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A Reading List for the 12 Plus (12+) English Exam


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Typical, effective preparation for the upcoming 12 plus English exam must, as a rule, include plenty of reading. Encouraging your child to read will prove to have many benefits: not only will it help improve their vocabulary, but it will also prepare them for all the other relevant sections of the 12+ English assessment.


Firstly, reading books will familiarise your child with the range of language devices such as parts of speech and figures of speech, both of which are tested in the actual exam. We strongly recommend a diversified approach to exam preparation, including different genres and formats of written text, such as books, poems and newspaper articles. 


Secondly, reading can significantly improve your child’s Verbal Reasoning skills, which may also be tested as part of the 12+ examination. Learning unfamiliar words is central to VR exam preparation and reading can significantly impact the outcome of this test. 


After thorough research, we’ve come up with one very relevant list of classic and modern texts,  all of which are suitable for this particular age group. *Please note that the following content does not contain affiliate links.




A beautifully written story about perseverance, Echo Mountain vividly describes the daily life of a twelve-year-old girl named Ellie, whose family was forced to live in the woods following a financial crash. The storyline depicts the aftermath of the Great Depression while simultaneously familiarising readers with Ellie’s many efforts to become her truest self.



Cardboard Cowboys is a story about a twelve-year-old boy called Lenny, who struggles with his appearance and suffers from difficult family circumstances due to the departure of his older brother Frankie. Things take a turn for the better when Lenny meets a homeless man, with whom he establishes a genuine, non-judgmental friendship and learns how to let his inner self shine. 



The Firework-Maker’s Daughter is an eloquently written adventure story about a young girl called Lila, who aspires to become a firework-maker, like her father. Despite her father’s disapproval, Lila is determined to make her dreams true and undertakes an adventurous journey, which will, in return, reveal many of her hidden strengths and virtues.



Wolf Brother’s plot is set in pre-agricultural Europe, when people were living in clans and nurtured a shamanic belief system. The main character is Torak, who, with his father, lives in seclusion, far away from the clans. After his father suffers a fatal attack by a bear possessed by a demon, Torak makes a vow that he will one day find that bear and kill it. And so his thrilling journey begins, including unlikely friendships and a fulfilment of a prophecy. 



A book featuring a strong female protagonist, The Short Knife tells the story of a girl living in 454AD, when Britain was in the midst of the turmoil of the Dark Ages. The main character’s hurdles begin once, upon the arrival of the Saxons warriors, her family is forced to flee to the hills where British warlords lurk. The book boasts a sense of adventure, engaging readers and captivating their attention. 



When the Sky Falls is a historical fiction novel based on a true story. While WWII is in full force, twelve-year-old Joseph is sent to London to safety. Mrs F, his new guardian, is his grandmother’s friend who is also a keeper of the local zoo. In the midst of all the war-induced chaos, an unlikely friendship between Joseph and the gorilla Adonis emerges, helping the boy form a valuable connection in a time of great difficulty. 



The Boy at the Back of the Class is a touching story about the refugee crisis as seen through the eyes of a nine-year-old Syrian refugee called Ahmet. When he joins a new school, miles away from his home, children in his class become profoundly curious about him. Following their discovery that Ahmet had been separated from his remaining family, they decide to take action and reunite him with his loved ones. 



Once is a WWII novel about a Jewish boy called Felix. The plot is set in Poland during the Nazi occupation and Hitler’s attempts to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe. Felix takes readers on a remarkable, often melancholic journey of survival that also includes a young girl named Zelda, who he had rescued from a burning house. 



Clockwork is an illustrated book that tells the story of three characters: an apprentice clockmaker; the daughter of the innkeeper of Glockenheim and a local writer. A fun and engaging tale about Germany in the old days and the clockwork as a metafictive device, this book contains a strong moral message, warning readers about the dissolution of humanity in favour of industrialisation. 



Due to a strict immigration policy, Sila and her mother have been separated for a long time. When she one day decides to accompany her father (who is a mechanic) outside their town to fix a truck, she meets a peculiar old man who has recently won the state lottery. A surprising alliance with the grandfatherly figure will ultimately lead to the formation of new, valuable friendships and the rescue of a circus elephant.



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