This week, we welcomed a would-be PGCE student to our department for some experience of the wonderful world of English teaching. One of the things which struck me was how far removed recent graduates are from KS3, and the kind of books you want to be encouraging KS3 students to read. She mentioned the classics, but probably you want to teach these; a huge part of being an English teacher is encouraging students to read widely and for pleasure.
With this in mind, I recommend just ten wonderful books you can read and pass on to your future year 7, 8 and 9 students.
Ok, if you haven’t heard of John Green you’re about to spend the next six weeks reading everything, and then wishing you’d gone slower (probably). The above is already a classic, and promoted Green to the stratosphere of great writers for young people. Green’s protagonists are often preternaturally wise, and alongside a brilliantly expressed story you can often glean interesting factual snippets. The characters are also both real and unreal at once; an unusual feat.
I always despair when a popular book is turned into a film, because students start to tell me they have seen the film and therefore don’t want to bother to read the novel. Luckily, the adaptation of this was not as good as it could have been, and so I’ve found students largely receptive in reading this. An amazing creation in terms of perspective, this novel is narrated by death and takes students through the trials of surviving in Nazi Germany.
This novel is a teaching staple in some classrooms (notably American ones, I’m reliably informed), but I’d not come across it until recently. A sci-fi look at a dystopian future where colour has been forgotten along with many aspects of freedom and experience we take for granted means this novel raises some thoughtful questions and issues for its young readers.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
You will undoubtedly be familiar with this, if not from the hugely acclaimed novel itself, at least from the stage adaptation. Seeing the world through the lens of an autistic boy is masterfully done by Haddon, and this is a brilliant book for year 9 (or even 8) students to read to help them to empathise with those different to them.
Eggers is an epic story-teller, and each of his novels feels so distinctive I wouldn’t be shocked if you told me they were penned by different people. This one is definitely the most student-friendly, telling the true story of a young man’s plight in leaving war-torn Sudan.
Though really, anything by Patrick Ness will be fabulous; he really is one of the foremost children’s writers today. I wrote about A Monster Calls here, but Knife was the first of his books I read, and it is the one I have most successfully managed to pass on to reluctant readers, chiefly due to the opening’s inclusion of a talking dog.
A sympathetic exploration of a child who has been re-assigned a new identity having committed a horrific crime. Written with bracing pace, and guaranteed to raise some moral dilemmas of interest.
Laurie Halse Anderson is another one of those authors who writes a wide variety of generally excellent novels for young people; Speak is similarly excellent though entirely different to the above. Chains explores aspects of American slavery and racism, so will often complement the kind of “civil rights” explorations in English many schools now offer at KS3.
A year 10 student recommended this one to me, but I think most year 9s could handle it. This novel is engagingly written, with one of those shocking-twist endings that will stay in a student’s mind and have them coming to tell you they’ve reached it. Doesn’t everyone love a mystery after all? I really enjoyed this book too for its allowing me to live vicariously through rich, pampered young people with nothing much to do and their whole glorious lives ahead of them.
I’m not sure there is a better children’s book out there, but I’d love to hear what others think. This book stayed with me long after I read it; I read the first gripping page to year 7 and year 8 during assemblies last year and I have lost count of the number of students who subsequently read it and let me know they had read it. The book tells the story of a boy with a disfigured face, exploring society’s expectations and making us question the extent to which we are hopelessly superficial. About halfway through this book I cried like a small child. Luckily, the ending is uplifting.
If you’d like more recommendations, I’ve blogged previously about reading lists:
And I would also definitely recommend looking at the Carnegie prize website for further inspiration: