Ancient Greece

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Rick Reardon

Percy Jackson is always in trouble. Diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia he has been kicked out of six schools by the age of 12. It comes as a shock then, to discover that he is actually a demi-god whose real father is Poseidon.  Soon he is on his way to Camp Half-blood to start his mission to help the Gods of Mount Olympus save the world. First of a gripping series which has made Ancient Greek mythology common currency among 10-13 year-olds. You can’t argue with that.

The Crown of Violet, Geoffrey Trease

High up on a stone seat in the great open-air theatre of Athens, Alexis, son of Leon, watches the Festival of Plays - and dreams of seeing his own play on that famous stage. So, as the summer passes, Alexis writes his play for the next year's Festival. But then, with his friend Corinna, he learns that Athens has enemies - enemies who do not like Athenian democracy, and who are planning a revolution to end it all.

Ancient Rome

Gladiator, Simon Scarrow

Historically-minded boys will love this sword and sandal series from an established author of popular adult historical fiction.

Tiger, Tiger, Lynne Reid Banks

The fates of two tiger cubs brought to Rome are divided when one becomes the pampered pet of Caesar’s daughter, while the other is trained for a bloody future in the arena.

The Roman Mysteries, Caroline Lawrence

Four children solve mysteries in Ancient Rome. Very well-done, the settings are well-researched and authentic and some tricky issues are tackled. Not really suitable for class readers but very good for independent reading in Y7/8.

Roman Britain

Legions of the Eagle, Henry Treece

The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliff

Determined to restore his father’s honour after he vanished, with his entire legion, into thin air, Marcus, invalided out of the Roman army after being wounded in action, embarks on a quest that takes him north of Hadrian’s Wall to find the 9th legion’s missing eagle. First of a superb trilogy. The sequel, The Lantern Bearers, is even better. The recent film, however, was a big disappointment.

Norman Conquest

Hounds of the King, Henry Treece

One day a golden-haired warrior came riding to a Saxon village in Mercia, and tossed a penny to a boy .. The warrior was Harold, son of Earl Godwin, the boy, Beornoth, a lowly thegn's son, destined to serve his king until he perished in the savage hilltop fight known to future generations as the Battle of Hastings. The death of Anglo-Saxon England as seen from the point of view of one of Harold Godwinson’s household warriors. 



The Woolpack, Cynthia Hartnett

As the son of a prominent and successful wool merchant in 15th century Burford, Nicholas Fetterlock’s future is assured. But when he uncovers a plot to ruin his father’s business, he has to act fast to secure his inheritance. Terrific period detail and a deep sense of place make this classic children’s novel timeless.

Ransom for a Knight, Barbara Leonie Picard

When a strange knight arrives wounded at the manor house belonging to Alys de Renneville, he tells  Alys that her father and brother are have survived the battle and being held for ransom by the Scots. When no one believes her story, she sets off secretly to rescue them herself. Barbara Leonie Picard is a writer on a par with Rosemary Sutcliff and Henry Treece, but for some reason, not so well known.


The Other Countess, Eve Edwards

Eve Edwards is one of the new stars of young adult historical fiction writing. This is one of several books based around the Tudor courts which add a little more spice to the tried and tested formula, making it idea for girls who  may have outgrown mainstream children’s fiction.

The Lady Grace Mysteries, Patricia Finney

Grace Cavendish, a 13-year-old orphan is Queen Elizabeth’s  youngest lady-in-waiting. In this series of books, which run alphabetically from Assassin to, so far, Loot, she solves mysteries, sees off unwanted suitors and foils attempts on the Queen’s life. When it comes to the Tudors, Finney knows her stuff and her settings and dialogue are always convincing.

Stars of Fortune, Cynthia Harnett

The Washington children discover that Princess Elizabeth, imprisoned by her sister Mary Tudor, is being held in a nearby castle and attempt to help her escape. Harnett is particularly good at capturing the details of everyday life in Tudor times.


17th Century

Children of the New Forest

Classic Civil War tale, biased towards the Royalists of course, and rather wordy and slow-moving by modern standards, but very bookish KS3 pupils would benefit from reading it.

I, Coriander, Sally Gardner

Timeslip/fantasy novel which magical evocation of 17th century life. Would be a great choice to teach fairytales in KS3.

