Suggested class novels/Group Guided Reading novels
Coram Boy, Jamila Gavin
Grittily realistic tale of life in the eighteenth-century underclass. The Coram boy of the title is Aaron, the illegitimate son of a wealthy landowner, who grows up in the Coram Foundling Hospital. The book has everything: horror, intrigue, suspense, romance and will appeal to boys and girls. Not too long for a class reader and there is a stage play and a lot of resources to support it online.
I am David, Anne Holm
Not strictly speaking a WWII novel, it chronicles the journey of a young boy who escapes from what appears to be a labour camp in Russian-occupied Southern Europe some years after the war, though this is never exactly specified. A good alternative to The Silver Sword for Y7/8.
I, Coriander, Sally Gardner
Timeslip/fantasy novel which creates a magical evocation of 17th century life. Would be a great choice to teach fairytales in KS3 as there is a lot of potential to explore structure and the elements of the fairytale.
Lion Boy, Zizou Corder
First of a trilogy about a boy called Charlie Ashanti whose scientist parents are kidnapped. In his quest to find them he joins a circus where his secret ability to speak cat comes in very handy, especially when he sets the lions free... Adventure story with an eco theme which appeals to both boys and girls. Would make a great class reader for Year 7.
The Kingdom by the Sea, Robert Westall
My favourite of Westall’s WWII novels, this is the story of a young boy called Harry who takes the road with his dog when his family home is obliterated in a bombing raid.
The Silver Sword, Ian Serralier
A group of Polish siblings make a journey through Europe to find their parents in the aftermath of WWII. Ideal class novel for Y7.
Trash, Andy Mulligan
Another shortlisted title from the Carnegie 2012 list, Trash tells the story of a group of children eking out a precarious living on a rubbish dump. One day, a small leather bag falls into their hands and they are plunged into a dangerous adventure. Exciting, beautifully written, and with plenty of issues to explore without being cardboard or preachy, Trash would make an ideal Y7 class novel.
War Horse, Michael Morpurgo
The brutality of World War One as seen through the eyes of Joey, the beloved horse of young Albert, who is sold to the Army for use as a cavalry mount. Morpurgo’s use of the point of view of the patiently suffering animal is very effective in getting the horror of the Western Front across to a younger audience.
A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness
When your mother is dying of cancer, how are you expected to feel? Conor is angry and taking it out on everyone around him. Fans of Patrick Ness may be surprised at how different this book is to his Monsters of Men trilogy: based on an idea that his friend Siobhan Dowd didn’t live to write herself, the writing has the lyrical feel associated with her work. A well-deserved winner of both the 2012 Carnegie Prize and the Kate Greenaway medal for its haunting illustrations.
Across the Barricades, Joan Lingard,Penguin, 1972
Romeo and Juliet story, written at the height of the Troubles, about a Protestant girl and a Catholic boy who incur the wrath of family and community by falling in love. Second book of series of five which follow the fortunes of Kevin and Sadie through their escape from Northern Ireland and exile in London. Gives an excellent insight into the issues facing working-class people in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. There is also a playscript of the novel and some excellent resources on Teachit to support both novel and play.
Boys Don’t Cry, Malorie Blackman,
Issue-based teen novel centring around a 17-year-old boy whose university plans are disrupted when his ex-girlfriend drops by with their hitherto unsuspected baby daughter – and leaves without a forwarding address. If that isn’t enough issues for one story there is a sub-plot featuring his out and proud younger brother and homophobic best friend who turns out to be... you guessed it. Well-written though, and will appeal to boys and girls. Good if you want to tackle issues of sexual representation or homophobia.
Divided City, Theresa Breslin
Better known for her historical fiction, this contemporary novel by the award-winning Scottish novelist Theresa Breslin is an uncompromising look at sectarianism in Glasgow seen through the eyes of Catholic Joe and Protestant Graham, united by a shared love of football, but divided by the bigotry of their communities. When one of them witnesses an attack on an asylum seeker, things get even more complicated. An excellent choice for a Y8 class novel.
Fat Boy Swim, Catherine Forde
The story of a fat Glaswegian teenage boy called Jimmy who learns to swim, gets his revenge on the bullies who torment him, finds true love and uncovers a few family secrets along the way, this book ticks lots of issue boxes. Heavy on the Scottish slang, the novel has an unconvincing plot, simplistic values and a lacklustre ending. I’m not that keen, but then I don’t like Stone Cold either and look how popular that is. There are a number of schemes of work and resources around to support it.
My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece, Annabel Pitcher
Jamie doesn’t really remember his sister Rose, who was killed by a terrorist bomb five years ago. Nobody else in the family can forget her for a moment. The aftermath of her death has shattered their parent’s marriage, and forced Jamie and Rose’s twin sister Jasmine to deceive their obsessive father as they try to build their own lives in the shadow of the urn on the mantelpiece.
