I read far fewer books as a child than I might have done, simply because all the sitting around made my legs sore. I also hated many of the books that were pushed my way, particularly the ones about talking animals or people with supernatural abilities (though there are a few writers who manage to make these things tolerable), and it annoys me to think of the rubbish I was forced to read at school when I could have been reading far better things. I also had difficulty finding the right books at the right time, ending up reading some of the best ones years later than I should have done, so my aim here is to help children find the best books for them and to ensure that they read them at the time which will give them the most enjoyment. This is not primarily about getting children to read: there is absolutely nothing wrong with them having these books read to them. In the lists below, my own favourites are highlighted in blue, while a suggested reading age is shown in red (though it should only be taken as a very approximate guide).

Realistic Fiction

  • Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome, 8. (Sailing. Lake District - England. Four children camp on an island, but they encounter hostile natives who threaten the peace. A series of little adventures. Ransome wrote five books of this kind set in the Lake District, but this first one was the best, though Winter Holiday isn't bad.)
  • Coot Club, Arthur Ransome, 9. (Sailing. Norfolk Broads - England. A group of children trying to protect birds from yobbos. This book and The Big Six are Ransome's best works and you'd be daft not to read them.)
  • The Big Six, Arthur Ransome, 9. (Sailing. Norfolk Broads - England. Follows on from Coot Club: three boys are falsely accused of committing a series of crimes and have to try to clear their names.)
  • Lord of the Flies, William Golding, 12. (A large group of boys survive a plane crash and are stranded on a desert island. No adults survived the crash. Warfare ensues. If you're a boy, this is the book you've always wanted to read, even if you've never even heard of it, but it most adults don't want you to find it too early in case it scares you.)


  • The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien, 8. (A small adventure involving a little person and a dragon: just read it and see. If you are one of the strange people who don't like it, at least it will save you from bothering with the massive book which follows.)
  • Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien, 11 (An enormous adventure which follows on from The Hobbit, though it's a much more grown-up book. Other fantasty writers might as well give up trying to compete with this, because they'll never come close to the work of this genius.)


  • Harry Potter..., J. K. Rowling, 7+. (A series of seven books, the third of which is excellent: this author even seems to understand time travel better than most science fiction writers. Books 4 to 7 are rather less successful, but fans of the earlier books will fight their way through them regardless.)

Specialist Non-fiction

To create and maintain the lists of books, I need the help of intelligent readers: I would like you to send in a very short e-mail if you discover an exceptionally good book, one that is so good that you will want to make sure that your own children will read it. This means that you might send in one or two suggestions a year (any more than four a year and you will be disqualified, which means all your suggestions will be ignored). Your e-mail must have the following format so that it can be read by a machine: the book's name, the author's name, the age at which you think you should have read it, the category under which you think the book should be listed (pick an existing category if it fits one, or make up a new category name if it doesn't), and a description of what the book is about. There must be a "#" both in front of and after each of these items. Make sure you spell everything correctly. Do not write anything else in the e-mail as it will confuse the machine that reads it, the result being that your e-mail may be ignored. An example of a correctly written e-mail is as follows:-

# Coot Club # Arthur Ransome # 9 # Realistic Fiction # Sailing. Norfolk Broads. A group of children trying to protect birds from yobbos. #

If the book is already in the list, you can send an e-mail anyway as it will help us determine which is the best age for people to read it at. Such an e-mail may look like this:-

# Coot Club # Arthur Ransome # 10 # # #

There is no need to name the category or to give a description in this case, though you are welcome to do so if you disagree with the the current category the book is under, or if you think you can improve on the book description.

Send your e-mail to but don't expect it to result in the book being listed here: it will need to be recommended by lots of other people as well before it qualifies to go into the list.