100 Books You Should Read by the Time You Turn 20

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This list has its origins in the NPR list of books for teens. Our teens were unimpressed with some of the books voted most popular on the list. Their answer is the list below. It’s a list of books chosen by teens for teens in response to the NPR list on 100 Best Teen Novels Ever. So, join us for 100 Books You Should Read by the Time You Turn 20.

Criteria Used to Choose the 100 Books

As we made the list, I talked with my teens about how they were measuring up the books. What was going to give the books what it takes to be on the list? Here is the list they came up with:

  • Novels Only– no plays, poems, short stories, etc
  • Newbery Honors & Awards– many books on the list earned a Newbury recognition. If you don’t pay attention to those, now is the time!
  • Lasting Titles– maybe we could say “classics” here. If it’s been in print a long time, chances are it’s worth the read.
  • Provokes Discussion– do you have a teen at your house? They love a good discussion and if it’s over a book…all the better!
  • Personal Favorites– they had to include books they love the most. Though, this mom exercised a veto right on a few Star Wars books. So, be aware there may be titles that don’t seem to fit and they are probably a personal choice by someone!

The other thing about this list is that it’s not a list entirely aimed at teens. It’s a list of books to be read by the time you are no longer a teen. You’ll find books for younger kids on here as well as for teens and young adults. It should be noted that any of the books on the list are well worth reading long beyond the age of 20.

“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”  ― CS Lewis

Top 10 of 100 Books You Should Read by the Time You Turn 20

Blog, She Wrote: 100 Books You Should Read by the Time You Turn 20

These are the books our children chose for their top 10 out of 100 books. Keep in mind that some of these are actually books in a series and they count the whole series! Have you read these?

  1. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
  2. The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis
  3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  4. The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
  5. Swallows & Amazons by Arthur Ransome
  6. Redwall by Brian Jacques
  7. The Trumpet of the Swan by EB White
  8. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
  9. Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
  10. Watership Down by Richard Adams

Historical Fiction Books to Read before You Turn 20

This category includes books set in historical time periods which are about the life of that time. You’ll also find autobiographical fiction here, such at Little House on the Prairie.

Fantasy Books to Read before You Turn 20

As you can see by the length of this category, fantasy is a favorite of ours. Both of my teens and our younger two boys adore fantasy. Fantasy includes elements of magic such as talking animals and have “other world” settings or plot items.

Science Fiction Books to Read by the Time You Turn 20

Science Fiction is sort of a sub-genre of fantasy and dystopian novels are included in this category. The “other world” element has to do with a scientific breakthrough or invention that “changes everything” we know about the world.

Adventure Books to Enjoy before You Are 20

Blog, She Wrote: 100 Books You Should Read by the Time You Turn 20

This category refers to the other general stories of adventure. You might disagree with some of the category references for the books, but this is how our teens chose to divide them up.

How to Grow Readers

Blog, She Wrote: The Ultimate Guide to Establishing a Reading Culture in Your Home

So, how do you get to the point of enjoying all these books with your students? Here are a few posts to help making reading a priority in your home.

The Ultimate Guide to Establishing a Reading Culture in Your Home– This is a collection of resources and ideas to help you build a reading culture in your home for toddlers and preschoolers through high school.

Organizing Your Homeschool Library– How do you organize all those books you want on hand as a homeschooler? Click through for some practical tips on how to organize and store the books.

Summer Reading Challenge without the Carrot & the Stick– It’s never too early to think about how to challenge your kids this summer. Or perhaps you are looking for ways to challenge your kids’ reading habits right now. Here are some tried and true ideas for engaging students with books- without the reward systems common to reading challenges.

Get the Printable

This post has been so popular that when a reader suggested I make a printable list of the 100 Books, I thought it would be a fantastic idea! If you subscribe, you’ll get an ebook which describes the list, gives pointers on using the list and the books, and gives you a printable checklist of all the books. You’ll also get other subscriber freebies already available, plus free lessons, ideas, and homeschool high school support right in your inbox.

Subscribe for the Free eBook & Printable List

Take a look at this massive collection of 100 lists from the iHN!




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  1. I love your list but am surprised you didn’t include the Wingfeather books by Andrew Peterson and the 100 cupboards series by NT Wright…both rank up their in our family with CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein’s work

    1. Thanks Kimberly- I haven’t heard of those books. I wonder if my kids know about them. I’ll check!

    2. N.D. wilson not n.t. Wright. ALL of nate wilson’s fiction is great.

      Love the list. I didn’t read most of these until my late twenties but I am making up for lost time now 🙂

  2. Oooh, what a wonderful list! Thank you so much for putting it together, Heather. My older three have read the entire Redwall series and loved them, thanks to your recommendation a couple of years ago. I shall enjoy introducing them to a few of the series you’ve mentioned which they haven’t read yet. I think we’ll be heading towards bankruptcy before they turn twenty….

    1. Thanks Claire! For sure Redwall is a long time favorite around here. Home library funding is always in need, isn’t it? Enjoy the new books!

  3. Loved the John Flanagan books, myself. Will check out the others. Has your crew ever read The Belgariad series by David Eddings? I’m a SF/F fan, too, and loved these five books. I’ve read through them many times since they first came out in early 80s when I had to wait for the next one! I never started The Hunger Games series, but read and loved the Gregor books by Ms. Collins. So great that you’ve got readers! Only one of my four loves to read as much as I do.

    1. Thanks Denise- The Hunger Games is not a book we would have picked up, but my high school junior read the first one for a dystopian literature class. I find the first person present a little awkward to read and it’s a very simple text, but it is a compelling story.

  4. Love this list. Any chance someone wants to break it down more to grade level? I have a 5th grade boy who likes to read if he is properly motivated.

    1. I’m not normally a by grade level girl, but I can tell you which ones are mostly likely too emotionally mature for a 5th grader. What sorts of stories does he like? That’s the best place to start. Redwall books are great epic tales involving woodland animals. That’s a fun place to begin!

    2. Hi Kris,
      The best lists for age I have ever come across are on Imagination Soup (.net). They have lists organised by age and have been a huge help in books I buy for our school library.

  5. I’d add some Australian fiction too, as this is quite American and British-centric. My additions would be: Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden and Lockie Leonard by Tim Winton. Possibly something by Malina Marchetta, Looking for Alibrandi springs to mind but On the Jellicoe Road might prove long-term too.

  6. Thanks for the list. Lots of good stuff on there. Someday I’m going to compile our family’s list–there will be a lot of overlap! 🙂

  7. Hello!
    I just saw this list referenced on Facebook. What a great list!! Out of my 10 children, 8 are greedy bookworms like their momma, and 2 read, but at their own pace and pleasure.
    Just wanted to add, a great way that I have gotten excellent literature into my kids is through audio books. We have listened to so many in the car, and my kids go to bed with audio books every single night. We do the occasional dramatization, but it is mostly straight reading.
    This is an excellent way to get stories in that they might not be quite old enough to handle all the reading. And I find that once they listen to a book, they are then quite ready to tackle it for themselves!!

    We quote our favorite books every day, so I know the great words are sticking. Can’t wait to find the few on this list that we haven’t read!!

  8. I absolutely love that your kids created this! So many good titles here and a few I’ve not heard of before.

    I have to ask — what Poirots are your children’s favorites? Mine are Roger Ackroyd and Curtain. My six grader and I have read a few Poirots together and have just started his first Miss Marple.

    1. Thanks! My 16yo says his favorite is Murder on the Orient Express and my 14yo agrees though she has not read as many. I can’t convince my 16yo to try Miss Marple mysteries. I’ll make another effort. ha

  9. I realize this is an older post, but what a great list! I would love a printable list to take along to the library.

    1. Renee- thanks for the great idea on the printable list. I’ll see about adding that to the post. Check back!

      1. I subscribed to your list, but I haven’t received your list of 100 books to read before you turn 20. I was hoping to use that list to plan for our summer reading. Do you know when I can get it? Thanks!

        1. Hi Jennifer,
          When did you subscribe? The links to the freebies are in my blog emails which arrive in your inbox just after 7am on a morning when I have posted. An email went out at 7am on Monday morning and another will go out tomorrow morning (Wednesday) with a new post. If you don’t get it then, please let me know! Thanks for subscribing!

  10. I myself am a teen, and I love the books Peak and Paper Towns. Roland Smith and John Green are truly amazing authors. They are both about teens and although Paper Towns may be inappropriate for younger kids it is great for teens in high school.

  11. My oldest son is quite dyslexic, but at 11 he is the best read of my kids because of free audio books from the library and online! His vocabulary, knowledge, and comprehension is impressive due to his appetite for learning and technology available so his reading skills don’t hold him back. He (and the other kids) have read many of these abd are looking forward to the others. Thanks for a great list!

    1. Listening to stories is a great idea, Kimberly! We love our Audible membership and the library choices. Have fun with the list!

  12. Awesome list! Already read quite a few of these titles, can’t wait to check out the others. It’s always great to find new books to read. I have to say I was surprised that The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy wasn’t on this list; Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert Heinlein books are also absent. Another awesome, but little-known title is The Chestry Oak by Kate Seredy. I was thrilled to see True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle on your list – never seen it mentioned or heard of anyone else who loves it like I do. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for the recommendations. I’ll have my teens check those books out!

  13. Hi there! Great post! I tried to subscribe, but the button didn’t do anything. How can I subscribe so that I can get the printable?

    1. I’m sorry the button isn’t working. You can try in Chrome or if you send me your email, I’ll add you to the subscription list manually and I’ll send you the link.

  14. My granddaughter is an avid reader. I would like to print the 100 book list that should be ready by age 20.

    1. Hi Janet- the printable is available when you subscribe. Just put your email in the form and after you submit, it’ll take you to a page where you can download the ebook and printable. If you miss it that way, it’s available at the bottom of every email that comes from the blog. Thanks so much!

  15. So glad I found this list. I, too, tend to disagree with books selected for must-read book lists. They tend to have books I’ve never heard of which indicates there is not an emphasis on classics and appropriateness.

    FYI, in the ebook version, I struggled for a bit because I didn’t see where the historical fiction category was. Looks like they were lumped in with Fantasy. No biggie, but thought I’d mention it in case you want to fix it.

  16. Are “all the books to read before you’re 20” organized by age range or all the books just for teens? Thanks!

    1. Are “all the books to read before you’re 20” organized by age range or all the books just for teens? Thanks!

      Oops. I should have read a bit further.

  17. This is a great list of books but a quick comment, it’s the Newbery Award not the Newbury award.

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