CSI Literacy NZ

20 great children’s books to read to your class

20 great children’s books to read to your class

Reading aloud to the class is a part of daily life for many of you teachers. 

But do you know why it’s so important? (Other than the fact that it’s a great way to settle kids after breaks!) Well, it can do wonders for your students’ literacy development.

You can read more about that in 'Why you should read aloud to your class', but if you’ve ever been stuck for books to read, we’ve got a few ideas.

Here’s a list of new and old stories that bridge a range of year levels. Something for everyone!


20 great books for reading aloud

1. See Ya Simon – David Hill

This is a book about a teenager (Simon) who’s normal in every way, except for the fact he has muscular dystrophy and doesn’t have long to live. (Check out the article about reading aloud if you want to know how it impacted nine-year-old me.) 

2. Island of the Blue Dolphins – Scott O’Dell

Another classic – and it’s based on a true story! It tells the story of a young girl stranded alone for years on an island off the California coast. Read it, and then get your students researching Juana Maria, a Native American left alone for 18 years on San Nicolas Island in the 19th century.

Our CSI Private Eye case, The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island, tells the story of Juana Maria. Try the demo!

3. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – John Boyne

This book is worth the read just for the discussion you’ll have with your students at the end. There are a few WWII novels on this list – this one focuses on the holocaust and the relationship between boys on opposite sides of a concentration camp fence.

4. Z for Zachariah – Robert C O’Brien

Unlike some of the more recent releases, there’s a good chance your class won’t know novels like this – classics written well before their time. (Or even their parents’ time!) Z for Zachariah is a diary written by 16-year-old Ann Burden, who has survived a nuclear war and lives alone in a small valley… until the arrival of a mysterious stranger.

5. Goodnight Mister Tom – Michelle Magorian

Full disclosure: this is on the list because it’s my all-time favourite. (I first read it 20 years ago and have read it countless times since.) Another WWII novel, Goodnight Mister Tom is about an abused boy who is evacuated to the country at the start of the war.

6. The Machine Gunners – Robert Westall

The Machine Gunners is a historical novel your class will love (especially the boys). It’s set in World War II (last one!) England, and features children who find a crashed German aircraft with a machine gun and ammunition. They build a fortress and capture and imprison a German gunner.

7. Charlotte’s Web – EB White

The story of a pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte – particularly great for young readers!

8. Wonder – RJ Palacio

August Pullman is a 10-year-old living in New York. He has a rare medical facial deformity, and has been home-schooled his whole life ­– until now. Wonder is as heartbreaking as it is funny, and is great for teaching kindness and tolerance.

9. Matilda – Roald Dahl

No list would ever be complete without Roald Dahl, but honestly it doesn’t even matter whether it’s Matilda or The BFG, Fantastic Mr Fox, or James and the Giant Peach. Just read some Roald Dahl.

10. The Indian in the Cupboard – Lynne Reid Banks

A young boy discovers a magical cupboard that turns toys into real living beings, specifically a toy plastic American Indian figure.


11. How to Train Your Dragon – Cressida Cowell

You’ll find that many students will know the film (it’s really good!) – this is the book on which it’s based. There are 12 in the series, which follow Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, a Viking who captures a dragon and attempts to train him. 

12. Holes – Louis Sachar

Stanley Yelnats is a 14-year-old boy from a poor family. He’s wrongly accused of stealing and sent to Camp Green Lake (which is actually in the middle of the desert), where they spend their days digging holes to “build character”. Very entertaining!

13. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

If (by some chance) you don’t know anything about this book, here it is: The Hobbit follows Bilbo Baggins on his quest to win a share of some treasure guarded by a dragon. Beloved children’s fantasy. (Not bad read for a book that’s pushing 80 years old!)

14. The Book With No Pictures – BJ Novak

It’s a picture book with no pictures, and it somehow manages to be completely captivating anyway. It shows how brilliantly words can paint pictures by themselves.

15. Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan

There are a few great series that are perfect for reluctant readers (especially boys). This is one of them. Percy Jackson is a 12-year-old boy who struggles with dyslexia and ADHD. Then he learns he’s the son of a god.

16. Bridge to Terabithia – Katherine Paterson

Two lonely children create a magical forest kingdom – and overcome a few life challenges along the way. That ending! 

17. The Day the Crayons Quit – Drew Daywalt

Crayons have feelings, too! This is a great picture book for all ages. (Trust me, you might find yourself laughing more than your students.

18. Happy Potter & The Chamber of Secrets – JK Rowling

Silencio children! Harry Potter, the great engager. Like Roald Dahl, no list is complete without it.

19. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day – Judith Viorst

From the moment Alexander wakes up things just do not go his way. This book provides a great way to talk about feelings – and it can help make any kid’s awful day look pretty OK by comparison. (“Some days are just like that.”)

20. The Giver ­– Lois Lowry

Jonas lives in a seemingly ideal (but colourless) world of conformity and contentment – until he’s given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory. The Giver will introduce some great concepts to your readers: what it means to feel, and whether something is good or evil or somewhere in between.


Any other must-reads you’d recommend other teachers? Leave a comment below!

Related articles:

20 great book series to get your students hooked
Let’s hear it: Why you should read aloud to your class
Listen Up! Audio texts and how they enhance literacy


About the author 

Keri is a teacher, publisher and communications specialist. She's worked in primary and early childhood education, and now manages the digital communications for CSI Literacy.


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