Best modern classics for KS2 children
Ancient secret societies, a Stone Age boy and an Edwardian girl, a planet terrorised by jelly-like creatures and a 'practically perfect' nanny make these books the ideal twentieth-century classic reading choices for children in Key Stage 2.
Stig of the Dump by Clive King(£6.99, Puffin)
Young Barney is staying with his grandmother and, on a grey day when there's nothing to do, ventures to the chalk pit – the dump. When the ground gives way, Barney finds himself lying in a kind of shelter, with a roof made of elder branches and surrounded by rotten carpet and rusty objects. Here he meets Stig, a Stone Age boy, with shaggy black hair and two bright black eyes. The two boys become great friends and embark on a series of exciting, unforgettable adventures. King beautifully captures the joys of being outside and deals with the main relationship with warmth. Whether Stig is real or an imaginary friend created by Barney during a lonely summer is still a mystery and highlights why this timeless story is considered a classic.
Rebecca's World by Terry Nation(£10 second-hand, Red Fox)
"The City of Glass was the most beautiful and fantastic place Rebecca had seen….Rebecca's new friends pointed out all the places of interest. What didn't need pointing out was that almost every shop and building had Mister Glister's name outside….He seemed to own everything…"
Poor Rebecca is bored and fed up. It is the eleventh day of the school holidays and she has had enough. However, events take a dramatic turn and she is transported to a distant, strange land where the people live in fear of Ghosts, bizarre, jelly-like creatures who terrorize the planet. Rebecca, a resourceful and brave heroine, sets out to find a solution. Along the way she is helped by Grisby, Kovak and Captain 'K' who provide plenty of humour and silliness in this lively adventure. The story is quirky, surreal and a huge amount of fun and the evil Mister Glister is a fantastic villain.
Goggle Eyes by Anne Fine(£6.99, Puffin)
In this well-crafted tale, Kitty finds herself comforting a fellow classmate, Helen (who has run out of class hysterically crying), by hilariously and touchingly recounting the story of her mother's new boyfriend and the disruption he caused when he first arrived. Set in the 1980s, against a political backdrop of anti-nuclear protests, the story deals sensitively with divorce and how Kitty tackles her changing family structure and her mother's new, conservative boyfriend (who is constantly 'goggling' her mother). Anne Fine is a fine writer, the author of Madame Doubtfire (the inspiration for the successful Robin Williams Mrs Doubtfire film). Her wit and ability to see both sides of a story make this an engaging, delightful read, perfect for older children.
The Water Horse by Dick King-Smith(£4.99, Puffin)
"It was Kirstie who found it…."
This magical tale by master story-teller Dick King-Smith begins when a strange, seaweed coloured egg washes up on a Scottish beach, the morning after a terrifying storm. It is the size of a large cookie tin and curious Kirstie and her lively brother, Angus, decide to take it home and keep it in the bath tub. The next day the children find the egg laying on the bottom of the bath, by the plug hole. From it has hatched a mysterious greeny-greyish creature with four flippers, the head of a horse and a crocodile's tail. But there's a problem – the beastie just won't stop growing! This is a lovely re-telling of a classic myth, with writing and dialogue that sparkles and just the right amount of action and magic to engage and enthral a young reader.
Matilda by Roald Dahl(£6.99, Puffin)
The perfect Roald Dahl book for this age group! This classic story follows Matilda, a young genius with a brilliant mind, and her struggles against the terrifying, formidable Miss Trunchbull and her lazy, thoughtless parents. With the help of the gentle, kind Miss Honey (who is hiding her own secrets) and a cast of delightful classmates, Matilda is able to find the strength inside to harness her abilities and teach the revolting adults in her life a lesson they'll never forget. Children may now be more familiar with the film or stage adaptation of the book, but this remarkable story is a rich, moving, larger-than-life treat that is well worth reading.
Mary Poppins by P.L Travers(£6.99, HarperCollins Childrens Books)
This classic tale of a strict, firm but fair nanny, who arrives with a talking umbrella to look after Jane and Michael Banks, is a real treat. Although Mary Poppins seems business-like and stern, the children soon find themselves whisked off on exciting adventures. The 'practically perfect' nanny is a delightful creation and the writing sparkles with witty dialogue, charming escapades and amusing characterisation. Brand-new re-issues of each story in the five-book series are available, or invest in the complete omnibus containing all the Poppins stories – perfect for children who are instantly captivated by this no-nonsense nanny.
Othello: A Shakespeare Story by Andrew Matthews(£4.99, Orchard Books)
Shakespeare's classic tale of love, jealousy and revenge is re-written for modern kids and transformed into an accessible, easy-to-read story, ideal for children in Upper Key Stage 2. Much to the disgust of her father, Desdemona has married Othello is secret. Othello, due to the colour of his skin, is an outcast and relies heavily on his unfaithful friend, Iago, to navigate the pitfalls of society. However, Iago is plotting revenge on Othello and is full of envy, rage and bitterness. As the story unfolds, Othello's reputation is ruined and his marriage destroyed, leading to a catastrophic and tragic ending. This is a super re-telling of one of Shakespeare's finest tragedies; if your child enjoys it there are laods of other child-friendly ways to introduce Shakespeare.
Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer(£6.99, Vintage Children's Classics)
An evocative, haunting modern classic about the time-travelling Charlotte, who arrives at boarding school in the 1960s and feels lost in the chaos of routines and friendships she isn't part of. Then she goes to bed and wakes up in 1918 as Claire, who attends the same boarding school, and begins a life of alternative time lines. The girls never meet, but communicate by writing notes to each other. But will Charlotte return to her own time, or is she destined to stay in Clare's First World war life forever?
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper(£6.99, Vintage Childrens Classics)
'This night will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining.’
Will Stanton is an ordinary eleven year old, living with his family in the Buckinghamshire countryside. But strange things start happening around him and another, older world is emerging from the cold, snowy world around his home and village. On Midwinter Day Will wakes up to find himself in another time, where ancient evil lurks and threatens his family. Because Will is not an ordinary boy; he is the last of the Old Ones of the Light, and the power to fight the Dark lies within him. A lyrical masterpiece of children's fiction, perfect for reading aloud as a family, The Dark is Rising sequence books are as unforgettable for adults as they are for children. Recommended.
The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm by Norman Hunter(£5.99, Red Fox)
Professor Branestawm is madly sane and cleverly dotty, and his brilliant inventions get him into one scrape after another. First published in 1933, these madcap inventor stories are still extremely funny and wonderfully silly, and the classic illustrations from W. Heath Robinson add to the fun. A BBC TV series has introduced Professor Branestawm to modern children; hopefully these enjoyable stories will become a firm favourite with this generation too.