The Devil on the Road, Robert Westall, Macmillan, London, 1978

Seventies timeslip classic from the wonderful Robert Westall. Caught out on his motorbike in a rainstorm, student John Webster finds himself dragged into the 17th century where he is caught up in the evil machinations of witchfinder-general Matthew Hopkins.  Brilliantly evokes both periods of time in which it is set.

Simon, Rosemary Sutcliff

Boyhood friends find themselves on opposite sides when the Civil War comes. Set in North Devon, this is an excellent take on the read dilemmas that the outbreak of civil war brings to society.

18th Century

Coram Boy, Jamila Gavin

Grittily realistic tale of life in the eighteenth-century underclass. The Coram boy of the title is Aaron, the illegitimate son of a wealthy landowner, who grows up in the Coram Foundling Hospital. The book has everything: horror, intrigue, suspense, romance and will appeal to boys and girls. Not too long for a class reader and there is a stage play and a lot of resources to support it online.

Revolution, Jennifer Donnelly

Timeslip novel in which sophisticated New York girl gets caught up in the French Revolution.  The ending is a bit of a let down, but the characterisation is great as is the evocation of Paris in the grip of the Terror.

The Red Necklace, Sally Gardner

Against the backdrop of the Terror, Yann, a gypsy boy with telepathic powers, falls in love with the aristocratic Sidonie, and rescues her from the unwanted attentions of the villainous Count Kallivoski.



The Ruby in the Smoke, Philip Pullman

Hard-riding, straight-shooting Sally Lockhart is the Victorian girl detective par excellence.

Velvet, Mary Hooper

Velvet is an orphan forced to work in a Victorian steam laundry, until she is noticed by Madame Savoya, a famous medium, who asks Velvet to come to work for her. Velvet is dazzled at first by the young yet beautifully dressed and bejewelled Madame. But soon Velvet realises that Madame Savoya is not all that she says she is, and Velvet's very life is in danger. Well-paced historical adventure from the always excellent Mary Hooper.





First World War

All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque       

A brilliant description of  World War One trench warfare as seen from the point of view of a young German soldier. Paul joins the army straight out of school on a wave or patriotic fervour, but disillusionment follows very quickly. A graphic description of the horror and futility of war.

Flambards, K M Peyton

Classic romantic trilogy following the fortunes of Christina and her cousins Mark and Will through the First World War. A beautiful evocation of the period that touches on all the main social issues from class to the suffragette movement.

How Many Miles to Babylon?, Jennifer Johnston,

Written many years before Private Peaceful this has a similar storyline, but is far more reflective and literary and thus possibly more suited to KS4 pupils or an able Y9 class.  

Private Peaceful, Michael Morpurgo

Heartbreaking story of the World War One trenches that never fails to engage young teenagers’ emotions. Morpurgo has revisited the territory of his enduringly popular War Horse with this emotionally charged narrative of brothers at war.

Remembrance, Theresa Breslin

Thoughtful and moving First World War story told from the point of view of four teenagers  from the same village who are caught up in the war. The romantic plot will appeal to girls, and there is also a strong feminist angle as Margaret, one of the main characters struggles against the restrictions of middle-class life to become a nurse in Northern France, while her pacifist brother Francis wrestles with his conscience.

War Horse, Michael Morpurgo

The brutality of World War One as seen through the eyes of Joey, the beloved horse of young Albert, who is sold to the Army for use as a cavalry mount. Morpurgo’s use of the point of view of the patiently suffering animal is very effective in getting the horror of the Western Front across to a younger audience.


Second World War

Between Shades of Grey, Ruta Sepetys

Not to be confused with the very different 50 Shades of Grey, this excellent title from the Carnegie 2012 shortlist tells the story of 15-year-old Lina, a Lithuanian girl arrested by the Soviets in 1941 and sent to Siberia.

Blitzcat, Robert Westall

A small black cat wanders through war-torn Britain searching for her master, touching the lives of many people as she does so and so offering a panoramic view of wartime life. This is Robert Westall though, not Michael Morpurgo, so lots of Seventies realism which means  there is an extra-marital affair between an American soldier and a British woman to contend with. Great book though

Carrie’s War, Nina Bawden

Frequently used in primary schools, this is the story of brother and sister Carrie and Nick, who are evacuated to Wales where they befriend Hepzibah Green in the remote and enchanting Druid’s Bottom.

Goodnight, Mr Tom

Classic story  about the relationship between London evacuee Willy and his host Mr Tom whose initially curmudgeonly persona hides a sad secret.

