The majority of children in year 6 should be confident readers if they have had lots of opportunities for reading independently and with adults and other children at home and school. There are plenty of books and other reading materials that are age appropriate that provide opportunities for deeper thinking and reflection. Most year 6 children are interested in the issues that affect their own lives and the world. Reading these books will elicit thought-provoking discussions. Some words of caution, getting better at reading doesn’t mean reading books that have been written with an older audience in mind; there is no need to expose children to subjects and themes that they may not be ready for, as there is a huge variety of books written for children in the transition from primary to secondary school. Year 6 is also when everything can feel very serious, so some lightness provided by humour may be exactly what is needed. Inclusivity is a consideration for all of our selections.
Most of the books in this list have full reviews that you can read for more detailed information and our evaluation.
Individual books and special easy-purchase collections are available from our bookselling partner Best Books for Schools.
The book selection for our recommended reading lists is overseen by Just Imagine Director Nikki Gamble, a former teacher and university lecturer, co-author of Guiding Readers and author of Exploring Children’s Literature. The views of our review panel inform our choices. The panel is convened, and reviews are edited by Jo Bowers, a former teacher and university lecturer specialising in literacy and children’s literature.
Our top picks from recent titles
Into the Faerie Hill
By H S Norup. Published by Pushkin Press.
The moment Alfred arrives at his granny’s cottage, he feels like he’s being watched. The surrounding forests teem with unfamiliar life – even odd little faerie creatures only Alfred can see. It’s only when free-spirited Saga bursts into his life that he learns to appreciate the strange beauty around him. But this special world is under threat, Our reviewer, Nick Carter, writes, it’s a story not only about the mythology and imaginative depth of the natural world but also about the complexity of belonging and where we fit in it.
By Rhian Tracey. Published by Templar Publishing.
Twelve-year-old Robyn has grown up in Bletchley Park, where her father works as a driver. When she’s not at school, there’s nothing she likes more than helping her dad in the garages. Then the war begins and everything at Bletchley changes. Robyn is assigned to help with the carrier pigeons that take messages to the Allies. Rhian Tracey has written a thrilling period mystery. Our reviewer, Anne Bradley writes, ‘For children studying this period of history, this is an excellent book to include. The story is pacy and thrilling and many interesting details of life at the park are revealed.’
By Jennifer Killick. Published by HarperCollins.
The first book in a brilliant new horror series from Jennifer Killick. You can watch Nikki Gamble talking with Jennifer Killick about the book on The Book Channel. Our reviewer, Jayne Gould writes, ‘Written with panache, this is a pacy mix of humour and horror, with likeable characters. The developing empathy between them gives added depth to the story and the background issues are handled sensitively.’ A good choice for the book corner and for a Halloween read.
Crookhaven:The School for Thieves
By J J Arcanjo. Published by Hachette.
Crookhaven is a school where young criminals are sent and taught how to put their skills to good purpose. A story about chosen family and what it means to be good, Our reviewer, Ann Bradley, writes, ‘JJ Arcanjo’s story has a strong moral core. All the students are chosen because their crimes are committed to help others. The themes of friendship, bullying, difference and mutual support are explored in positive ways.’
The Funniest Boy in the World
By Helen Rutter. Published by Scholastic.
Billy Plimpton returns in this new story from Helen Rutter. elebrity comedian Leo Leggett takes Billy under his wing, as his new sidekick: when Leo tweets a clip of his stand-up act, Billy suddenly becomes the most famous boy in the country. At first, this is GREAT – all the kids at school think he’s cool and he gets to appear on his favourite morning TV show. But Leo’s motives turn out to be shady and Billy must turn the tables in a very public way…
Our reviewer, Stephen Connor, writes, ‘On the face of it, this is a story that should be (and often is) funny, with the familiar quickfire jokes opening each chapter, but Billy’s foray into the adult world of comedy, social media and deception forces him to grow and learn quickly. It is a story that could encourage discussion around distorted realities presented by online personalities, about instant gratification that the internet can offer.’ You can watch Helen talking about the book with nikki Gamble on The Book Channel.