Noughts and Crosses, Malorie Blackman
In a world run by Crosses, where Noughts are second-class citizens, ruthlessly repressed by the ruling caste, the romance between Sephy, a Cross and Callum, a Nought, is never going to run smoothly. But neither of them could predict just how bad it would be to fall in love with a member of the opposite group. This is a modern classic, frequently taught in Year 8 and there are a lot of lesson plans and resources available online.
Once, Morris Gleitzman
It’s 1942. Felix runs away from the Catholic orphanage in Poland where his Jewish parents placed him to try to keep him safe. On his journey to find them, he befriends the orphaned Zelda and together they plunge into the heart of darkness. If I were going to do a Holocaust novel at KS3 I would pick Once over The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas any day of the week. There is a sequel, Then, which is even more harrowing then Once.
Private Peaceful, Michael Morpurgo
Heartbreaking story of the World War One trenches that never fails to engage young teenagers’ emotions. Morpurgo has revisited the ground he covered in War Horse, but this story is much bleaker and deals with the issues in a more complex way.
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Set in a dystopian world where the ruling elite punish the underclasses for a failed rebellion by demanding a tribute of young people every year to take part in the murderous hunger games. This clever young adult novel fuses ancient myth, modern war and reality tv into an imagined world of unimaginable horror. There are two sequels and with a film version already out, this would be an ideal class novel with a load of potential for a really imaginative scheme of work.
The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness
Dsytopian thriller. Todd Hewitt lives in Prentisstown, a town where all the women have disappeared and all the men can hear everyone else’s thoughts all the time, whether they want to or not. There is no escape from the overwhelming noise, until one day Todd finds a spot of silence. Then the trouble really starts. First of the Chaos Walking trilogy, it won the 2008 Guardian Children’s Fiction prize – the final volume, Monsters of Men won the 2011 Carnegie Prize. My Y8 group who did this for guided reading absolutely loved it.
Velvet, Mary Hooper
Velvet is an orphan forced to work in a Victorian steam laundry, until she is noticed by Madame Savoya, a famous medium, who asks Velvet to come to work for her. Velvet is dazzled at first by the young yet beautifully dressed and bejewelled Madame. But soon Velvet realises that Madame Savoya is not all that she says she is, and Velvet's very life is in danger. Well-paced historical adventure from the always excellent Mary Hooper.
A Swift Pure Cry, Siobhan Dowd
Shell is fifteen, neglected and lonely and when she finds herself pregnant there is no one she can turn to. Siobhan Dowd based this book on two true stories that shocked Ireland in the 1980s, but the lyrical quality of her writing ensures that this is far more than a standard issue-based teen novel. Dowd’s tragically early death deprived the world of a wonderful writer.
Between Shades of Grey, Ruta Sepetys
Not to be confused with the very different 50 Shades of Grey, this excellent title from the Carnegie 2012 shortlist tells the story of 15-year-old Lina, a Lithuanian girl arrested by the Soviets in 1941 and sent to Siberia.
Bog Child, Siobhan Dowd
When Fergus and his uncle discover a child’s body buried in the bog on the Irish side of the Border, he is swept into an adult world of complications and discoveries. Set in the 1980s, the book explores the issues around the hunger strike, as Fergus tries to negotiate a web of complex loyalties, while Mel, whose body had lain undiscovered in the bog for nearly 2,000 years, tells her story through Fergus’ increasingly vivid dreams. This novel is frequently taught in schools in Northern Ireland and there are some excellent schemes of work available for it.
How Many Miles to Babylon?, Jennifer Johnston,
A very similar storyline to Private Peaceful, but this Irish classic is more reflective and literary and thus more suited to KS4 pupils or a high-ability Y9 class.
I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
A classic from the 1950s, but with a fairly recent film version (2007), this sci-fi favourite tells the story of Robert Neville, a lone human survivor of a virus that has turned the rest of the population into vampires. Battling against them as he tries to find a cure for the virus, he is eventually forced to confront the question of his essential humanity.
Life: An Exploded Diagram, Mal Peet
Growing up in Norfolk during the Cold War, the book intersperses Clem’s teenage love affair with factual accounts of the Cuban Missile Crisis in a beautifully written coming of age novel told in flashback. Mal Peet is a wonderful writer, and while perhaps not as good a novel as Tamar, this is well worth the read.
Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
The glamorous Maxim de Winter has swept his second wife off her feet, but living in the shadow of her predecessor is more difficult that she expected. Extracts from Rebecca could be very useful for a scheme of work on Gothic fiction.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the
Investigating the mysterious death of a neighbour’s dog, leads 15-year-old Christopher Boone on an adventure that ends up by not only solving the riddle of the dead dog, but also unravelling his own family secrets. The language is fairly explicit, possibly worthy of a parental advisory if using with Y7 or 8. Lots of good resources for teaching this, including a study pack from NATE and resources on Teachit and TES.