I am David, Anne Holm

Not strictly speaking a WWII novel, it chronicles the journey of a young boy who escapes from what appears to be a labour camp in Russian-occupied Southern Europe some years after the war, though this is never exactly specified. A good alternative to The Silver Sword for Y7/8.

Number the Stars, Lois Lowry

The story, seen through the eyes of a young Danish girl called Annemarie, of how the Danish Resistance helped Jewish families to escape the Nazis.

Once, Morris Gleitzman

It’s 1942. Felix runs away from the Catholic orphanage in Poland where his Jewish parents placed him to try to keep him safe. On his journey to find them, he befriends the orphaned Zelda and together they plunge into the heart of darkness. If I were going to do a Holocaust novel at KS3 I would pick Once over The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas any day of the week. There is a sequel, Then, which is even more harrowing then Once.

The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak

Flawed but fascinating tragedy set in WWII Germany, it follows the fortunes of Leisel through the horrors of the war. The main character in the book, however, is arguably the narrator – Death. Not suitable for KS3, but a challenging read for a bright KS4 pupil.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, John Boyne

This one, though harrowing,  is becoming very popular with schools since the film version came out. Personally, I find it emotionally dishonest and meretricious but lots of people love it. Plenty of resources around to support it, and the film of course, which if anything is even worse than the book.

The Kingdom by the Sea, Robert Westall

My favourite of Westall’s  WWII novels, this is the story of a young boy called Harry who takes the road with his dog when his family home is obliterated in a bombing raid.

The Machine-Gunners, Robert Westall

Another Seventies classic from Robert Westall. He never pulls his punches and this novel grapples with some very emotive issues as a group of children get more than they bargained for when they capture a machine-gun from a crashed German plane. Highly recommended.

The Reader, Bernhard Schlink

Too much sex in it to be suitable for KS3, but for KS4 independent reading this German novel about a boy’s relationship with a former concentration camp guard is by far the best take on the issue of guilt and responsibility I have read.

The Silver Sword, Ian Serralier

A group of Polish siblings make a journey through Europe to find their parents in the aftermath of WWII. Ideal class novel for Y7.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Judith Kerr

Beautifully written autobiographical story about the author’s flight from Nazi Germany and subsequent wanderings across Europe. Often done in primary, but one to consider for a Y7 class reader if you know the feeder schools haven’t done it.


Cold War

Life, An Exploded Diagram, Mal Peet

Growing up in Norfolk during the Cold War, the book intersperses Clem’s teenage love affair with factual accounts of the Cuban Missile Crisis in a beautifully written coming of age novel told in flashback.



Northern Ireland

Across the Barricades, Joan Lingard,Penguin, 1972

Romeo and Juliet story, written at the height of the Troubles, about a Protestant girl and a Catholic boy who incur the wrath of family and community by falling in love.  Second book of series of five which follow the fortunes of Kevin and Sadie through their escape from Northern Ireland and exile in London. Gives an excellent insight into the issues facing working-class people in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. There is also a playscript of the novel and some excellent resources on Teachit to support both novel and play. Ideal for Y7/8 as it is a short novel or to contextualise R&J in Y9.

Shadows on our Skin,  Jennifer Johnston,

Frequently taught in Irish schools at KS4 level, this is a story of a Catholic boy living in Derry’s Bogside during the 1969 clashes, who struggles with conflicted loyalties as his friendship  with a young English teacher from the South causes him to question  his Republican brother’s IRA activities.

Bog Child, Siobhan Dowd

When Fergus and his uncle discover a child’s body buried in the bog on the Irish side of the Border, he is swept into an adult world of complications and discoveries. Set in the 1980s, the book explores the issues around the hunger strike, as Fergus tries to negotiate a web of complex loyalties, while Mel, whose body had lain undiscovered in the bog for nearly 2,000 years, tells her story through Fergus’ increasingly vivid dreams. 


Vietnam War

Fallen Angels, Walter Dean Myers

Not brilliantly written but with a compelling narrative drive, this is the story of a black American teenager sent to serve in Vietnam at the age of 17 and gives a very realistic view of the conflict. Possibly too graphic for under-13s, but highly recommended for KS4 pupils studying the Vietnam war.

The Road Home, Ellen Emerson White

The Vietnam War from the perspective of a young Army nurse.