At the very top of our list, what could we choose but His Dark Materials?
These three classics tell the story of Lyra, a girl living in a place very like Oxford, but with one big difference – it’s in another world. Lyra gets caught up in the dark and philosophical world of the adults around her, along with her dæmon and permanent companion, Pan, who is a physical representation of part of Lyra’s inner self. Together, Pan and Lyra go on a series of adventures, through magnificent scenery and with diverse companions. The books feature elements of adventure and fantasy. The coming-of-age aspect is also central to the overarching theme of the work.
Whilst ostensibly written for children or young teens, the density of the subject matter and the universality of the themes make these essential reading for book lovers of any age.
The first book was made into the film The Golden Compass, released in 2007 to mixed reviews. The film removed and diluted much of the material making up the anti-religious theme in the book.
Northern Lights (1995)
The Subtle Knife (1997)
The Amber Spyglass (2000)
It’s no secret that we’re huge fans of the teenage wizard and the seven increasingly lengthy stories that featured him. Published between 1997 and 2007, the books were the defining pieces of literature for a whole generation of young people.
The stories, which tell of Harry, an orphan who grows up without knowing he has magical powers, are set at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where Harry makes friends, learns magic and fights battles against his parents’ killer, Lord Voldemort. Translated into 73 languages and now the topic of several higher education modules, the Harry Potter series had to come near the top of our list not only for its incredible popularity, but also for the enduring themes of friendship, truth and power that permeate the work. Beautifully written, this immersive world will provide the pop culture references for many generations to come.
The films, too, were a huge success – financially, at least. The eight-part series (the final novel was split into two films) grossed over $7.7 billion, making it the second-highest grossing film series of all time. The films, which featured a predominantly British cast, were at the height of cutting-edge special effects and starred actors such as Alan Rickman, Dame Maggie Smith and Julie Walters. Whilst it didn’t entirely do the books justice, it had a fairly good go at it.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)
Katniss Everdeen lives in a post-apocalyptic version of the USA, where inhabitants’ movements are restricted to the districts in which they were born. Condemned to a life of drudgery, Katniss works hard to feed her family. However, when her name is pulled from a hat, she is chosen as a participant in the Hunger Games, a fight to the death between young people of rival districts.
Dark and violent, these books are well-loved by this generation’s teenagers, but perhaps are not appropriate for a younger audience. Entwining romance and action, these page-turners have short chapters to encourage reluctant readers and enough plot twists to keep anyone reading.
This immensely popular series has achieved cult status in recent years, thanks not only to the books, but also to the very successful films which accompany it.
The Hunger Games (2008)
Catching Fire (2009)
Described as ‘Die Hard, with fairies’, the Artemis Fowl series is an incredible mix of James Bond style gadgets, violence, crime and humour. Artemis is a twelve-year-old genius determined to earn lots of money and become a super-villain. After he captures a fairy to hold for ransom, he engages in an increasingly dangerous battle of wits.
Silly without ever seeming stupid, the Artemis Fowl books are addictive page-turners which prompt comparisons with James Bond and Alex Rider. As they never take themselves too seriously, the onslaught of fairies, centaurs and other supernatural creatures never jars with those who wouldn’t normally choose fantasy.
With proper plot and character progression throughout the series, this is one collection where you don’t feel like you are getting more of the same, but instead enjoy an epic and dramatic tale of good and evil.
Artemis Fowl (2001)
Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident (2002)
Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code (2003)
Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception (2005)
Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony (2006)
Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox (2008)
Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex (2010)
Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian (2012)
Whilst for some this might seem like a fairly controversial choice, the incredible popularity that the Twilight saga (both films and books) has had over the past decade meant that it had to feature somewhere on our list!
Protagonist Bella moves to a new city, where she falls in love with a gorgeous yet mysterious boy who turns out to be a vampire. Some critics have complained that the books show Bella to be a weak everywoman and Edward – the male lead – to be controlling and jealous. However, it is clear that the action-packed stories have enough romance and action to keep most young teens fairly interested.
The story is clearly written and simply explained, so it’s a great and easy-to-follow romp for anyone who wants some light reading matter.
