From the much-loved classic Tom Sawyer to the modern classic His Dark Materials, Lucy Mangan and Imogen Russell-Williams pick their top reads for children aged 12 and over.
The first entry in Cassandra Mortmain’s diary ends with her feeling happier than she ever has in her life, despite her depressed father and impoverished state. “Perhaps it is because I have satisfied my creative urge; or it may be due to the thought of eggs for tea.” The story of the restoration of a degree of the family fortunes unfolds in the same briskly beguiling voice and appeals to the romantic streak in every teenage heart. Trust no one who does not love this or, of course, 101 Dalmatians.
Bleak, brutal, warm, lush and exhilarating by turns, fiercely intelligent, compassionate and compelling always, it will undo all the harm or all the good you feel was done by letting your offspring loose on Narnia. That’s what reading is for.
An unbelievably thrilling read that nevertheless poses profound questions – about the effects of war, the constraints of love and hate, the competing claims of vengeance and forgiveness – as the epic tale of Todd’s efforts to escape various warmongering forces unfolds. Profoundly humane and utterly magnificent.
At a time when the disturbingly affectless Gossip Girl series and Twilight books, with their troubling attitudes towards teenage girls’ sexuality, have such a stranglehold, Blume’s concentration on the lived experience of adolescence makes the books an increasingly valuable corrective to this prevailing mood, as well as continuing to be great reads.
Any synopsis makes it sound twee – irascible, long-bereaved old man Tom Oakley grudgingly takes London evacuee and abused child Will into his home and their needs and gifts help heal each others’ wounds – but it is not. It is beautiful, sad and true. Get it to your kids before it is ruined by being presented as a set book at school.
Talking of beautiful, sad and true – Gombrich’s short, measured jog through the main civilisations and events that have shaped the world is a warm, witty presentation of vital facts in narrative form, which grew out of a correspondence the author had with his friend’s young daughter. And a useful reminder that there is lots of fantastic non-fiction as well as fiction out there too.
The boy with Asperger’s syndrome, who is trying to navigate his way through a family break-up and solve the mystery of who killed the dog next door, provides an unlikely hero whose fresh perspective engages the reader, although he fails to engage with people himself. It’s one of those “easy reads” with substance for which there is frequently such a gaping need in teenage life.
There is something for everyone (or, OK, every girl – much as we hate to admit the possibility of gender division in readers, we sometimes must) in Alcott’s bestseller. Tomboys have Jo, wannabe celebs have Amy, homebodies have Meg and drips have Beth. And, of course, because we all contain multitudes, we love all of them equally according to mood. Except, of course, for Beth. Die, drip, die.
And a classic for – ostensibly –the boys. Until they are ready for the greater demands of Huckleberry Finn, whet juvenile appetites with Tom, his entrepreneurial spirit and his taste for treasure-hunting adventure. A paean to true boyhood.
In 1659, 14-year-old Mary Newbury travels from England to the New World, where she becomes embroiled in what are effectively the Salem witch trials. It’s a completely absorbing account of what happens when suspicion and rumour fuel secret agendas, prejudices and politics. A book to make you sigh with satisfaction.
This contemporary retelling of Othello – the doomed couple now a black Brazilian star footballer and a pampered young pop goddess – will continue to grip young readers for years to come.