Beginner’s Guide to English Books + Recommendations!

Are you non-English speaker and want to start reading English books? Do you feel frustrated because you don’t know how to start? Well worry no more, my friends! I come to save you because today I’ll be sharing my ultimate beginner’s guide to English books and also some recommendations! Last year, I made a similar list (please don’t mind how messy it was, it’s my second post after all) but since now that I read more books, I’ll definitely give you more recs. Without further ado, let’s get started!

WHY SHOULD I READ ENGLISH BOOKS?

Reading English books (especially if it’s not your first language) can be used to improve your English skill. With reading, you’ll learn various tenses as well as vocabulary that weren’t taught in your English class. Reading English books will help you to read more books especially when they are not yet translated into your mother tongue. It will also help you to engage in English speaking community whether it’s online or offline–maybe you’ve been around social media for a while and you want to reach wider audience by starting to engage with other people outside your country, and the best way to do that is to use English to lessen the language barrier between you and your audience.

Besides, you definitely can read more books if you are used to reading in English. Not many books are translated into our mother tongue and it can be frustrating, right? Actually, this applies to any language, not just English.

START WITH SOMETHING EASY AND SMALL

Keep it in mind that whatever your reason is, it’s never too late to learn something new. I personally started reading in English when I was in high school. No matter how old you are, it’s not too late. 

One of the things I wish I had known before trying to read in English is reading high fantasy as the starter. This was a mistake because I was still not used to reading in another language, let alone had to imagine the vast world building and characterization. 

When you learn how to walk, you don’t start it with running–it’s the same principle with reading English books. Before we jump into reading 300-400ish books, why don’t we surround ourselves with English speaker people? If you’re part of a stan twt, you can follow international fans and try to interact with them. If you love watching YouTube, start subscribing to English speaker creators. Well, with you reading this blog post, you are actually learning to read in English too! 

My favorite thing from learning to read English books is to read fanfiction and Wattpad books in English. I know Wattpad has a bad reputation but when you are able to find a work that suits your interest, go read it. Fanfiction also plays a big role on how I get used to reading English books. Reading Twitter AU also helps too! The more you get used to reading something in English, the more it’s easier for you to read books in English.

“But I want to read books!” Well, patience my friend, I will recommend you books that you may want to read, but again, we should start with something small. To avoid any confusion (and the stress for reading a lot of new vocabulary), I always suggest people to start reading middle grade books besides fanfiction and Wattpad. Middle grade books are designed for children, so it’ll be easier for you to read. Some of YA books are also easy to read, which I will be recommending to you in a sec!

RE-READING OLD FAVORITES

The other day, someone asked me, “is re-reading my favorite books in English going to help me?” and yes, it’ll help you! Beside reading fanfiction and Wattpad books, you can start re-reading your favorite books in English that you originally read the translated edition. You already know what’s going on within the book as well as the meaning of each word. Re-reading old favorites will help you get used to reading in different language. 

And well, re-reading your favorite books gives you the serotonin boosters you need!

CHECK THE SAMPLE BEFORE YOU READ THE BOOK

I’ve seen people asking, “hey is this book easy to read?” when it comes to English books. Unfortunately, the answers will be subjective (and that includes the book that I will be recommending, it’ll be subjective). Fortunately, you are the only one who can answer it! Why? Because people have different levels of understanding and skill. What I think is easy may be hard for people and vise versa. It’s wise to read the sample first before you read the whole book. That way, you’ll get an idea on whether or not a certain book is suitable for you. 

“So, where do I get this sample? Is it free?”

Yes, it is free! You can get almost every English book sample in Google Play Books & Amazon Kindle. Usually, there’ll be a “READ SAMPLE” option there and you can read a chapter or two. You get to decide whether or not this book is for you.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO USE DICTIONARY

I always see non-English speakers say that they feel bad for using a dictionary while reading. First thing first, it’s not something you should be ashamed of! We are all non-English speakers and of course we’ll learn new vocabulary every day. 

