What is one of the best ways to study English on your own? Read! CISL students often ask what novels they can read to improve their language skills. CISL teachers put together a list of some of their favorite books to read and teach. Try some of these and see how quickly your reading and vocabulary skills improve.

Novels for ESL students

The Alchemist

By Paulo Coehlo


A young shepherd from Andalusia goes on a journey to Egypt after having a dream of finding treasure. Originally published in Portuguese, the novel has been translated into over 60 languages! Many students have read the novel in their language and therefore have a great time reading it again . . . this time, in English.

Some resources for reading The Alchemist:

– This The Alchemist vocabulary lesson from 5 Minute English.

– An overview of The Alchemist (including critical reading and analysis) from Spark Notes.

– This audiobook of The Alchemist on YouTube.



Charlotte’s Web

By E. B. White


This beloved book is a favorite for most American children, but it’s a great novel for English learners, too! Talking pigs, spiders who write . . . it’s a lesson in humanity, taught by animals.

Some resources for reading Charlotte’s Web:

– This vocabulary list of words from the novel from Vocabulary.com.

– The original movie adaptation from 1973.

– The remake of the original movie from 2006.



The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

By Mark Haddon


What is is like to live with an illness that makes you see the world differently? In this novel, we see the world through the eyes of the narrator, Christopher, who has a mental disorder that makes social interactions difficult.

Some resources for reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time:

– This overview of the novel, including chapter by chapter analysis, on SparkNotes.

A New York Times review of the book.

– The theater production of the book. Go see it!


The House on Mango Street

By Sandra Cisneros


Told through the eyes of a young Mexican-American girl, The House on Mango Street is the story of an immigrant family living in the United States. Each chapter is a separate story and can be read in order or out of order. Part poetic, part social commentary, this is a beautiful novel read in many U.S. classrooms.

Some resources for reading The House on Mango Street:

– This free copy of the book: it’s available online!

– The audiobook of the novel, read by the author Sandra Cisneros.

– This interview with Sandra Cisneros about the novel.


The Little House on the Prairie

By Laura Ingalls Wilder


Learn about life as a settler in the United States with the first of the books in a series about the life of Laura, a little girl who travels west with her family to make a new life on the prairie. Her descriptions of their hard life provide a fascinating look at a time when things like electricity were a luxury!

 Some resources for reading Little House on the Prairie:

– This vocabulary list of words you find in the book.

– The Little House on the Prairie YouTube channel, which shows clips from some of the episodes from the TV show of the same name.

– This article about reading Little House on the Prairie as an adult.


The Chronicles of Narnia

By C. S. Lewis


This seven-book series that begins with a book called The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is considered a classic of children’s literature (and loved by many adults)! The author, C. S. Lewis, borrowed themes from Greek and Roman mythology, British and Irish fairy tales, and Christianity, and then incorporated them into the books.

Some resources for reading The Chronicles of Narnia series:

      – This website with many vocabulary lists for English learners.

Vocabulary list for the first book (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) of the The Chronicles of Narnia film series.


The Call of the Wild

By Jack London


A book from the point of view of a dog might seem strange, but this classic novel provides a look into the life of a gold prospector in the Canadian wilderness and also provides a philosophical look into nature and human existence.

Some resources for reading The Call of the Wild:

    – The book online, for free, from Sonoma

    – Fascinating information on the life of Jack London from Sonoma State University

    – SparkNotes summaries and analysis of the book


Animal Farm

By George Orwell


Another animal novel! In this classic allegorical and dystopian novel, Orwell uses animals to symbolize the struggles with political parties and government systems. Originally inspired by events in Russia, this book is now used to understand the concepts of symbolism and allegory.

Some resources for reading Animal Farm:

     – Cliffs Notes of Animal Farm 

     – This great site on Orwell and his works

     – The audiobook on YouTube


Idioms with “page”


The English language is full of idioms with the word PAGE. Do you know some of them? Below are a few to learn before you begin flipping pages of your own book!

Be on the same page

Definition: to be in agreement.

Example: My boss and I are on the same page with how we want this company to grow.

Example: My best friend and I are always on the same page. That’s why we are best friends!

Turn the page

Definition: to stop thinking about or dealing with something.

Example: They are turning the page on this failed project and trying a new one.

Take a page out of someone’s book

Definition: to imitate someone.

Example: I’m taking a page out of your book and waking up early.

See you in the funny pages

Definition: an informal goodbye.

Example: Great seeing you again! See you in the funny pages!