English Novels for Beginners

This blog was originally published in November 2013 but was updated in September 2019. 

Reading is one of the best ways to improve your English. Whether you're preparing for a Cambridge exam or just studying to improve your language skills, reading is a fantastic way to acquire new vocabulary, explore new structures, discover complex expressions and really get a feel for the language. Unfortunately, though, sometimes it can be difficult to find the right kinds of the novel for your level. That's why we've created this list of the best English novels for beginners.

Easy Novels for English Language Learners

1.  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon

Front Cover Serious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Copyright: Jonathan Cape

The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night Time is the story of a young boy, Christopher, who suffers from autism. Christopher goes to a special school and finds it very hard to understand and communicate with people from the outside world.  He discovers that his neighbours’ dog has been murdered and decides to investigate the crime. This takes him on a terrifying and challenging journey that changes his life.

The story is told by Christopher, which means the language is simple and easy to understand.  Its short length also makes this book easy to read, even for beginners!

2.  Fantastic Mr Fox – Roald Dahl

Fantastic Mr Fox Cover
Copyright: Donald Chaffin

A great tip when choosing books to improve your English is to read books written for children. We chose Fantastic Mr Fox, but we could have really chosen almost any book by the iconic writer Roal Dahl, who is arguably one of the greatest children's authors of all time.

Fantastic Mr Fox is the story of three mean local farmers and a sly fox who steals their chickens, geese and apple cider to feed his family and friends.  Boggis, Bunce and Bean (the horrible farmers) plan to capture the fox by digging into his home, but Fantastic Mr Fox has a plan of his own….

Another great thing about these books is the illustrations by Quentin Blake.  Reading a book with pictures also helps you to better understand the story.

3.  The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway and Henry Strater by the sea
Ernest Hemingway and Henry Strater in the Bahamas

The Old Man and the Sea is a short novel about an epic battle between an old Cuban fisherman and a giant fish. Hemingway uses the simple story as a fable which explores the themes of challenge, courage, survival, defeat and personal triumph.

Hemingway is famous for his clean, minimalist style of writing, which is perfect for language learners.  Using short sentences and getting straight to the point, every level of an English learner will find the language accessible.

4.  Lord of the Flies – William Golding

Lord of the Flies Book cover depicting a desert island
Copyright: Faber & Faber publishers

Lord of the Flies is a modern classic, and a popular one to read at school.  It was once the set text for the Cambridge Advanced Exam, which makes it an even better book to help improve your English!  Whether you’ve read it in your own language or not, it’s a good one to try in English.

Lord of the Flies begins with a plane crash which leaves a group of boys marooned on an island.  Alone on the island, they elect a leader and create their own society.  Things go horribly wrong and a war for leadership begins.  The boys turn savage and form two rival tribes, resulting in panic, fear and death.

It will make you think about human nature. Will our cruelty and hunger for power end up destroying us?

5.  Empty World – John Christopher

Empty World John Christopher
Copyright: Hamish Hamilton Publishers

When Nick’s parents are killed in a car crash, he moves to live with his grandparents.  Shortly after the move, a deadly virus spreads around the world and kills most of the population.  Nick is left alone to survive in a lonely and empty world…..

The language in Empty World is simple because it was written for a teenage audience, but it is as dark, disturbing and thought-provoking as any adult book. Although it might be an easy read, it's also one that will make you think!

6. To Kill a Mockingbird- Harper Lee

Early front cover of To Kill a Mockingbird
Jacket design by Shirley Smith

To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic American novel that many students in the UK and the US will study in secondary school.

The book is set in in the United States and follows the story of a crime in a small, rural town and its repercussions. Its told from the point of view of a child, so the language is never overly complex, making it a great novel for English language beginners.

7. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone- J.K. Rowling

So it may be an obvious choice, but the early Harry Potter books make for a great introduction to the English language. Written for children and Young Adults, the language is somewhat simple, making the books accessible for people with a low level of English. If that wasn't enough, you're probably already familiar with the storyline- which always makes reading in your second language a lot easier!

We hope you enjoyed reading about our favourite books. Do you want to learn English with native speakers? Check out our online English courses and improve your English today.

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All images are used for educational purposes to illustrate a critical analysis of the novels. All image rights belong to the book's publisher or cover artist.