Guide to the best children's books Early teens


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50 Books That Every Young Teenager Should Read

A guide to the best children's books - Early teens
Call of the Wild, by Jack London (Puffin, £4·99)

Jack London introduced some dark themes into this story of Buck, a sled dog in the Yukon who rediscovers his wild nature when put to the test.

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll (Penguin Classics, £5·99)

Never was mathematical and philosophical playfulness given such entertaining shape. Tenniel's line-drawings crown these classics.

The Outsiders, by SE Hinton (Puffin Classics, £6·99)

This powerful novel about school gangs was published when SE Hinton was just 18. The Greasers and the Socs clash in typical teenage fashion - but then someone dies.

I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith (Vintage, £6·99)

Smith is better known for A Hundred and One Dalmatians, but although this, her first novel, is quieter, it shines brighter. Narrated in diary form by 17-year-old Cassandra, it documents the lives of her eccentric family.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, by Joan Aiken (Red Fox, £4·99)

1832, and wolves have over-run a fictional kingdom of England. Orphans Sylvia and Bonnie fall into the hands of an evil Miss Slycarp and must use all their wits to escape. A mercilessly shadowy thriller.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (Arrow Books, £6·99)

A classic story of America's Deep South. Scout and Jem see their father, Atticus, defend Tom Robinson - an innocent black man - from the charge of rape. Atticus is inspiring without being priggish.

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens (Penguin, £7·99)

The rousing story of Pip's rise, fall and rise pips Oliver Twist as the best book with which to start reading Dickens, purely on account of his description of being in love.

The Owl Service, by Alan Garner (Collins, £5·99)

Welsh myths, a portrait hidden behind a plaster skim, adolescent yearnings…read this extraordinary confection at the right age and it will never leave you.

The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle (Penguin classics, £5·99)

Holmes in fine Gothic form: rackety aristocrats, the Grimpen Mire, and a glow-in-the-dark hellhound conspire to chill the blood and thrill the deductive organs.

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte (Penguin, £7·99)

A novel that embeds itself in the memory, and set feminism back 150 years. The human genome has yet to produce a teenage girl who isn't a sucker for Heathcliff.

The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank (Penguin, £7·99)

On June 12, 1942, Annelies Marie Frank started writing a diary. It was her 13th birthday. She died three years later in Belsen. An ordinary teenage life, made poignant by the knowledge of how it ended.

Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry, by Mildred D Taylor (Puffin, £5·99)

A tale of oppression in the American South, this tells the story of the Logans, a black family living in rural Mississippi during the 1930s.

A Kestrel for a Knave, by Barry Hines (Penguin, £7·99)

Filmed by Ken Loach as Kes, this snapshot of deprivation in 1960s Yorkshire describes a troubled boy's relationship with his pet kestrel. Bittersweet and grimly artful.

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien (HarperCollins, £6·99)

A wonderful curtain-raiser for The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit finds Tolkein in a playful mood. The adventures of Bilbo Baggins, while never less than exciting, are spiked with gentle humour.

War Horse, by Michael Morpurgo (Egmont, £4·99)

Michael Morpurgo's moving story plunges into the horror of the First World War by following the story of Joey, a cavalry officer's horse on the Western Front.

Beowulf, by Michael Morpurgo (Walker Books, £7·99)

Beowulf is a great story: scary monsters, fearsome matriarchs, boasting, singing, feasting, fighting and booty. Michael Morpurgo's rendition brings it to a new generation.

King Solomon's Mines, by H Rider Haggard (Penguin Classics, £7·99)

Hunter Allan Quatermain searches the African jungle. Its attitudes might be outdated but this is still terrifically exciting.

Kim, by Rudyard Kipling (Penguin Classics, £7·99)

Kimball O'Hara, the orphaned son of an Irish soldier, wanders Lahore cadging, playing and living a carefree life - until he's forced into espionage.

The Road of Bones, by Anne Fine (Corgi Children's, £5·99)

Anne Fine weaves a disturbing parable of life in a totalitarian state, as young Yuri learns the cost of speaking the truth.

Frenchman's Creek, by Daphne Du Maurier (Virago Press, £7·99)

A swashbuckling love affair between a lady and a pirate on the Cornish coast. Romantic adventure at its overblown best.

Treasure Island, by RL Stevenson (Penguin Classics, £7·99)

The riddles of Stevenson's tale endure. Why does X mark the spot? What is it with parrots? And why did Pugh go blind?

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott (Oxford Children's Classic, £6·99)

The tale of four sisters - Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy - growing up in the US Civil War, this is a charming and insightful story of childhood and family.

Anne of Green Gables, by L M Montgomery (Puffin Classics, £4·99)

Spirited ginger-nut, adopted in error for a boy, comes of age on a remote island off the Canadian coast.

Junk, by Melvin Burgess (Puffin, £4·99)

Burgess's refusal to patronise teenagers has earned much praise. This tough, clear-eyed story of heroin addiction is among his best.

Cider With Rosie, by Laurie Lee (Vintage Classics, £7·99)

A lyrical description of a childhood spent in rural bliss in the Cotswolds. This is a homage to England as it was, filled with light, joy, and fun.

