Every book or author in my list of 10 fits the list of criteria I have for reading books in foreign languages when I’m at an intermediate level. If you’re lost in the search to find something to read, hopefully this guideline will help you narrow your search!
My Guideline for Choosing Books
I take 3 things into consideration when I’m picking books in a foreign language.
#1. Genre, reviews and recommendations
I choose books I’ve already read (for comprehension), books recommended by other language learners OR books found on GoodReads above 4.0 stars in the 4th-6th grade level (10-12 year olds).
Apart from novels written for 10-12 year olds, I look for non-fiction books written in the first person (to improve the way I talk and think about myself and my life), novels by authors who write simplistically (ex. Paulo Coelho) or crime books (to improve conversational ability).
#2. Extensive Reading: Look up max. 4-5 words per page or fewer
When I’m in a bookstore and want to know if a book is a good choice, I flip to the middle of the book, read one page and count the number of words I don’t know. If I need to look up more than the 4-5 words to understand the context, reading is not fun, it’s work. Being able to immerse oneself in a story can improve the learning experience. Flow = Fun = Learning. Intensive reading should be left for articles.
#3 Limit the Length of the Book to 250 pages
Everytime I finish a chapter in a foreign language a great sense of accomplishment sweeps over me. Unfortunately, if a book is very long, the likelihood of finishing it decreases due to lack of time, loss of interest, etc.
As a result, I feel bad about myself. I don’t risk it; I normally choose books under 250 pages.
Without any further ado, here are my top 10 recommendations.
My Top 10 Recommendations
#1: Paulo Coelho
The Alchemist / The Pilgrimage / 11 Minutes
Paulo Coelho’s books are easy reads. Although not originally written in English, they were translated exceptionally well. I read his books in German, French, Spanish and Portuguese while at an intermediate level and they’ll give you the sensation you’re fluent, even when you aren’t. Get ready to go on a philosophical adventure!
#2: Elizabeth Gilbert
Eat Pray Love / Big Magic / Committed
Gilbert writes in a very natural way, talking about everyday life and situations in the first person. This style of writing can help you express yourself in everyday life or even start your own journal in English!
You’ll notice that travel journals are often written in a similar fashion!
#3: Roald Dahl
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and James and the Giant Peach
All of Roald Dahls’ stories are imaginative, fun and engaging. The books above helped my reading ability drastically when I was at an basic-intermediate level in Spanish. Vocabulary inside is useful for everyday life.
#4: C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia (The Lion the Witch & the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, etc.)
The Chronicles of Narnia are great although I must admit a little bit more difficult to understand than Roald Dahl due to the fantastical vocabulary. The key is that they are page-turners – you won’t be able to put them down! You might even forget you’re reading in English.
#5: Lois Lowry
Great books. The Giver was my favorite book when I was in 5th grade and sparked a love of reading in me. Number the Stars was the favorite of many of my friends. These are great for ANY age level.
#6: Sue Monk Kidd
I read this book in 5th grade and really liked it. Apart from great character development, it reflects on relationships between women and race in the South during the 1950s.
#7. Malcom Gladwell
Outliers, Blink, The Tipping Point
Malcom Gladwell is a journalist who packs his books with stories and interesting perspectives on life. A few of my students have read his books and found them interesting and understandable.
Other journalistic works: Tim Ferris Books, 4-hour work week, Lean Start-up etc.
#8 – Katherine Paterson
Many kids liked this series at school. It’s well written and can be read at any age level and enjoyed from my opinion. Afterwards, consider watching the movie in English to repeat vocabulary (on Netflix).
#10: Christopher Paul Curtis
"When the Watson family—ten-year-old Kenny, Momma, Dad, little sister Joetta, and brother Byron—sets out on a trip south to visit Grandma in Birmingham, Alabama, they don’t realize that they’re heading toward one of the darkest moments in America’s history. The Watsons’ journey reminds us that even in the hardest times, laughter and family can help us get through anything."
Recommendations from my friends:
I asked my friends what their favorite books were when they read from 10-12 years old. Here is what they recommended:
- Adventure: The Phantom Tollbooth, Harry Potter
- Modern: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Freak the Mighty, Dork Diaries, The Hunger Games, Twilight. DC Supergirls, The Amulet Series
- Mystery: Nancy Drew Mysteries, Goosebumps, The Hardy Boys
- Classics: Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Diary of Anne Frank, Around the World in 80 Days, Anne of Green Gables, Number the Stars, Swiss Family Robinson and The Secret Garden, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Cay, The Hatchet, Call it Courage.
Others: Holes, Brian’s Winter, Harris and Me, Redwall Series, The Golden Compass Series, Sideways Stories from Wayside School, The Ramona Series, James Patterson’s Middle School series.