The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Recommended for teenagers or adults (C1 level and above)
This novel is by Australian writer Markus Zusak and was first published in 2005. It is set in Germany during World War II. The central character is nine year-old Liesel Meminger who is living with foster parents but her experiences are narrated by Death. Liesel's foster parents hide a jewish man named Max in their house. This puts the family in danger, but they don't mind because they know they are doing the right thing. Max teaches Liesel how to read and write and this opens up a whole new world for her. It is a way for her to learn new things and escape reality.
The book explores the horrors of life in Nazi Germany and the destruction of innocence but also the joys of books and reading. Language, reading and writing are powerful symbols of freedom and expression in the book. Repression is shown in the Nazi book burnings, but Liesel’s quest to “rescue” books represents her fight against being controlled and search for freedom.
The topic of the book is also very relevant today. So many refugee children are suffering because of war. They have been taken away from their families, they have moved to places they don't know and they have to learn to cope with their new surroundings.
This book is both heartbreaking and uplifting. I cried a lot while reading it but that’s the sign of a good book for me. It’s not an easy read. If you don’t like weeping until the ink on the page runs, maybe it’s not the book for you.
This book has won many awards and was in the NY Times best-selling list for over 230 weeks. There is also a wonderful movie about this book and it stars Geoffrey Rush.
Recommended by Cathy Harris and Ana Segura
Cathy has taught English at IH Madrid since 2004 has been Professional Development Coordinator since 2011. She studied language and literature at university and is an avid reader in English, Spanish and French. Ana has taught English at IH Madrid since 2012, and is also Senior Teacher for Young Learners in the Off-site department. She has wide-ranging experience in teaching both adults and children.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Recommended for adults or perhaps students in their late teens who have a C1.2 level or higher.
The story follows Saleem Sinai whose birth coincides with the independence of India on August 15, 1947. Events in his life run parallel to and seem intimately related to India in its early years after Independence and partition. He later discovers he has telepathic powers and that other children born around the same time also have special gifts. However his attempts to try and unite these children are disrupted by a rival ‘child of midnight.’
Though this book is packed with a lot of information and in many ways structurally complex, the story is somewhat straightforward and easy to read. i.e if you know a bit about Indian/Pakistani history and are quite bookish, there is a lot to unpack here; but if not, it is still an enjoyable story and can appeal on many different levels.
It was also winner of the Booker (and Best of Booker) awards and it has also recently been made into a feature film.
Recommended by Matt Rueter
Matt is currently Assistant Director of Studies in ih Alonso Martínez and has taught English at International House since 2009.