The Boy Who Didn't Want to Die
By Peter Lantos. Published by Scholastic.
Written by Holocaust survivor, Peter Lantos, The Boy Who Didn’t Want to Die describes an extraordinary journey made by Peter, a boy of five, through war-torn Europe in 1944 and 1945. Peter and his parents set out from a small Hungarian town, travelling together in Austria and then Germany. Along the way, unforgettable images of adventure flash one after another: sleeping in a tent and then under the sky, discovering a disused brick factory, catching butterflies in the meadows – and as Peter realises that this adventure is really a nightmare
Our reviewer, Jayne Truran, writes, ‘I think this book has a firm place in the classroom and the library. It is clear and concise, and the telling of the story from Peter as a child makes it a really good text to use to introduce children to the horrors and atrocities that occurred. There is also a good set of footnotes at the end of the book telling us what happened to the family after the war.’ You can hear Peter Lantos talking to Nikki Gamble about the book In The Reading Corner.
By R J Palacio. Published by Penguin Random House.
When Silas Bird wakes in the dead of night, he watches powerlessly as three strangers take his father away. Silas is left shaken, scared and alone, except for the presence of his companion, Mittenwool. . . . who happens to be a ghost. But then a mysterious pony shows up at his door, and Silas knows what he has to do. So begins a perilous journey to find his father – a journey that will connect him with his past, his future, and the unknowable world around him
Our reviewer, James Clements writes, Pony deserves to be read as widely as possible. It is a beautiful example of contemporary children’s literature at its best: thought-provoking, affecting and skilfully-written.
The Storm Swimmer
By Clare Weze. Published by Bloomsbury.
Summer was supposed to be Ginika’s time for fun, friends and fairs. But instead, she’s been sent to live at the dead-end seaside boarding house her grandparents run. Even though her parents say it’s just for a little while, she can’t help feeling abandoned and heartbroken to be missing out on everything she loves back home. And then she meets Peri. He leaps and dives through the water like a dolphin and he talks like a burst of bubbles. He’s not exactly a merman, but he’s definitely something Ginika’s never seen before.
Our reviewer, Rebecca Simpson Hargreaves, writes, ‘The story would provoke many interesting discussions within the classroom, especially in PSHE. It would need to be carefully considered whether it should be put within the class library or if it would be better approached as a class read to enable support or clarification of some of the topics it covers. The narrative includes interesting references to marine biology, and these could be used to spark research into the seas and underwater habitats, as well as geography and conservation.
The Light in Everything
By Katya Balen. Published by Bloomsbury.
Tom is still quiet and timid, even though his dad has been gone for nearly two years now. Zofia has a raging storm that makes her want to fight the whole world until she gets what she wants. And what she wants is for scaredy-cat Tom to get out of her life. Tom hates loud, unpredictable Zofia just as much, but he’s moving into Zofia’s house. Because his mum and Zofia’s dad are in love… and they’re having a baby.
By Levi Pinfold. Illustrated by Levi Pinfold. Published by Walker Books.
When a young girl and her brothers step into the ghostly Paradise Sands hotel, they fall under the rule of the mysterious Teller. She makes a deal with him to free them all from his haunting paradise. But can she hold up her side of the bargain? An enigmatic, dark story suitable for older readers. Our reviewer, Ann Alston, writes, ‘ if you are going to select this text, make sure you do so ready to devote plenty time to it, for, despite being a picture book, this is not a quick end of the day kind of book.’
Journey Back to Freedom
By Catherine Johnson. Published by Barrington Stoke.
From the horrors of the slave trade to a book that changed the world, Catherine Johnson celebrates the incredible life of Olaudah Equiano in this gripping true story.
Our reviewer, Ed Finch, writes, ‘ The book assumes an upper KS2 or KS3 reader. If they have not ‘done’ the slave trade in their history curriculum, this could be the first time they learn about it. For them to hear of it told through African eyes and with such dignity means a great deal.’
