What to read for 13 Plus: the best books for 12-year-olds

Isabel is a tutor with Owl Tutors


Owl Tutor

November 17th, 2017

What to read for 13 Plus: the best books for 12-year-olds

Schools are keen to emphasize the importance of wide and ambitious reading for students sitting the 13+. If you are unsure what constitutes ambitious reading for this age group, here are some of the best books for 12-year-olds, along with suggestions for what to read next.

Please note that the age recommendations provided here are for rough guidance only and relate to advice supplied by the publisher and/or by reputable reviewers. You and your child will be best placed to judge whether the level of difficulty and the content is appropriate. For less confident readers, do check my other blog post with reading suggestions for 10-year-olds.


‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott

A coming of age classic and one of the most popular novels of all time, ‘Little Women’ tells the story of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March as they struggle with poverty, illness and falling in love for the first time. The complete e-text is available here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/514/514-h/514-h.htm (Age 11+).

What to read next: ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen

‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens’ celebrated novella tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an old miser who is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. The complete e-text is available here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/46/46-h/46-h.htm (Age 12+).

What to read next: ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens

‘The Little White Horse’ by Elizabeth Goudge

J.K. Rowling’s favourite novel from childhood, ‘The Little White Horse’ tells the story of orphaned Maria Merryweather when she is sent to live at the mysterious Moonacre Manor accompanied by her governess Miss Heliotrope and her spoilt dog Wiggins (Age 11+).

What to read next: ‘I Capture the Castle’ by Dodie Smith



‘The Dark Is Rising’ by Susan Cooper

One of my favourite books of all time, this beautifully written and beloved classic of children’s literature tells of an epic struggle between good and evil. Packed with allusions to Arthurian legend and Celtic and Norse mythology, this will lead children onto more sophisticated reads (Age 11+).

What to read next: ‘Over Sea, Under Stone’ by Susan Cooper

‘Watership Down’ by Richard Adams

It might be about rabbits, but this isn’t Beatrix Potter! It’s an epic adventure with grown up themes of exile, survival, heroism, leadership and political responsibility. When their warren is destroyed, the rabbits set out to find a new home, encountering many dangers on the way. Please note there are some violent episodes (Age 11+).

What to read next: ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell

‘Northern Lights’ by Philip Pullman

A classic of contemporary children’s literature, this gripping adventure trilogy follows scrappy tomboy Lyra as she travels to the frozen north in search of her missing friend Roger. Packed with allusions to ‘Paradise Lost’ and dealing with important philosophical questions such as the nature of free will, this is a fantastic book, opening the way to more sophisticated reads. Please note it does contain some frightening themes (Age 11+).

What to read next: ‘The Subtle Knife’ by Philip Pullman

‘A Monster Calls’ by Patrick Ness

This heartfelt and heart-wrenching novel follows 13-year-old Connor as he struggles to deal with his mother’s cancer and the possibility that she could die. As he wrestles with his intense feelings, Connor is haunted by a strange monster. Winner of the Carnegie Medal, this is a beautiful, honest novel. Please note it does deal with some distressing themes (Age 11+).

What to read next: ‘Grimm Tales for Young and Old’ by Philip Pullman

‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ by Ursula K. Le Guin

Long before there was Harry Potter, there was another young boy who went to wizard school to learn the craft of magery. Le Guin’s beautiful fantasy epic is considered a masterpiece of children’s fiction. Great for Potter fans who are looking for something more adult (Age 11+).

What to read next: ‘The Tombs of Atuan’ by Ursula K. Le Guin

‘Skellig’ by David Almond

Michael’s baby sister is ill, and he’s just moved to a new house he hates. Exploring a ramshackle garage in his new garden, he meets Skellig, a strange creature who needs his help to survive. This is a beautiful and moving novel. Please note it does contain some distressing themes (Age 11+).

What to read next: ‘A Monster Calls’ by Patrick Ness


Action & Adventure

‘Stormbreaker’ by Anthony Horowitz

In the first book in the bestselling Alex Rider series, the 14-year-old spy is recruited to MI6 and soon finds himself plunged into a dangerous mission. The action doesn’t let up from the first to the last page. Please note the novel does include some adult themes (Age 11+).

What to read next: ‘Point Blanc’ by Anthony Horowitz

‘The Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins

Recently adapted into a blockbusting series of films and a thrilling read, this is a great book for getting children interested in more sophisticated dystopian fiction. Please note that the premise is violent and potentially disturbing, since it features a fight to the death amongst a group of teens (Age 12+).

What to read next: ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell


Historical Fiction & Memoir

‘Goodnight Mr Tom’ by Michelle Magorian

Set during World War II, ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’ is the moving story of Willie Beech, an evacuee sent to stay with a reclusive widower to escape the German bombardment. Please note that the novel does contain upsetting themes of abuse (Age 11+).

What to read next: ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank

‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank

Anne Frank wrote her diary while she was in hiding for two years with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The family was apprehended in 1944, and Anne Frank died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. Please note that the diary refers to upsetting themes and also includes Anne’s thoughts about her growing sexual feelings (Age 12+).

What to read next: ‘Tales from the Secret Annex’ by Anne Frank

‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ by John Boyne

Bruno has a happy life in Berlin, so he is shocked when he learns his family are moving to ‘Out-With’. When Bruno explores his new home, he meets Shmuel, who lives on the other side of a fence which surrounds a large camp in the grounds. Please note that the novel deals with distressing and complex themes (Age 11+).

What to read next: ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank



‘Shakespeare Stories’ by Leon Garfield

This beautifully illustrated collection is the perfect way to introduce young readers to twelve of Shakespeare’s plays in an accessible version. This isn’t Shakespeare dumbed down: Garfield skilfully retains all of the drama and character of the original masterpieces (Age 10+).

What to read next: ‘Shakespeare Stories II’ by Leon Garfield

Isabel is a tutor with Owl Tutors

More about Isabel

Isabel qualified as a teacher in English in 2013, and now works as a tutor with Owl Tutors.

Isabel has been a full-time professional tutor since 2016. An experienced tutor, she has taught pupils of all abilities with a diverse range of educational needs, inspiring them to fulfil their potential and to achieve excellent results at 11+, 13+, GCSE, A-Level and IB. A graduate of Cambridge University, Isabel completed her PGCE at Roehampton University’s prestigious teacher training faculty. She finds it especially rewarding to work with pupils one-to-one, and has a proven track record of success.