A picture of a selection of classic books for 9 to 12 year olds on a white background with purple squiggles

Image: Ryan MacEachern/Penguin

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1838)

‘Please, sir, I want some more.’ Those fateful words change orphan Oliver Twist’s life forever. Born into poverty, Oliver is raised in a workhouse where he is forced to work hard for very little food. And after he asks the unforgiving Mr Bumble for some more gruel, Oliver has no choice but to flee to London. Upon arrival, he meets the Artful Dodger and is welcomed into professional thief Fagin’s gang and taught the art of pickpocketing. Oliver’s first thieving mission doesn’t go exactly to plan (he gets caught) but he manages to land on his feet and in the care of the kind Mr Brownlow. But Fagin and fellow criminal Bill Sikes are worried that Oliver may talk. So, the wicked pair make a plan to drag him back... Charles Dickens' iconic tale is one everyone needs on their bookshelf.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)

Mary Lennox, a spoilt, disagreeable orphan, is the unlikely heroine of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s cherished novel. Sent to live with her uncle on the bleak Yorkshire moors, Mary starts to explore the grounds of the rambling manor and takes an interest in a mysterious walled garden. Assisted by a robin redbreast, Mary unearths the lost key and starts to tend to the garden with the help of her new friends. The Secret Garden is a delightful story of transformation and rejuvenation, which will teach young readers about the healing powers of friendship and kindness.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)

Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows has been adored from generation to generation. In this enduring classic, we meet his splendid animal characters: Mole, Rat, Mr. Toad, and Mr. Badger, and revel in their adventures on the banks of the River Thames. Told in Graham’s gorgeous lyrical prose, readers will be transported with tales of Toad Hall, the Wild Wood, and ultimately friendship. This book is an endearing treasure.

Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian (1981)

The Second World War has just been declared and so children in the cities are being evacuated to the country. One of those children is the sad and neglected Willie Beech who ends up with grumpy old Tom Oakley. Despite their differences, the pair form a steadfast connection and flourish together. But then Willie’s mum summons him back to London and the pair wonder whether they’ll ever see each other again. Goodnight Mister Tom is a timeless favourite about the power of friendship.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)

Few books describe the intricacies of moving from childhood to adulthood with such accuracy and tenderness as Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War, the novel centres around the March girls as they navigate poverty, romance, work, success, failure, and illness. The sisters are memorable and lovable: Meg is beautiful; Jo is a tomboy and aspires to be a writer; Beth is shy and good-natured; Amy is vain and artistic. Reading Little Women is a rite of passage.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (1870)

Jules Verne’s classic underwater adventure is a must-read for thrill-seekers. Marine biologist Professor Pierre Aronnax, his assistant Conseil and harpooner Ned Land join a US Navy expedition to track down an unidentified sea monster. But when the trio is thrown overboard, they're captured by the elusive Captain Nemo whose futuristic submarine, Nautilus, IS the monster they were searching for. Off they go, whisked away on an adventure of a lifetime, exploring bottomless trenches, coral graveyards, and even the lost city of Atlantis.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland unfolds when a bored little girl called Alice notices a white rabbit in a waistcoat with a pocket watch scurrying past. Intrigued, Alice follows the creature down a rabbit hole and tumbles into a whole new world of topsy-turvy madness. In Wonderland, Alice encounters an array of fantastical characters and eventually gets mixed up in a peculiar spot of bother involving a few stolen tarts. This is an utterly brilliant nonsensical tale; a masterpiece for curious readers of all ages.

The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1912)

Young and ambitious reporter Ed Malone wants to interview the notoriously difficult Professor Challenger about his recent expedition. Despite a hostile first encounter, the Professor soon reveals to Malone that he has discovered living dinosaurs in South America. But the scientific community doesn’t believe him, so Malone, Challenger, and two other adventurers head into the wilderness to verify the Professor’s claims... Fans of Jurassic Park and all things prehistoric will love this sci-fi tale from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery (1908)

In this beloved Canadian classic, local farmers Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert decide to adopt a boy to help out on their farm at Green Gables in the fictional town of Avonlea. Instead, much to their surprise, imaginative and bright, flame-haired Anne Shirley turns up. With her feisty spirit and creative mind, 11-year-old Anne soon wins over the Cuthberts’ hearts. Anne of Green Gables is a touching and inspiring story that accounts for all the trials and tribulations of growing up. Readers will be swept up by delightful Anne and her charming life at Green Gables.

Party Shoes by Noel Streatfeild (1946)

Set just as the Second World War is ending, young Selina has been living with her aunt, uncle, and cousins in the country when she receives an unexpected gift from her aunt in the US. It’s a beautiful, floor-length dress and a pair of satin shoes. The problem is as it’s still wartime, there aren’t many parties or occasions for Selina to wear it. So, her cousins put their heads together and decide to hold a pageant! A great read for those who are fans of Ballet Shoes.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome (1930)

Set in the Lake District during the summer holidays, this captivating story follows the lovable Walker clan as they set sail on a little boat, Swallow, to Wild Cat Island. Along the way, they encounter the local children who they consider to be pirates aboard the Amazon. After crossing paths with the Blackett girls, a summer of unforgettable adventure unfolds: perilous night-time boat trips, camping under the stars, catching fresh fish, and leading a campaign against the Blackett’s uncle, the cantankerous Captain Flint. The first book in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series may have been published in 1930, but this enchanting, escapist tale continues to stand the test of time.

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