New Moon (2006)
Breaking Dawn (2008)
This series of thirteen novels for older children or young teens follows the lives of three orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire, from the moment they become orphans.
Written in a mock-gothic style, the novels are full of wit and darkness. The narrator, Lemony Snicket, plays an important role in the stories, talking to the reader, and hinting at his own involvement in the proceedings.
As the Baudelaire siblings encounter disaster upon disaster, we watch them tackle life’s problems with ingenuity and teamwork. The self-aware tongue-in-cheek style of the narrative makes them an entertaining series for anyone well-read, whilst the exciting storylines and conversational tone make them ideal to hook in younger readers.
A film adaptation of the first three novels was made in 2004, but in spite of modest success, the subsequent books were not adapted.
The Bad Beginning (1999)
The Reptile Room (1999)
The Wide Window (2000)
The Miserable Mill (2000)
The Austere Academy (2000)
The Ersatz Elevator (2001)
The Vile Village (2001)
The Hostile Hospital (2001)
The Carnivorous Carnival (2002)
The Slippery Slope (2003)
The Grim Grotto (2004)
The Penultimate Peril (2005)
The End (2006)
Written when Riordan’s son requested yet another bedtime story based on the Ancient Greek myths, the Percy Jackson books have been a huge hit with everyone from primary school upwards.
The stories follow the life of Percy Jackson, a demi-god and son of Poseidon. When he is sent to summer camp for half-bloods, he meets friends just like himself and embarks on a huge adventure. Fast-paced and told through first-person narration, the stories are made all the better for being based on Greek myth, meaning that readers will educate themselves whilst enjoying an easy novel at the same time.
The first book has also been made into a successful film, which has encouraged even more young people to start reading what is a delightful series.
The Lightning Thief (2005)
The Sea of Monsters (2006)
The Titan’s Curse (2007)
The Battle of the Labyrinth (2008)
The Last Olympian (2009)
The Mortal Engines series is a futuristic dystopia, set in a post-apocalyptic world where people live in large cities which travel around consuming one another in a bid to win increasingly scarce resources.
Whilst science fiction isn’t for everyone, these stories work as a parable for modern times and our environmental battle against consumerism. Suitable for teens and adults alike, but probably a bit dark and tricky for most children, the books provide plenty of humour and in-jokes, and lots for any steam-punk lover.
Engaging and with tons of fabulously strong characters, Mortal Engines is a must for anyone who has been enjoying the recent surge in popularity for dystopian young adults’ fiction.
Mortal Engines (2001)
Predator’s Gold (2003)
Infernal Devices (2005)
A Darkling Plain (2006)
C S Lewis, a writer and theologian, is best-known for his cherished children’s classics, the Chronicles of Narnia. Set in a magical parallel universe, the series follows a number of children who discover Narnia, where animals talk and Aslan, the mighty lion, is the ruler of them all.
With a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle analogies for the Christian faith, the stories deal with themes like trust, faith, and the battle between good and evil. With accessible language and gentle, beautiful storylines, this series can be a great book to read as a family or alone, whatever your age or interests. With adventure and coming-of-age, there’s something for everyone.
Whilst there have been films made of some of the books, they haven’t all had an adaptation made, which is a pity, as the stunning settings and young characters make for very appealing epics.
The Magician’s Nephew (1955)
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
The Horse and His Boy (1954)
Prince Caspian (1951)
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
The Silver Chair (1953)
The Last Battle (1956)
According to statements from cabinet insiders last week, plans to cut university grants to students from poorer backgrounds are likely.
The idea was raised in 2013 but blocked by then-deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. While cutting the grants could save around £2 billion over three years, whether this would save enough money to make the cuts worthwhile in the long run is debatable.
The grants currently go to around half a million students whose family income is less than £42 000, and is used by most to pay for basic living costs such as accommodation. Families who earn more than this amount fund the young people’s additional costs through university themselves.
This is yet another blow to equality in higher education, following the recent raising of tuition fees to £9000 a year in most UK universities. At Bringing Words to Life, we believe that access to potentially life-altering degrees should be for everyone, not only the young people who come from the wealthiest families. The hard work that education charities like ourselves do the help narrow the achievement gap for everyone will be negated if real financial barriers are put between young people and their futures.
Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0