11+ reading recommendations

The Downe House Library brings you an eclectic range of reading recommendations tailored for age 11 upwards.

9 October 2020

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse

 Charlie Mackesy


This is a special book that can speak to us all, whether we are 3 or 103 years old. It is a reminder of the most important things in life and a book of hope in these uncertain times. It is the story of a friendship told in simple pen and ink sketches. Words are few but profound in meaning:

‘We have such a long way to go,’ sighed the boy. ‘Yes, but look how far we’ve come,’ said the horse.

‘What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?’ asked the boy. ‘Help’ said the horse.

When You Reach Me

Rebecca Stead


12-year-old Miranda comes home one day to find a message in her apartment. It contains a strange request that she writes a letter saying where she has hidden the apartment’s spare key. What is puzzling is whoever left the message must have used the key to get into the apartment. This is Miranda’s first clue.

I could continue and give the game away but that would take away from the pleasure of unravelling the mystery in real-time with Miranda. Suffice to say that if you have read and loved ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ by Madeleine L’Engle, then this is right up your street. If you haven’t read that either, then you must!

‘Mom says each of us has a veil between ourselves and the rest of this world, like a bride wears on her wedding day…the world is kind of blurry, and we like it that way…and when the veil lifts, we can see the world as it really is, just for those few seconds before it settles down again. We see all the beauty, and cruelty, and sadness, and love. But mostly we are happy not to.’

High Rise Mystery

Sharna Jackson


When they find their community art teacher murdered on their tower block estate, sisters Nik and Norva are determined to solve this terrible crime. Even before the police arrive, they have a list of suspects and a plan to uncover the murderer. But over the following days, the evidence starts pointing them in an unexpected direction…

Nik and Norva are great characters – funny and clever – and this fast-paced and exciting mystery will have you guessing until the end.

‘This is the perfect ‘whodunnit’. As the two girls sift through red herrings and reveal a series of tower block secrets, short snappy sentences and sparkling dialogue will keep readers turning the pages. A mystery as hot as the summer heatwave in which it is set!’

Book Trust

The Enigma Game

Elizabeth Wein


Just published, this is an exciting World War Two thriller about a Jamaican Briton, 15-year-old Louisa, whose ingenuity and determination have a remarkable impact on the war effort. Her white English mother was killed in a bomb in London and her black Jamaican dad died three days later when his ship was torpedoed. But brave Louisa ‘burns to fight back’ and is soon involved in an adventure that leads to her becoming involved when a German defector secretly deposits a code-breaking Enigma machine. With her two co-conspirators, Jamie and Ellen, Louisa has the opportunity to make a difference.

Set in 1940, between Wein’s other WWII books, The Pearl Thief and Code Name Verity, this book combines extensive research with well-drawn sympathetic characters to make a high-quality thriller.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Susan Cain


Did you know that at least a third of us are introverts? Introverts prefer listening to speaking; they innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; and they prefer working on their own than in a team. In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and lose a great deal by doing so. She introduces us to successful introverts who include top sales people and amazing public speakers. Take a look at her famous TED talk, too.

‘Passionately argued, superbly researched and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.’


‘I believe [this book] can really help those who are quiet, and also help others to understand them. I wish the book had existed when I was a teenager, and it would be great if it could help anyone in the Downe community!’

Member of DH Staff

Bright Sparks: Amazing Discoveries, Inventions and Designs by Women

Owen O’Doherty


An inspiring non-fiction recommendation this week, Bright Sparks charts discoveries, inventions and designs by women that have changed people’s lives, from the paper bag to the structure of DNA, from windscreen wipers to the life raft, from coffee filters to emergency flares.

This is a beautifully illustrated book about women who made their mark on history and, if you think you could be the next James Dyson, then it even comes with a step-by-step guide to coming up with your own invention. Very empowering!

Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices

Edited by S.K.Ali and Aisha Saeed


Don’t be put off by the age recommendation on this book. This really is for all ages! It’s a collection of short stories that showcases the most brilliant Muslim voices writing today, all about the most joyful holiday of the year: Eid!

Eid: The short, single-syllable word conjures up a variety of feelings and memories for Muslims. Maybe it’s waking up to the sound of frying samosas or the comfort of bean pie, maybe it’s the pleasure of putting on a new outfit for Eid prayers, or maybe it’s the gift giving and holiday parties to come that day. Whatever it may be, for those who cherish this day of celebration, the emotional responses may be summed up in another short and sweet word: joy. A lovely read.

Northern Lights

Philip Pullman

Reviewed by Gabriella (Remove, 2020)


A stimulating, yet slow read to begin with, Northern Lights is about risk, dishonesty and everlasting friendships. It’s about a girl called Lyra who first lives in the secure realms of Jordan College. Lyra is then drawn to the North on an urgent mission to save one of her captured friends and a relative who is not who he seems. Does Lyra know what adventures await her?

This book is filled with suspense and cruelty but also deep friendships. In so many parts of the book you are left on a cliff-hanger making it a book you cannot bear to put down. Nearly all the characters are kind and help Lyra throughout the story, but a small minority of them are cruel. They try to capture Lyra and take her ‘alethiometer’ because of the power this holds.

I just couldn’t bear it when one of the characters had to let Lyra carry on without her because if they were by her side, they would both die. When I closed this book at the end, I felt that I had learnt that people aren’t always who they first seem.

If you like adventure stories I would definitely recommend Northern Lights.


Annet Schaap

Reviewed by Pippa (Remove, 2020)


Lampie doesn’t manage to light the lighthouse lamp and a ship crashes against the rocks. She is sent away to work in the Admiral’s black house in disgrace. There she discovers the monster under the bed and tries to tame it. Together they help each other fight for freedom and the right to be different. A really touching journey full of friendship and compassion in which they discover things about each other and themselves.

I really like the way that Lampie is written because it lets you imagine whatever you want the story to look like. I love the way that the story is told from each character’s point of view and their opinions on the different situations. The story of Lampie, the lighthouse keeper’s daughter, is a moving and inspirational one full of wonder and love for those she cares about most. When Lampie tries to save her father, it shows that family is family no matter what and it is a really important message carried throughout the book.

Ruby in the Smoke

Philip Pullman

Reviewed by Eleanor (LVI, 2020)


I vividly remember my 11-year-old self going into the nearest Waterstones with my dad (which was a regular occurrence) and him buying me ‘The Ruby in the Smoke’ by Philip Pullman. At the time I was far too excited as I had just finished reading another trilogy by Pullman, ‘His Dark Materials’, which are still to this day, my favourite books. However, I found reading the ‘Ruby in the Smoke’ somehow difficult as I thought it was written in a so-called Victorian or old fashioned way. Looking back on it, after studying ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ at GCSE, it really isn’t that hard, but I never continued with it and just gave up.

It was only very recently, staring into my bookshelf at home hoping to find something which I haven’t already read about 50 times, The Ruby in the Smoke popped up. Yes, it was in the young teenager area of my books but I wanted something fresh and fast-paced and this was just it!

It is based on a young girl named Sally Lockhart who has just found out her father has drowned at sea. She is only left with an anonymous letter containing a cryptic message that makes a man die of fear at her feet. She is determined to discover the truth of her father’s death and is suddenly plunged into a terrifying mystery in the dark heart of Victorian London filled with opium, secrets from her past and at the heart of it all, the Ruby of Agrapur.

It genuinely hooked me all the way through and I can’t stress enough how amazing the plot line is! Even though it is a young adult book, it is also for others as it still dives deep into Victorian themes such as the drug opium which was a common drug at the time. I’ve found out it is a part of the ‘Sally Lockhart Mysteries’ quartet which has made me extremely excited and there is even a BBC adaption starring Billie Piper! I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!

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