By Katya Balen. Published by Barrington Stoke.
After a devastating car crash, Annie is unable to play her flute and retreats from the music she’s always loved. She exists in a world of angry silence – furious with her mum and furious she can’t seem to play her beloved flute any more.Then she meets Noah, who shows her the blackbird’s nest hidden in the scrubland near their flats. As their friendship grows, the blackbirds’ glorious song reignites Annie’s passion for music.
Our reviewer, Martin Galway, writes, ‘Birdsong needs to be distinguished in some way from those other books, riffing on similar themes. It’s utterly singular and a triumph.’ A book for quiet contemplation and reflection.
The Tale of Truthwater Lake
By Emma Carroll. Published by Faber.
On one side of the underwater street is the remains of a house . . . It’s beautiful here, and eerie, a lost kingdom, a ghost village . . . It’s the near-future, and Britain is having yet another heatwave. Of course, the government have put in the normal curfews for this kind of weather, and shops are forced to shut again. For Polly, it’s the sort of heat that makes her do wild, out-of-character things just to cool down. Like facing her fear of deepwater
Our reviewer, Ann Alston, writes. ‘This will make an enjoyable, informative and unforgettable independent read, but it would make an even better whole-class read for Upper Key Stage Two.’
Zo and the Forest of Secrets
By Alake Pilgrim. Published by Knights Of.
When Zo decides to run away from home, she isn’t scared; after all, she knows the island like the back of her hand. But, as she journeys through the once-familiar forest, terrifying creatures and warped visions begin to emerge. With a beast on her heels and a lost boy thrown into her path, could a mysterious abandoned facility hold answers?
Our reviewer, Kelly Ashley, writes, ‘ Zo and the Forest of Secrets would be a lively addition to any library, celebrating the power of diversity in children’s literature and introducing children to electrifying new worlds.’
By Tanya Landman. Published by Walker Books.
Alfie Wright? Alfie Wrong, more like. Alfie has never really fitted in anywhere – he doesn’t have any friends, and even his mum seems embarrassed of him. So when he’s evacuated to a farm in rural Devon run by kind old Aunt Bell and her gentle giant of a son, Alfie can’t believe his luck. The War seems a long way off, and among the cows and pigs and geese, Alfie’s happier than he’s ever been – especially when he makes friends with one of the local boys, Snidge. But Snidge, for all his friendliness, is not all he appears. This is a gripping timeslip adventure from Tanya Landman.
Our reviewer, Stephen Dilley, writes, ‘It would work very well as a class reader for older primary or younger secondary children, with scope to discuss a wide range of topics – from the historical backgrounds of evacuation and ancient stone circles, to the themes of loneliness, bullying and friendship.’
Classic and established favourites
By Margaret Mahy. Published by Hachette.
Eight-year-old Barney has been haunted before. He thought it was something he’d just grow out of, like the imaginary friends his step-mother believes he has. But this time, it’s different. Footsteps follow him, there’s a demanding voice barking orders and Barney begins to feel that sometimes his body is not his own at all . . . With the help of his sisters, Tabitha and Troy, Barney sets out to uncover the truth about their family secrets and find out who it is who’s haunting him.
Margaret Mahy’s classic ghost story won the Carnegie Medal. It’s a good class read aloud for a robust class or an addition to the class bookshelf or school library.
By Gary Crew. Illustrated by Shaun Tan. Published by Hachette Australia.
The Viewer tells the peculiar story of a boy whose obsession with curious artefacts leads him to discover a strange box at a dump site. It proves to be an ancient chest full of optical devices, one of which captures his interest; an intricately mechanical object carrying disks of images; scenes of destruction, violence and the collapse of civilisations.
A thought-provoking and unsettling picturebook suitable for readers at the top of KS2 and KS3. Children will need time to explore the details of the images, either independently or in a literature circle type discussion.
Christmas Dinner of Souls
By Ross Montgomer. Published by Faber.
