February 14th, 2015

Here are some English books that I recommend my students read. Many of these IMG_0011books are classics and required reading in Canadian schools. Chances are you will be familiar with a lot of the names here. This list is a good mixture of Canadian, American and British books. Many of these books belong to the public domain and can be found online for free (Literaure Project, Project Gutenberg, goodreads and feedbooks). These are classic books for English learners. Readers must choose a book that corresponds with their level!


Beginner to Pre-Intermediate and Childrens Books

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is a book that I remember loving as a child, probably because of the monsters and the artwork. Recently, they somehow made this really short book into a movie.

Aesop’s Fables by Aesop is a collection of classic stories written thousands of years ago in Europe. They include such well know stories as The Hare and the Tortoise and The Goose With the Golden Eggs. Many of the stories can be found for free here.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch is Canadian childrens classic. It is about a girl who saves a boy from a dragon. Robert Munsch has some other great childrens books including Love You ForeverThomas’ Snowsuit and Purple, Green and Yellow

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne is a British childrens classic about a bear and his group of animal friends. The first volume of stories is the best.

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans is a book series about a little girl in a convent school in Paris.  The storytelling is excellent and it is a good introduction to rhyming for English learners.

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) is an American classic. The image of the cat itself is recognized the world over. The book is fun and silly it’s great for children but adults will enjoy it too. It shows us that rhyming can be fun. Some other classic books by Dr. Seuss are: Green Eggs and Ham, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel, a good introduction to the Frog and Toad series great for young English Learners. The books are quite short.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter is a very short story, but it is an English classic written in the 1890’s. It has sold over 45 million copies. You can read it free here from Project Gutenberg.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. This famous book was written more than 100 years ago but it is still an engaging story about a boy who never grows up. You can read the first story here from the Literature Project.



Intermediate to Upper Intermediate

The books in this section are ones that I read in Elementary school. I will start with books we read in grades 2 and 3 and progress from there.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White is one of the first books I remember reading. This undeniable classic is sure to hook any young reader. English language learners will also appreciate the story. Other great books by E.B. White are Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan.

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. Roald Dahl was one of my favourite authors growing up. His stories are funny and usually end in an unexpected way. Fantastic Mr. Fox is recommended for students in grade 2. Other well-known books by Dahl include: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary. I get this book confused with Stuart Little because they are quite similar, but still a great read.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis is the most famous book of the Chronicles of Narnia series. A 7 book christian fantasy series with lots of strange animals and characters.

Watership Down by Richard Adams is an adventure book about a group of rabbits. Sounds a little strange I know, but it is a classic story.

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. I didn’t like this book when I read it in elementary school, but it is considered a classic. It’s about a woman you goes and lives with a family on a farm and they suffer.

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. I probably shouldn’t admit this as a Canadian but I never read this book even though it is considered one of Canada’s best stories. It is about a girl growing up on an island on the East coast of Canada.

Old Yeller by Fred Gipson, one of the best books written about a boy and his dog. Great for boys and dog lovers. Also Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls is similar and both are considered classics.

Goosebumps by R.L. Stine is a “horror” book series for children. The books are relatively short and easy to read, every chapter ends in suspense. Not a classic book series but definitely well-known and there are a ton of books in the series. Some of the better known books are: Night of the Living Dummy and The Haunted Mask.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson is considered by many as the best children’s adventure book. This is one of those books that everyone should read. You can read it for free online here

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks. I loved this book series when I was a kid. What a great idea Banks had. The book is about a boy who has a cupboard that turns his toy men into real people.



Upper Intermediate to Advanced books

These books are usually read in grades 8 and 9.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is an American Pulitzer Prize winner that deals with a family and race issues in the southern states in the 1930’s.

Animal Farm: Anniversary Edition by George Orwell is one of Orwell’s shorter books. It uses a farm as an allegory for the Russian Revolution.

The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again
by J.R.R. Tolkien. As a kid, this was my favourite book for years. It has everything adventure, war, dragons, etc. The only downside for English learners is that it is quite long.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding is the classic story of a group of boys stranded on a deserted island who try to survive and govern themselves with little success.



Books for Advanced Learners

These books are for those who are still learning the language, because those who are truly advanced should be able to read almost any book in English.  Most of the books listed here are classics, but they are not so difficult to read because most of them are short in length.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is an American classic about a teenage boy who witnesses a death and struggles to find himself.

The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway. This is Hemingway’s most famous book about a fisherman and his struggle with a large marlin. Extremely well written, this book won Hemingway the Nobel Prize.

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne. Although originally written in French, this book is clearly written and short. Some of his other books that are worth reading are: Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Five Weeks in a Balloon. You can read Around the World in 80 Days for free online here.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. Wells is considered one of the fathers of science fiction and this book is one of his finest along with The War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man. You can read The Time Machine for free online here.


There are more books I am thinking of adding to the list, short story books and the books I read by Shakespeare in high school. However, this list is a good starting point for English learners. These books are classics and will not only help you improve you English but you will read the most important stories from English, American and Canadian culture.

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4 thoughts on “Classic Books for English Learners – Beginner to Advanced

  1. I am looking for adult content books to read to early English language learners. Most are from Somalia. My students do not yet have the skills to read more than simple sentences and I am looking for something to read to them for a few minutes every class time that would be of interest to them. Most suggested books are children’s books or young reader books with more juvenile content. Do you have any suggestions?

    1. Hi Irene, besides the books I have listed here It might be hard to find books that adults with a beginner level will understand and enjoy. How about Dr. Seuss or Canadian author Robert Munsch?

  2. Hi, Irene.

    I suggest a collection of English books called “TRUE STORIES IN THE NEWS”, by Sandra Heyer. Eventhough the vocabulary is for beginners, the stories are excellent. The levels are: Beginners and Intermediate.

  3. If you can invest in reading resources of get grant funding, Oxford University Press has a graded reader nonfiction series called FactFiles as well as graded reader classics for adult/university students that are more suitable for young adult and adult learners.

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