Young Readers


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The Age of the Fish

Guilty by omission

Also known as Youth without God – the literal translation of the original Jugend Ohne GottThe Age of the Fish is a brilliantly succinct and multi-layered novel about identity, integrity and the freedom of speech and thought. Written by von Horváth after he had himself faced censure from the Nazis’ Third Reich, emigrating first to Vienna and then later, after the Anschluss with Austria, onto Paris. The story is told from the point of view of a disaffected teacher who, despite all his muted criticisms about his emotionally-numbed pupils and the totalitarian state he lives in, is ensnared in a web of deceit and impotence.

The Age of the Fish is published by William Heinemann, 206 pages.

(12+ years)

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Animal Farm

Ostensibly a children’s fable about farm animals’ revolt against their (human) farmer, it is not only a parable of the Russian Revolution and the messy battle for power as Orwell intended, but also a cautionary satire that can be translated to other examples of dictatorships and government propaganda. No reading list should be without this singularly spectacular piece of work.

(11/12+ years)

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The Hollow People

On the surface, this is just yet another YA dystopian thriller and, as such, an easier read. It soon becomes apparent to an adult reader, however, that it is a rich source of discussion topics – I couldn’t actually help jotting down almost 20 questions I wanted to discuss with the young ‘uns – about society and responsibility (Dr Sigmundus says ‘society is answerable to authority; authority is not answerable to society’), types of leadership, dictatorship and the concept of free will.

(11/12+ years)

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

A book that was utterly worthy of all the accolades, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time defies categorisation. Not only a very minuscule insight into Asperges, but a mystery, domestic story, and a coming of age rolled into one. The marvellously direct voice of Christopher is deceptively simple, but a device that is skilfully used, and yet somehow remaining very accessible even to younger readers. (For those are in London, go see the near perfect stage production as well).

(Also for 11+ years)

 

 

 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

Still good after all these years

There’s something wonderfully innocent and warm about this 1950s classic, despite its dead serious subject matter of racism. Life is simple; the goodies are good, the baddies are bad. Fundamentally, the book is about tolerance, for the lonely, weirdo neighbour, for the sick, angry, old lady down the road and, of course, for blacks, otherwise ostracised by 1930s Alabamian white society. I read this book 20 years ago and found it a joy to re-read, although my older more cynical self did think it a bit sentimental at times.

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Animalium

Perfect present for animal lovers of all ages

This museum is unlike any you’ve visited before. Open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, its collection boasts an unrivalled catalogue of the world’s finest and most extraordinary creatures, with each exhibit in immaculate condition and presented in fantastic detail.

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Listen to the Moon

Another tearjerker from this master storyteller

A couple of years ago, I geekily set out to read a sizeable stack of Michael Morpurgo’s bestselling children’s books back-to-back. Why? I wanted to work out why this author in particular had me in tears with every single story I read. I was dying to know if he had some kind of formula, and if I could work it out. Actually, I think I did spot a few patterns, but it seems a bit cynical to go into those here!

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Cakes in Space

Can Astra save her spaceship from mutant cupcakes?

This is a seriously bizarre children’s book. It reminds me of an activity I do with children to help them get ideas for a silly story. They pull a main character, setting and plot out of a hat, then try to weave them together into a story that makes some kind of sense.

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Goodnight Mr Tom

Compelling and well-loved children's classic

I have a hunch that Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian will feature on many of your children’s back-to-school reading lists, a classic choice for English teachers everywhere since it was first published in 1981. Perhaps some of you even remember it from your own schooldays. I’ve been revising our school reading lists and spied Goodnight Mr Tom on our Year 7 list. I hadn’t read it since I was in Year 7 myself, and I wanted to find out why it’s such a permanent fixture in our children’s literary canon.

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Goth Girl and the Fete Worse Than Death

Intricate illustrations bring an elaborate gothic world to life

My pupils and I have been waiting for Chris Riddell’s sequel to Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse, and here it is, cleverly launched in time for Hallowe’en. At my local Waterstone’s, copies of the chocolate-box, gilded hardback are displayed with cobwebs and spiders and fairy cakes (the latter not traditionally associated with Hallowe’en, true, but all will become clear).

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