It’s a dark and lonely Christmas Eve in the dining room of ancient Soul’s College. The kitchen boy, 11-year-old Lewis, has helped prepare a highly unusual meal, made with unrecognisable ingredients, cooked by a mysterious chef. And then the guests arrive … Ross Montgomery is at his best in this deliciously Gothic selection of stories, as each guest tries to outdo the others with their tale of terror. An excellent read aloud choice, particularly in the run up to Christmas.
By Philip Pullman. Illustrated by Peter Bailey. Published by Penguin Random House.
It is a cold winter’s night when Karl enters the White Horse Tavern looking like he’s swallowed a thundercloud. His final task as a clockmaker apprentice is to make a new figure for the great clock of Glockenheim. He has not made the figure – or got any idea of what it could be, and the unveiling is tomorrow. Fritz is also in the tavern, there to read aloud his new spooky story. Like Karl, he hasn’t finished. Well, he knows how the story starts, and he knows it’s called Clockwork – so, with the snow swirling down outside, he sets his story going and just has to hope that the ending will come to him as he tells it.
Philip Pullman’s Gothic fairy tale may be short, but it tackles some profound themes and will raise the hairs on the back of your neck, too. This is a popular choice in our Take One Book resource.
By Shaun Tan. Illustrated by Shaun Tan. Published by Hachette.
What drives so many to leave everything behind and journey alone to a mysterious country, a place without family or friends, where everything is nameless, and the future is unknown. This silent graphic novel is the story of every migrant, every refugee, every displaced person, and a tribute to all those who have made the journey.
The Arrival is a masterpiece that will engage year 6 readers, either as an independent read or as the starting point for a class discussion
Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
By Robert C O'Brien. Published by Penguin Random House.
Time is running out for Mrs Frisby, a widowed mouse with four small children. She must move her family before the farmer destroys their home. But her youngest son, Timothy, lies ill with pneumonia and is too sick to be taken on such a perilous journey. Help comes in the unexpected form of a highly extraordinary breed of super-intelligent rats. The rats of NIMH come up with a brilliant solution to Mrs Frisby’s problem, but the rats are in danger too, and little by little, Mrs Frisby discovers their extraordinary past . . .
A classic animal adventure story but with depths that more experienced readers will uncover through sensitive, guided discussions.
The Girl of Ink and Stars
By Kiran Millwood Hargrave . Published by Chicken House.
When Isabella’s friend disappears, she volunteers to guide the search party. As a mapmaker’s daughter, she’s equipped with elaborate ink maps and knowledge of the stars, eager to navigate the island’s forgotten heart. But beneath the mountains, a legendary fire demon awakens, and her journey is fraught with danger …
A beautifully written and highly original story in which myth, magic and political intrigue play their part. This novel will particularly appeal to year 6 readers who enjoy literary stories.
The Graveyard Book
By Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Chris Riddell. Published by Bloomsbury.
Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, raised and educated by ghosts. There, living among the dead, Bod discovers that he possesses remarkable magical powers: he can avoid people’s notice, scare them, and even invade their dreams. There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard. But it is in the land of the living that the real danger lurks,
Neil Gaiman won the Carnegie Medal for this novel. It bears all the Gaiman hallmarks – his wit, humour and wisdom. It raises lots of thoughts about what it takes to raise a child and makes an interesting comparison with The Jungle Book. Year 6 classes might like to read and compare these two classics written just over 100 years apart.
By Hilary McKay. Published by Macmillan.
After Saffron discovers she’s adopted, life is never quite the same. Her artistic parents and doting siblings adore her, but Saffy wants a piece of her past. So when her grandfather bequests her a stone angel – a relic from the childhood she never knew – Saffy knows she has to find it. Realizing Siena holds the key, she stows away on a car trip to Italy.
Hilary McKay is a writer that I would like all year 6 to encounter. She writes with warmth and compassion about people and in particular, families. And her writing style is sublime – a classic storytelling voice. All the Casson family books are good additions to the library or class collection.
By Armin Greder. Illustrated by Armin Greder. Published by Murdoch Books.
