of the white folks at the other end of town and suffers the terrible trauma of rape by her mother’s lover.

Black Swan Green

by David Mitchell

January, 1982. Thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor – covert stammerer and reluctant poet – anticipates a stultifying year in his backwater English village. But he hasn’t reckoned with bullies, simmering family discord, the Falklands War, a threatened gypsy invasion and those mysterious entities known as girls. Charting thirteen months in the black hole between childhood and adolescence, this is a captivating novel, wry, painful and vibrant with the stuff of life.

Shortlisted for the 2006 Costa Novel Award and Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2006.

The Hunger Games

by Suzanne Collins

The first book in the ground-breaking Hunger Games trilogy. Set in a dark vision of the near future, a terrifying reality TV show is taking place. Twelve boys and twelve girls are forced to appear in a live event called The Hunger Games. There is only one rule: kill or be killed. When sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen steps forward to take her younger sister’s place in the games, she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.

The Hobbit

by JRR Tolkein

Bilbo Baggins enjoys a quiet and contented life, with no desire to travel far from the comforts of home; then one day the wizard Gandalf and a band of dwarves arrive unexpectedly and enlist his services – as a burglar – on a dangerous expedition to raid the treasure-hoard of Smaug the dragon. Bilbo’s life is never to be the same again.

Seldom has any book been so widely read and loved as JRR Tolkien’s classic tale, The Hobbit. Since its first publication in 1937 it has remained in print to delight each new generation of readers all over the world, and its hero, Bilbo Baggins, has taken his place among the ranks of the immortals: Alice, Pooh, Toad…

Angela’s Ashes

by Frank McCourt

Stunning reissue of the phenomenal worldwide bestseller: Frank McCourt’s sad, funny, bittersweet memoir of growing up in New York in the 30s and in Ireland in the 40s.

It is a story of extreme hardship and suffering, in Brooklyn tenements and Limerick slums – too many children, too little money, his mother Angela barely coping as his father Malachy’s drinking bouts constantly brings the family to the brink of disaster. It is a story of courage and survival against apparently overwhelming odds.

Written with the vitality and resonance of a work of fiction, and with a remarkable absence of sentimentality, `Angela’s Ashes’ is imbued on every page with Frank McCourt’s distinctive humour and compassion. Out of terrible circumstances, he has created a glorious book in the tradition of Ireland’s literary masters, which bears all the marks of a great classic.

Postscript by Mr Mace, Head of English

We hope the final list of 16 books set out above provides real inspiration for our pupils, and we thoroughly recommend everyone has a go at reading as many as possible of these. The books are listed in no particular order and, of course, there are plenty of other great books out there but this list is a great starting point. Remember, to keep going with these even if they seem slow at the start.

Any pupil who has read all of these you could certainly be described as, “well-read” by teachers and parents, and that would be nice!

I am sorry that we haven’t placed a Shakespeare play on the list … we should have done! My personal favourite is Much Ado About Nothing and Mrs Beck’s is Othello! I must add, that pupils absolutely must read some Dickens before they reach 16. Good options are: A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and David Copperfield (best to read them in that order!)

May I also take this opportunity to mention that one of my own favourite books is, Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell, but sadly, this didn’t make it onto the final list.

Happy reading!