On today’s episode, I’m going to give you 5 amazing books to help you improve and practice your English skills! All language students should be reading as often as possible. You can develop your vocabulary and grammar knowledge, discover new information about cultures and history, and enjoy yourself at the same time! It can be scary and frustrating when trying to choose your first English book, but hopefully this episode will make it a much simpler experience.
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“Reading is essential for those who seek to rise above the ordinary.” – Jim Rohn
Reading is an essential part of learning English. It helps to build your vocabulary, improve your grammar, develop advanced sentence structure, and most of all it is fun! You should all include reading as part of your study schedule. However, for many learners it can be a daunting task – there are so many books out there! Where can we start? How do I know if a book is too difficult for me? Or too easy?
This is where I come in! Today I am going to give you five book recommendations. While there are similar lists available online, the books I’m going to recommend are a little different. Each book is available in the original native English form, and as a graded reader. Graded readers, or sometimes just ‘readers,’ are books that have had the language level simplified to help learners read them. The language in the books is graded for vocabulary, complexity of grammar and also by the length of the books. They also include vocabulary help, and comprehension activities to make sure you really understand what you are reading. Graded readers are available in levels ranging from beginners to advanced. Some popular brands include Penguin (which will be featured in this episode), Pearson, and Cambridge!
The five books I have chosen today range from level 3 to level 7 as graded readers – A2 to B2 on the European framework. In other words, the first reader I recommend will be at a upper beginners level, and the last reader I recommend will be at an upper intermediate level. Of course, you can always pick up the original native English version if you prefer! It is up to you to decide!
So, after hearing my description of the books, you can select the one you think is most interesting and decide whether you want to try reading the full native version, or a version aimed at ESL students. I’ll include links to all books mentioned in the podcast description and on the Thinking in English blog! Most of the books are very affordable and available to download as a kindle eBook on the free Amazon kindle app. In fact, I think some of the older books are actually free to download as eBooks! As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. If you buy anything using my links, you will be helping to support the podcast! I do all of this for free (becuase I want to help people study) but if you buy something from one of the links on this page you will be helping to improve the show!
Also, do not feel embarrassed about reading a graded reader. By choosing your first English books wisely, and if needed choosing a graded reader, you should have a very positive reading experience.
The Extraordinary Life of Stephen Hawking
Let’s start off today’s book recommendations with a biography about an incredibly famous scientist.
Stephen Hawking was one of the most influential, respected, and well-known scientists of the past 100 years. After being diagnosed with motor-neurone disease at the age of 21 and told he only had a few years to live, he dedicated his life to trying to answer some of the biggest questions and problems in the world. For example, how did the universe begin? What is a black hole? Is time travel possible? He studied space and time and taught people a lot about the universe. You may have seen the movie ‘The Theory of Everything’ which is about his life!
I think this would be an excellent book for anyone interested in science or interested in reading biographies. As he was a scientist, of course the book references a lot of scientific information – but it also talks about his extraordinary life and how he was successful despite his disabilities.
I’ll link both the original book and the Penguin graded reader version! This book is full of narrative biography, timelines, fascinating facts and some beautiful illustrations. The graded reader is a Level 3 Reader, so it is designed for students ranked A2 in the CEFR framework. Basically, it is an upper beginner level reader. Sentences have up to three clauses, and the most difficult grammar is first conditional, past continuous, and present perfect simple. If this is too easy for you, why not try the original native English version?
When I was younger, one of my favorite books was Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. The book is aimed at younger readers, but this means that the original version has the simplest grammar and vocabulary of all of my recommendations today.
Artemis Fowl is a 12 year old boy, and a criminal mastermind. In the book, he hatches a plan to steal all of the gold from fairy land and must avoid the magical police’s attempts to stop him. Artemis Fowl is a hilarious and exciting story, with likeable characters and a very imaginative version of fairies, dwarves and trolls. These magical creatures are not the usual creatures found in books; they have guns and are ready to fight! Although it is a children’s book, this doesn’t mean that adults won’t like it too!
Again, I’ll leave links to both the original and Penguin graded reader version. The graded reader version of the book is ranked as Level 4 which A2 + on the CEFR scale. So, it is right between beginner and intermediate level. The original version of the book is obviously a little more difficult, but it is aimed at children between 10 and 14 years old so don’t be scared to try the native English version!
Next, let’s move on to one of the most famous books in the world – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
Mary Shelley created the story Frankenstein over 200 years ago while traveling in Switzerland with her husband, the poet Percy Shelley, and their friend Lord Byron. Due to bad weather, the group entertained themselves by writing and telling ghost stories to each other. Frankenstein was born out of this rainy day game.
Victor Frankenstein, a scientist studying natural philosophy, manages to give life to a creature with human features. However, after the experiment doesn’t satisfy the scientist, his monster is left to a free and lonely. This book is an incredibly psychological novel, considered a turning point in English language literature, and tackles themes like horror, romance, and drama.
The original version of the bookis incredibly written, but it can be challenging for people not used to reading in English. Especially if your not used to reading classic novels and old fashioned language. If you’re confident, then by all means try the native English version. But, if you’re a little more hesitant, then the graded reader should be great for you. I have linked a Level 5 Frankenstein graded reader which is equivalent to B1 of the CEFR framework. In other words, an intermediate level book! The sentences have up to 4 clauses, and the most difficult grammar includes present perfect continuous, past perfect, and second conditional!
The Turn of the Screw
Now, let’s look at another classic novel (but this time written by an American author) called The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.
This book is one of the most famous ghost stories in the English language, and the author is considered one of the greatest ever horror story writers. The Turn of the Screw traces the story of young and inexperienced governess who must look after too young orphaned children. The governess sees an unknown man and women around the house, but it turns out they may already be dead!
The graded reader version of the Turn of the Screw is a Level 6 which is a B1+ in the CEFR framework. This is perfect for intermediate readers. This is the longest reader I have recommended so far, with sentences up to four clauses and difficult grammar including future continuous, reported questions, third conditional, was going to and ellipsis. If this is too easy for you, then definitely give the original version a go! I’ll leave links to both.
The final book I’m recommending today is an incredibly popular modern piece of non-fiction – Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant.
In this book, the author looks at how being ‘original’ can change the world. It is a guide on how to be successful by being original. Instead of following the mainstream, he looks at how we can go against the grain, battle against conformity, and stop outdated traditions. Using a number of studies and stories, the author looks at how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, find allies, and choose the right time to act! If you want to learn how to champion new ideas and avoid groupthink, this is the book for you.
The Graded Reader version of Originals is a level 7, so ranked as B2 on the CEFR framework. I guess this will be considered a good book for upper intermediate English learners. The book’s sentences have up to four clauses, with difficult grammar including future perfect simple, mixed conditionals, more complex passive forms and modals for dedication in the past. While the original native English version is more difficult, it is great to challenge yourself!