In the morning, the people of the island found a man sitting on the shore, where fate and the ocean currents had set him and his frail raft in the night. When he saw them coming towards him, he rose to his feet. He was not like them. So begin’s Armin Greder’s powerful fable which has much resonance for the world today. Read aloud with a class and with thoughtfully structured authentic dialogue, this book will help young readers reflect not only on the plight of the man in the story but also on how challenges are to be addressed when there are such inequalities across societies.
Listen to Armin Greder talking to Nikki Gamble In the Reading Corner
By Frank Cottrell-Boyce. Illustrated by Steven Lenton. Published by Macmillan.
Brothers Damian and Anthony didn’t mean to get caught up in a botched train robbery. But what would you do if a massive bag of cash dropped from the sky and you had only a few days to spend it before it became worthless? Buy a million pizzas? End world poverty? Not such an easy decision, is it? The boys soon find out that being rich is a mug’s game.
Laugh-out-loud, heart-in-the-mouth adventure from Frank Cottrell-Boyce. This book has so much heart, and children will learn much about what it means to be a caring human being from discussing the story’s themes. It’s not surprising that this is one of the most-read novels in year 6
Tom's Midnight Garden
By Philippa Pearce. Published by Oxford University Press.
When Tom is sent to stay at his aunt and uncle’s house for the summer, he resigns himself to endless weeks of boredom. As he lies awake in his bed he hears the grandfather clock downstairs strike . . . eleven . . . twelve . . . thirteen . . . Thirteen! Tom races down the stairs and out the back door into a garden everyone told him wasn’t there. In this enchanted thirteenth hour, the garden comes alive – but Tom is never sure whether the children he meets there are real or ghosts . . .
When Philip Pullman received the Carnegie of Carnegies, he stated in his acceptance speech ‘”Personally I feel they got the initials right but not the name. I don’t know if the result would be the same in a hundred year’s time; maybe Philippa Pearce would win then.’ Tom’s Midnight Garden is a tightly structured novel and crafted novel deals with the biggest theme of childhood – growing up. Read as a class novel children will likely reflect more deeply on the novel’s themes.
By Morris Gleitzman. Published by Penguin Random House.
My name is Felix. This is my story. Felix has been living in an orphanage for three years and eight months when the men in armbands arrive to burn the books. Going on the run in search of his parents, Felix soon learns that Poland in 1942 is not a safe place for Jewish boys. But can his gift for storytelling keep him one step ahead of the Nazis and help him find his parents?
Not many writers can take a subject as big as this and deal with it in a wholly child-appropriate way. In spite of the dark subject, there is so much light in this book. The courage that some display in order to do the best for humanity and the redemptive power of love and friendship are ever-present. The language is direct and simple, but it is all the more powerful for that. This is definitely a book that is best read with adult support and guidance
By David Almond. Published by Hachette.
When a move to a new house coincides with his baby sister’s illness, Michael’s world seems suddenly lonely and uncertain. Then, one Sunday afternoon, he stumbles into the old ramshackle garage of his new home and finds something magical. A strange creature – part owl, part angel, a being who needs Michael’s help if he is to survive. With his new friend Mina, Michael nourishes Skellig back to health while his baby sister languishes in the hospital. But Skellig is far more than he at first appears, and as he helps Michael breathe life into his tiny sister, Michael’s world changes forever. . .
Haunting and poetic. This is a novel about love and kindness and about families coping with difficult circumstances. Michael’s developing friendship with Mina opens his eyes to worlds beyond his experience.
Journey to Jo'burg
By Beverley Naidoo. Published by Penguin Random House.
Frightened that their baby sister Dineo will die, thirteen-year-old Naledi and her younger brother Tiro run away from their grandmother to Johannesburg to find their mother, who works there as a maid. Their journey illustrates at every turn the grim realities of apartheid – the pass laws, bantustans, racism, the breakdown of family life. The opulence of the white “Madam’s” house contrasts starkly with the reality that Naledi and Tiro face – that their baby sister is suffering from starvation, not an incurable disease