Fifty Books That Every Child Should Read According to the National Literacy Trust
By Holly Allwright and Ekta Rajagopalan
In January 2023, the National Literacy Trust in conjunction with the Good Housekeeping Magazine, published a list of fifty books they felt all children should read in an effort to raise literacy levels across the UK. The books are divided into five age categories and range in genre, style and length from Where the Wild Things Are to The Book Thief.
A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond
Originally published in 1958, Bond’s timeless tale of a kind bear and his journey to England continues to bring joy to families around the globe today. Paddington arrives at the train station, where he meets the Browns with only a jar of marmalade to his name. Paddington has become an iconic figure with his own series of books, a television show, films and more. This loveable bear is a worthy inclusion on this list as his stories spread messages of kindness, the importance of family and pure childlike wonder as he experiences the wonders of London for the first time.
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake
This classic Roald Dahl novel, first published in 1961, follows the story of young James Henry Trotter, who goes on the adventure of a lifetime. Many of Roald Dahl’s novels explore a theme where children believe that there is always good in the world no matter the circumstances they’ve been placed in. James and the Giant Peach is no different. One day, after having been forced to live with his evil aunts, James meets a mysterious man who gives him a bag of magical crystals, instructing James to use them in a potion that would change his life for the better. While returning home, he stumbles and spills the bag of crystals that get buried in the ground. What follows is an extraordinary adventure involving a giant peach, newfound friends along the way and a place where James finally feels at home.
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
Rundell’s beautiful story of adventure, family and friendship follows Sophie as she attempts to find her mother. Found as a baby floating in a cello case, Sophie was presumed to have been orphaned on a shipwreck, but she remains convinced her mother survived too. After being threatened to be removed from her guardian, she sets out across the rooftops of Paris with a group of tightrope-walking urchins to find her mother before it is too late.
Boy, Everywhere by A. M. Dassu
Published in 2020, A. M. Dassu’s debut middle-grade novel follows the harrowing journey of Sami and his parents as they leave their comfortable life in Damascus in search of safety and ‘refuge’ in the UK. Sami loves his life in Damascus, playing video games with his friends and trying out for the football team, but everything changes abruptly after a bombing in a nearby shopping mall. Forced to sell their belongings and leave their friends and beloved grandmother behind, Sami and his family travel across the Middle East and cross the Mediterranean in search of a better and safer life in England. Based on the experiences of real Syrian refugees, this novel delves deeply into this years-long crisis. A. M. Dassu has used her publishing deal advances for Boy, Everywhere to assist Syrian refugees in her city. Sami's story is one of survival, family and friendship, of bravery and longing. In a world where we are told to see refugees as the ‘other’, this story will remind readers that kindness and inclusivity always win in the end.
How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
The first book of the twelve-part series was published in 2003 by Hodder Children's Books in the UK and by Little, Brown and Company in the US. Cressida Cowell’s fascination with Vikings stemmed from her childhood. Her family would go spend their holidays on a small uninhabited island off the west coast of Scotland. There was no telephone or television, so Cressida’s father would entertain the kids with stories of the Vikings and legendary dragons who had invaded that particular island over half a millennium ago. These stories inspired Cressida to start writing about dragons and Vikings at the age of eight. Many years later, these stories were introduced to the world in the form of the How to Train Your Dragon series. The first book follows the story of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, Hiccup for short and how he becomes a hero in the most unexpected way. He captures a dragon, Toothless, as a rite of passage and attempts to train him using his own methods so that he will not be exiled from Berk, as is tradition for young Viking boys on this island. The book teaches young children that everyone is a hero in their own way and that sometimes taking the unexpected road can lead to wonderful discoveries about oneself. Film rights were sold to DreamWorks Animation in 2003, and the film version was released in cinemas in March 2010.
The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
Published in 2017, The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas is a debut YA novel that was sparked off the back of the police shooting of Oscar Grant. The novel follows sixteen-year-old Starr as she grapples with the realities of racism and police brutality within America. After witnessing the shooting of her unarmed best friend, she is determined to get justice, even if that means breaking the boundaries between her upper-class high school in the suburbs and her home life. Thomas deftly broaches topics of inequality, racism and friendship through the eyes of a young girl, making it a crucial text for teenagers as they, too, begin to learn the harsh truths of the world.