Ten novels to read when learning English (for beginner, intermediate and advanced levels)

by | May 3, 2024 | Cool & Fun, Online education, Tips for Students, Top 10

Reading novels in English is a must for students who wish to improve their English and reach an advanced level. Novels will help you broaden your vocabulary, buttress your grammar skills, and teach you a wealth of new idioms, expressions and phrasal verbs.

There are many other good ways to learn English, such as having 1-on-1 lessons with native English teachers, watching movies or TV series in English (with or without subtitles), listening to English/American radio stations, or exploring English-learning websites or apps online, but at some point during your learning journey, you will have to read some literature in English if you truly intend to master the language.

For this reason, we have asked our in-house expert (and published British author) Adam Jacot de Boinod to offer us his selection of the 10 best novels and stories to read for English students of all levels (beginner, intermediate & advanced).

Novel 1: “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle

Simple story for beginners who wish to learn basic English. CEFR level: A0 to A1

Summary: In this beloved children’s book, a very hungry caterpillar eats its way through various foods before transforming itself into a butterfly. It’s a well-known perennial favourite with children and adults alike. Its imaginative and vibrant illustrations and clever cut-out detail charts the caterpillar’s progress. Along with its simple language it’s a great option for beginners to practice counting and learn about the life cycle of a butterfly.

Novel 2: “Matilda” by Roald Dahl

Popular children’s novel for lower-intermediate students of English. CEFR level: A1 to B1

Summary: Roald Dahl’s great novel follows the story of Matilda, a young girl with extraordinary intelligence and telekinetic powers, as she navigates life with her 

English novel for beginners and intermediate students of English

neglectful family and tyrannical and spiteful headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. Underestimating Matilda proves to be a huge mistake as they soon discover when Matilda finds out that she is the owner of a very special power. With its humorous dialogue and engaging plot, “Matilda” is an excellent choice for intermediate English learners. Matilda’s parents have called her some terrible things, but the truth is she’s a genius and they’re the stupid ones.

Novel 3: “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (English translation!)

Beautiful story easily readable for beginners in English and intermediate level students. CEFR level: A1+ to B1

Summary: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s timeless novella (short novel) is a touching classic children’s book. It tells the story of a young prince who travels from planet to planet, encountering various characters and learning important lessons about life along the way. While slightly more advanced, its poetic prose and universal themes should make it an engaging read for all intermediate learners.

Novel 4: “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling

English novel for intermediate English students

World-famous fantasy saga well suited for lower-intermediate English students and above. Mostly for children, though it can be very appealing to adults too. CEFR level: A2 to B2

Summary: J.K. Rowling’s fantasy masterpiece introduces readers to the magical world of Harry Potter, a young wizard who only discovers his true identity on his eleventh birthday. He then embarks on a journey to “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry”. He hasn’t ever been the star of a Quidditch team. 

He hasn’t scored points while riding a broom over the Earth. He doesn’t know spells nor has he ever helped to hatch a dragon nor worn a cloak of invisibility. He only is aware of his dull life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle and Dudley their terrible bullying son Dudley. While slightly more challenging due to its length and intricate plot, the Harry Potter series offers rich vocabulary and, with its captivating storytelling, perhaps belongs to the category for learners who are intermediate.

Novel 5: “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott

Coming-of-age novel destined to more confirmed students of English. CEFR level: A2+ to C1

Summary: Louisa May Alcott’s lovely novel follows the lives of the four March sisters: an adult Meg, a tomboyish Jo, a timid Beth, and a precocious Amy. They couldn’t be more different as they navigate their challenges of growing up during the era of the Civil War and remain wondering: “Will Father return home safely”? With its rich characterisation and timeless themes of family, love and sisterhood, it’s a proper rewarding read for intermediate learners.

Novel 6: “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A more challenging novel for English students who have a solid intermediate level or above. CEFR level: B1 to C1

Summary: Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel tells the story of the angry, strong-willed and much-misunderstood Mary Lennox, a young girl who discovers, when a friendly robin helps Mary find the key, a neglected garden and transforms it into a place both of beauty and healing. With its descriptive language and what is really a very engaging plot, it’s an excellent choice for intermediate English learners interested in literature set in Victorian England.

Novel 7: “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

A classic of British literature and challenging read that will help upper-intermediate and advanced students reach a more advanced level of English. CEFR level: B2 to C2

Summary: Jane Austen’s timeless romance is also a novel of manners. Elizabeth Bennet is the second of five daughters of a country 

Novel for intermediate and advanced English students

gentleman living near the fictional town of Meryton. It follows the tumultuous relationship between her and Mr. Darcy against the backdrop of England set in the early 19th-century. While admittedly it is slightly more challenging due to its formal language and complex social dynamics, however its strong plot and its memorable characters make it a rewarding read for intermediate to advanced learners.

Novel 8: “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

For a taste of American literature and culture. This is a brilliant and thoughtful novel which upper-intermediate or advanced English students will enjoy very much. CEFR level: B2+ to C2

Summary: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel paints a vivid portrait of the Jazz Age in 1920s America through the eyes of narrator Nick Carraway, who becomes entangled in the glamorous and tragic world of his mysterious neighbour, the mysteriously wealthy Jay Gatsby who has an abiding love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan and hold lavish parties on his Long Island mansion. With its lyrical prose and exploration of themes such as both the American Dream and moral decay, “The Great Gatsby” is a demanding yet excellent read for advanced English learners.

Novel 9: “1984” by George Orwell

Futuristic classic that is chillingly anticipatory. For advanced English students who are ready to be challenged by complex language and ideas. CEFR level: C1 to C2

Summary: George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece offers a chilling prophesy of the future, a harrowing vision of a totalitarian society where individuality is suppressed, and where reality is controlled by a tyrannical regime led by “Big Brother”. The main character Winston Smith toes the Party line, rewriting history to satisfy the demands of the Ministry of Truth. This is unquestionably one of the most influential novels of the 20th century. “1984” challenges readers to reflect on the themes of surveillance, on propaganda and on the power of language. It makes it a really thought-provoking choice for advanced English learners.

Novel 10: “Ulysses” by James Joyce

Let us close with a flourish and perhaps the most difficult novel written in the English language. An immensely rewarding book overflowing with linguistic creativity and psychological insight. Only for (super-)advanced English students who wish to experience what the summit of English prose feels like. CEFR level: C1 to C2++

Summary: James Joyce’s book is a modernist masterpiece, a novel of supreme stylistic innovation. It follows the experiences of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus over the course of a single day in Dublin, Ireland. Renowned for its experimental narrative style, its stream-of-consciousness technique and for its somewhat dense allusions, “Ulysses” is rightly hailed as one of the most challenging novels in the English language. It is thus a formidable but rewarding choice for advanced learners especially as they seek to push their linguistic and literary abilities to new boundaries.


These ten novels to read when learning English offer a healthily diverse range of themes, styles and linguistic challenges. They will certainly provide English learners with sufficient opportunities to improve their reading comprehension and their vocabulary as well as their overall language proficiency at various levels of difficulty.

Native English Writer

This article was written by Break Into English’s blog contributor Adam Jacot de Boinod.