11 Plus Exams Guide- Classic Book List

Many 11 Plus exams, whether they are for Independent Schools or Grammar Schools, have difficult comprehension texts within them. The texts may be about unfamiliar subject matter and contain complex vocabulary and complex sentence construction.

Getting children to read suitable classic books helps them to develop the ability to deal with more complex English and helps them develop a broader vocabulary.

Here are some examples of classic texts which have come up in recent years in a variety of 11 Plus Exams (the list is not exhaustive):

  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy             
  • Kipps – HG Wells
  • The Road to Wigan Pier – George Orwell              
  •  Tom Sawyer- Mark Twain
  • The Mill on  the Floss – George Elliot                      
  • Tobermory – H.H. Monroe  
  • Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy    
  •  Longitude – Dava Sobel
  • The Destructors – Graham Greene                         
  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

While the majority of these books wouldn’t be enjoyed by most children, they can prepare for these type of complex texts by reading classic books which they may enjoy. Below we have produced our a list of classic books  that we feel children will definitively enjoy.

For more general information on 11 Plus exams, including the types of exam and their structures,  please follow this link. If you want more information about the English aspect of the 11 Plus please follow this link. To download from our range of free English papers follow this link.

Why reading classic books is so important

Classic books introduce children to more complex sentence structures and a wider vocabulary. Both are essential for 11 Plus success. Children who read classic books also tend to develop better reading speed and accuracy than other children.

To find out more about developing a wide vocabulary click here.

Or to find out more about using classic books to deliver paired reading click here.

11 Plus Exams – Classic Book list for Children

We have set out below a list of classic books which we feel will be useful for children to read. In many families children will read a book from school in their own time (normally less advanced), they will have a book on the go for their own enjoyment and they will have a separate book they will be using for paired reading activities with their parents. We suggest starting with classic books as a paired reading activity and seeing how you get on. We have tried to give some indication of what the book is about and difficulty for each title. Of course there are thousands more books we could have chosen, but these are all classic books which parents have recommended and which we have seen children reading successfully for decades as part of an 11 Plus preparation programme.  

Classic books for younger children

Hans Christian Andersen – Fairy Tales

In this book there are all 168 of Hans Christian Anderson’s famous fairy tales. We always recommend this book (especially for younger children) because the stories are reasonably short and the themes appeal to children.  This book works really well for paired reading.

Brothers Grimm – Fairy Tales

This is a collection of the Brothers Grimm works. This is a book all children should be exposed to at a young age. Because there are lots of stories here you can focus on those which most appeal to your child. The book contains all the classics (Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White) as well as many more equally good stories.

Roald Dahl – Story Collection

You could choose any of Roald Dahl’s books, they are all very good for children. This collection brings together all the best ones (The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits). We have found lots of children really enjoy reading these books.

Enid Blyton

Enid Blyton as a prolific children’s author. She wrote lots of series and it is quite normal for children to get into a series and then want to read all the books in it. While any of Enid Blyton’s books will be suitable was have picked on two series in particular.

 Enid Blyton – Malory Towers series – Book collection

These titles can be bought individually but we think it’s nice (and better value) to buy them as a box set. Malory Towers follows the adventures of girls in a boarding school in Cornwall. The original Enid Blyton books feature her heroine Darrell Rivers and follows her and her companions from their first year through to their last term in a series of six books.

Enid Blyton – Famous Five series- Book collection

These titles can be bought individually but having a collection is very popular. The Famous Five is perhaps Blyton’s most popular series. The books follow the adventures of four children and their dog Timmy. Each book focuses on a different adventure. We have found that once children get onto these books they want to keep reading them.

More advanced Classic Books for children

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Lost World

The classic story of Ed Malone (journalist) and Professor Challenger (explorer) and their journey deep into South America where a lost world of dinosaurs awaits them. This is a really exciting adventure which children love.

Frances Hodgson Burnett – The Secret Garden

A true classic of children’s literature. The book features Mary Lennox (aged 10) and deals with her  life as she moves from India ( on the death of her parents) to living with the uncle at Misselthwaite Manor.

Arthur Ransome – Swallows and Amazons

The adventures of two groups of children who learn to sail and take part in numerous adventures in the lake district. Swallows and Amazons is the first in a series of books.

C.S Lewis – Narnia Series

The most famous high fantasy children’s classic series. Starting with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and continuing for seven books the action is based in the fictional realm of Narnia. We’d certainly recommend trying The Lion, The Witch and the The Wardrobe but you can also buy the box set of all seven books which is quite good value.

Laura Ingalls Wilder – Little House on the Prairie

Based on Laura’s memories of her childhood these books have been firm favourites for years.

Laura Ingalls Wilde r- Little House in the Big Woods

In this book the action takes place in the forests of Wisconsin. Those children who like Little House on the Prairie will also like Little House in the Big Woods

E. Nesbit – The Railway Children

The adventures of three children who are re-housed during the war. Their father is wrongly accused of being a spy and they join forces with an old man who they befriend to clear his name.

Mark Twain –  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Including Tom’s best friends Huck Finn and Joe Harper, this books follows Tom’s adventures in Missouri.

Mark Twain – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Another of Twain’s classic books. This one focusses on Huckleberry Finn and his adventures although also includes his friend Tom Sawyer.

Daniel Defoe – Robinson Crusoe

A gripping novel which starts with Crusoe’s numerous naval adventures which lead to him being shipwrecked for many years. One of the all-time great adventure stories complete with a happy ending.

Lucy Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables

Anne is an orphan who is sent to a farm to help Mirilla and Cuthbert with the work. They had wanted a boy but Anne works out well. Anne forms a very strong bond with Mirilla and returns to Green Gables to help her towards the end of her life.

E. Nesbit – Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet and The Story of the Amulet

This is a fantasy trilogy Five Children and it (the first in the series) starts with a group of children who discover a sand-fairy (Psammead) who encourages them to make a series of wishes- many of which don’t turn out well. Each of the books could be read on its own or as part of the series.

William Golding – Lord of the Flies

A story about a group of boys who are stuck on an uninhabited island and try to govern themselves. Modern behavioural conventions are soon left way behind in favour of survival of the fittest. The process has disastrous consequences.

J.R.R Tolkien- The Hobbit

Classic fantasy novel. The hobbit (Bilbo Baggins) sets out to  win a share of the treasure held by Smaug the dragon. The story tells of Bilbo’s adventures and his growing maturity. This book is often a favourite for fathers to read with their children.

J.R.R Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings

This is Tolkien’s epic fantasy trilogy. The intention was to write a sequel to The Hobbit but what Tolkien did was far grander than that. Over 150 million copies have been sold. The Lord of the Rings is published in three volumes:

The Fellowship of the Ring

The Two Towers

The Return of the King

Over the years very many children have had their imagination captured by this book. If your child has shown any interest in fantasy books then this is often an ideal classic book for them

George Orwell – Animal Farm

Animal Farm, is in essence, a critical commentary on Stalin’s rule in Russia after the Russian revolution. Despite its heavy allegorical undertone the book has been enjoyed by generations of children. They don’t have difficulty understanding the core concepts of fairness/unfairness and equality/inequality which come through strongly in the book.

Many parents and children are a little worried by the prospect of reading classic books together – don’t be. Our advice is to give it a go and see how you get on. There’s bound to be a classic in this list that will capture your child’s imagination. Remember reading classic books is essential for children who want to develop a wider vocabulary and be able to deal with the more complex texts they will find in 11 Plus comprehension exercises.

To review the books that we suggest you use during your 11 Plus preparation preparation, then try some of these links: