Storytelling holds the attention of students everywhere, whatever their age or ability, and some of the best stories can be found in our literary history.
Known as the Age of Enlightenment, the 19th century brought us many classics, from great adventures to horror, crime and romance. There was an increase in more realistic novels with a focus on society – this became known as ‘realism’ or ‘social realism’. People, including authors, began to question commonly held beliefs about the law, love and human and animal rights. Science grew in popularity and gave rise to the genre of science fiction.
It truly was a fascinating era. No matter how long ago they were written, these books speak to the universal themes of good over evil, of growing up and of taking challenges head on. Adapted to suit English language learners of all levels, you can find an excellent selection of more than 250 titles in the Pearson English Readers’ series.
Here are 10 of our favorite Classic English Readers from the 19th Century to suit all interests.
1. Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (level 1 – fantasy)
This collection of short stories by American author Washington Irving, follows the tale of Rip Van Winkle, who wanders into the mountains and bumps into some strange characters. Soon we are introduced to Ichabod Crane, a young man who lives in Sleepy Hollow. One day, when he is riding home, he notices something very frightening. There’s a man following him, riding on a black horse, only he has no head! What else will happen in this strange and spooky story?
Perfect for students with an A1 (CEFR) level of English, you can find this level one reader and the MP3 pack here: Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow together with the support Teacher Resources.
2. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (level 1 – science fiction/adventure)
Jules Verne’s captivating story of Captain Nemo and the Nautilus – a submarine – has had readers glued to its pages since the mid-19th century. The captain finds three men in the sea and rescues them. After several months living on the submarine, they discover a town deep below the ocean on the sea bed. It’s beautiful and there is a lot of treasure, but the men just want to go home. Will they find a way back? With its themes of hate and revenge this classic is perfect for those looking for a gripping adventure tale.
Aimed at beginner or A1 (CEFR) level students, you can find this level one reader and the MP3 pack here: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea together with the support Teacher Resources.
3. Black Beauty (level 2 – social realism)
Anna Sewell’s classic novel is written from the perspective of Black Beauty, a young horse who grows up on Farmer Grey’s farm with his mother. We follow the challenges and successes in his life and learn some valuable lessons along the way. Black Beauty’s mother’s words resonate with us throughout the story, ‘Always be good, so people will love you. Always work hard and do your best.’ Written at a time when ‘horse power’ fuelled much of almost everything (transport, farming, industry), Black Beauty was the first book to address the issue of animal welfare and the ethical treatment of animals.
Ideal for A2 – A2+ (CEFR) level learners, you can find this level two reader and the MP3 pack here: Black Beauty together with the support Teacher Resources.
4. The Jungle Book (level 2 – adventure)
Mowgli, a little boy lost in the jungle, is rescued by a family of wolves. He grows up with the wolf cubs and learns to live in the jungle, making lots of friends (and a few enemies) along the way. This wonderful coming-of-age story by Rudyard Kipling has been a favorite with children and adults alike for over 100 years.
Suitable for A2 – A2+ (CEFR) learners, you can find this level two reader and the MP3 pack here: The Jungle Book together with the support Teacher Resources.
5. Dracula (level 3 – horror)
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a gothic horror story about good versus evil and established many of the conventions readers of vampire fiction are now familiar with. The plot revolves around a vampire from Transylvania who travels to England on a ship. Professor Van Helsing, a vampire expert, soon realises that something is wrong when people start becoming ill.
Count Dracula is very powerful and strong. Will the professor and his friends succeed in defeating him? This exciting story will keep your A2 – A2+ (CEFR) level learners extremely engaged!
Find this level three reader and the MP3 pack here: Dracula together with the support Teacher Resources.
6. Sense and Sensibility (level 3 – family drama/romance)
Sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are almost the complete opposites of one another. While Elinor is shy and sensible, Marianne is open and excitable. After the sad death of their father Henry, the family faces some serious financial problems. The sisters both fall in love, but have their hearts broken. Your learners will be left rooting for their happiness, but will they find the right husbands?
This adaptation offers an interesting insight into social conventions, class and the role of women at the time, and there is a lot of room for discussion. Find the A2 – A2+ (CEFR) reader and MP3 pack here: Sense and Sensibility.
7. King Solomon’s Mines (level 4 – adventure)
This action packed adventure story sees three men, Sir Henry Curtis, Captain John Good and Allan Quatermain, heading to Africa on a quest they will never forget. Quartermain’s plan is to find King Solomon’s hidden treasure, but Sir Henry has other things on his mind – finding his missing brother. Set during the height of British Imperialism, there is much to discuss with students.
This classic from Sir H. Rider Haggard is ideal for B1 – B1+ (CEFR) learners and can be found with a downloadable MP3 pack here: King Solomon’s Mines together with the support Teacher Resources.
8. The Time Machine (level 4 – science fiction/dystopia)
H. G. Wells’ novel about time travel will fascinate students with themes of social class, science and technology. Traveling to the year 802,701 in a time machine, the time traveler finds a strange world with people who sing and wear flowers. He is surprised to discover that people in the future are weak and childlike – and for some reason they are afraid of the dark. When the time traveler loses his time machine we are left wondering whether he will ever return to the past.
Find this B1 – B1+ (CEFR) reader and the MP3 pack here: The Time Machine together with the support Teacher Resources.
9. Sherlock Holmes Short Stories (level 5 – crime)
This collection of six short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is full of mystery, intrigue and seemingly unsolvable crimes! Sherlock Holmes, however, is the world’s most famous detective and is sure to get to the bottom of things with the help of his loyal friend Doctor Watson. As well as some suspicious deaths, two men who share an unusual name and an engineer with a missing thumb, there is a lot to hold your students’ attention.
Find this B2 – B2+ (CEFR) level reader and the MP3 pack here: Sherlock Holmes Short Stories together with the support Teacher Resources.
10. Les Misérables (level 6 – historical fiction/social realism)
This moving tale from Victor Hugo explores the themes of love, poverty and social injustice. Jean Valjean is a former criminal who is released from prison after 19 long years. After experiencing rejection at every turn, Jean finds inspiration in helping other unfortunate people – ‘les misérables’ – turn their lives around.
Suitable for C1 (CEFR) level learners, you can find the reader and MP3 pack here: Les Misérables together with the support Teacher Resources.
Don’t forget to visit our English Reader’s page to discover over 250 titles for all tastes, ages and abilities.