Whenever I am asked what first drew me into the classroom, the first things that come to mind are stories. Sharing some of my favourite tales, heroes (Jane Eyre!) and villains (Bill Sikes!) with young people was what ignited my interest and passion for teaching. I loved reading great adventures with my class, discussing and debating characters, their motives and hidden machinations. Bringing stories to life – some of which were written hundreds of years ago – is one of the great privileges and joys of being an English teacher. I also loved recommending books to students and keen parents, and the thrill of a student returning and asking for a new suggestion (‘You enjoyed that one? You’ve got to read this next!’) was always a precious, proud moment.
There’s a compelling body of research that shows how vital it is to get students reading for pleasure at home. In a report by the Department for Education, there were some incredible findings:
- ‘Evidence suggests that there is a positive relationship between reading frequency, reading enjoyment and attainment’
- ‘Reading enjoyment has been reported as more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status’
- ‘Evidence suggests that reading for pleasure is an activity that has emotional and social consequences’
So fostering a habit of reading for pleasure in young people helps them to be more successful in school, and many teachers already feel the innate truth of this. But reading for pleasure also has the ability to do more than increase school outcomes: it can improve a person’s social mobility, emotional intelligence and mental wellbeing.
Reading widely and voraciously also opens up the world. For adults and children alike, books offer an opportunity to learn about and empathise with times, locations and cultures which are hugely different to our own. But the opposite is also true and equally important. Books offer all groups in society the opportunity to hear voices and stories that represent their own lives, that capture, validate and enrich their own experiences. Or, as Alan Bennett puts it,
“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”
With all of this in mind, here are some suggestions for reading for pleasure texts for key stage three students. This list has been curated by teachers, for teachers. These books have been read with joy, shock, and a few misty eyes in schools across the country. I hope that this list offers you some new ideas for a new class reader, a suggested reading list for your keen year 8s, or even some fodder for bedtime reading.