The Go-Between by LP Hartley (Penguin Modern Classics, £8·99)

More than a famous first line. When 60-year-old Leo Colston looks back on his youth in 1900, the nostalgia is stifling. But as the story develops, it takes a darker turn.

The Rattle Bag, ed by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes (Faber, £14·99)

This rich anthology of poetry - whose name aptly describes the higgledy-piggledy mix of glories within - is something no teen's bookshelf should lack.

The Song of Hiawatha, by H W Longfellow (Dover, £3)

Just say something in this rhythm. It will sound like Hiawatha. Read it to your horrid children. Hear them chant the verses loudly. On it goes ad infinitum. Heaven help the hapless parent.

Watership Down, by Richard Adams (Puffin, £6·99)

Fiver and his brother Hazel know that something terrible will happen to the warren, and set off for safety. Their story has implications beyond the usual concerns of rabbits.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain (Oxford, £6·99)

Less ambitious than The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn but just as exciting. The language is hard to begin with but the hero is one of the most endearing in literature.

True Grit, by Charles Portis (Bloomsbury, £6·99)

Mattie Ross - spirited, witty, probably beautiful - is out to avenge her "father's blood" in this slim Western. It should be given to every girl turning 16.

Holes, by Louis Sachar (Collins, 7·99)

Sentenced to dig holes in the desert for stealing trainers, the wrongly convicted Stanley discovers that the holes are not so pointless as at first thought. Wit dry as a salt flat.

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding (Faber & Faber, £7·99)

When a gang of boys are marooned on an island they try to set up a community based on cooperation. Some hope.

My Family and Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell (Puffin, £5·99)

When the Durrell family takes a villa in Corfu one summer they do not imagine staying five years, but so they do. In that time Gerald, a boy of 10, discovers the joys of the local flora and fauna, and describes it with a delightful wit.

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman (Bloomsbury, £6·99)

This spooky story won't soon be forgotten. Coraline is a girl who finds her way down a corridor to a flat just like her own - but slightly different. And where her doting "other mother" has buttons for eyes…

Carrie's War, by Nina Bawden (Puffin, £6·99)

Carrie and her brother are wartime evacuees billeted on a bullying Welsh grocer. A wonderfully crafted novel full of memorable characters.

The Story of Tracy Beaker, by Jacqueline Wilson (Corgi, £5·99)

A slice of life in a children's home narrated by 10-year-old Tracy, through whose eyes we confront tough dilemmas. Required reading.

The Lantern Bearers, by Rosemary Sutcliffe (Oxford, £6·99)

As the Roman army prepares to leave for home, Aquila is forced to desert to protect his family

Stig of the Dump, by Clive King (Puffin, £6·99)

When Barney falls down a dump the last thing he expects is to meet a cave boy. Stig was an eco-warrior before the term was invented. Sprightly, comic, classic.

Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild (Puffin, £5·99)

Adopted sisters Posy, Pauline and Petrova Fossil train as a dancer, an actor and an aeroplane pilot. A bally treat.

Danny, the Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl (Puffin, £5·99)

Danny and his hard-up father bond over poaching pheasants from nasty Mr Hazell's land - before moral dues are paid.

George's Marvellous Medicine, by Roald Dahl (Puffin, £4·99)

To cure his grumpy grandmother, George Kranky concocts a medicine from shaving foam, sheep dip, engine oil and brown paint. Granny grows huge. The ending is dark even for Dahl.

The Iron Man, by Ted Hughes (Faber & Faber, £4·99)

Since it appeared in 1968, the late Poet Laureate's children's book has become a classic. Benign iron bloke falls from sky, battles space-bat-angel-dragon, saves world. Bliss.

The Owl and the Pussycat, by Edward Lear (Corgi, £5·99)

Edward Lear's bizarre story of inter-species elopement and gastronomic adventure still charms and diverts. Runcible.

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame (Egmont, £5·99)

"Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats." But reading about Mole, Ratty, Toad and Badger runs it a close second.

The Worst Witch Collection, by Jill Murphy (Puffin, £16·99)

Before Harry Potter there was Mildred Hubble, the worst witch at Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches. A tale of flying broomsticks, rivalries and magical pedagogy.

Peter Pan, by JM Barrie (Puffin, £4·99)

JM Barrie's Neverland adventures were first performed as a play, and later turned into a novel. Clap your hands if you believe.

The Firework-maker's Daughter, by Philip Pullman (Corgi, £4·99)

Lila's father doesn't want her to follow his career in fireworks so she must prove herself on an epic quest that takes in dragons and pirates.

Tom's Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce (Oxford, £5·99)

As Tom lies in bed preparing for the most boring holiday of his life, the clock strikes 13. Racing downstairs he sees daylight and a beautiful garden where there should be darkness. Incredibly exciting.

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster (HarperCollins, £5·99)

A bored young boy pushes his toy car through a toy tollbooth, and finds himself in the kingdom of Wisdom. Genius wordplay, slapstick and a real sense of fun.


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