Keeping a dictionary is handy, but you know what’s more convenient? To read English books in digital format. Many e-reader applications have built-in dictionaries where you don’t have to switch in between apps to look for the meaning of each word. You can long-tap the word and it’ll provide you with the meaning of the word. In my opinion, it’s way more convenient than to look up the word in Google or something. 

THEN HOW DO I KEEP REMEMBERING THE VOCAB?

By writing them down, of course! Well, it’s one of the ways. You can highlight the word first then write down the meaning of it (in the book itself or in a separate notebook, whatever works for you!). By writing them down, it’ll help you memorize the word better, so when it appears on another page or book, you already understand what it means. I also suggest you to try creating a sentence from the new word you just learned. It’ll help you to get an idea on how to use it in a sentence or conversation. 

DON’T MAKE IT A BURDEN FOR YOU

When we learn something new, we don’t make it a burden. I understand the pressure we may get, especially when we surround ourselves with more advanced English speakers or people who are able to read more than 50 English books in a year. Reading English book is not gatekeeping, it’s completely okay if you read translated literature. 

So don’t feel bad when you can’t finish one English book within a week, or when you only read middle grade books because it’s easier to understand, or you just started reading English books. Everyone has their own reading pace and journey and it’s our responsibility to make a safe place for non-English speakers to be comfortable. 

So it’s important to pick a book that is within your comfort zone. We’re currently setting up a new habit and we don’t need to push ourselves further from our comfort zone. Reading English book is already a big step, so I don’t really suggest you to read a book that doesn’t suit your interest, even though it’s really popular. Start with something you love, maybe re-read an old favorite but this time try to read it in English? Or stick to your favorite genre. When we read something we like and/or interest us, it will make reading in a different language easier than we think. You won’t feel intimidated by the amount of pages on the language itself, instead it’ll be an exciting challenge for you.

DOES READING ENGLISH CLASSIC HELP US?

Yes. English Classics can improve our reading and writing skills. They have various vocabulary we can learn, as well as stories we can analyze, but most English Classics are hard to read. If you’re already used to reading in English, you can always try to read some of English Classics, but for beginners? I don’t think it’ll help you.

WHAT TO READ FIRST?

Below are the books that would be a great start if you want to read in English. I will divide the books based on the age range and genre this time so you can find what you’re looking for! (and of course, don’t forget to check the sample if you want to!)

middle grade contemporary

See You in the Cosmos
by Jack Cheng

Read this book if you’re looking for:
○ Astronomy and a lot of astronomical reference
○ Outer space
○ Family-driven story
○ Smart and ambitious main character
○ Adventurous story

See You in the Cosmos is one of the books that make me fall in love with middle grade books all over again. I read it two years ago (and re-read it last year in a form of audiobook) and it was an amazing, emotional book! This book is about a boy, Alex Petroski, who wants to launch his iPod into a space like his hero, Carl Sagan, did. Although along the way, Alex comes into an unexpected journey that leads him to uncover the truth about his family.

Other Words for Home
by Jasmine Warga

Read this book if you’re looking for:
○ A short book to read in one sitting
○ Muslim + hijabi main character
○ Realistic fiction
○ Beautiful book that’ll make you cry

Other Words for Home follows Jude who escapes to America with her mother after the situation in Syria becomes tense and violence. The book is written beautifully in verse and this is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in 2019. This is a story about a sense of belonging and becoming, about owning your identity–and it’s just… beautiful.

More to the Story
by Hena Khan

Read this book if you’re looking for:
○ Little Women retelling
○ A family-driven story with complex sibling dynamics
○ A book that deals with an illness without romanticizing it
○ Ambitious main character

There’s no book by Hena Khan that I don’t like and reading More to the Story during Eid hits differently. If you’re already familiar with Little Women, you can see a lot of easter eggs and parallels between these two books. But More to the Story is a story of its own and you can enjoy it without reading Little Women first. It’s an enjoyable book and it only has 200ish page! It was a short reading!

middle grade sff

The Girl and the Ghost
by Hanna Alkaf

Read this book if you’re looking for:
○ Book that is influenced with lore and myth
○ A heartwarming story
○ The power of friendship
○ An atmospheric story sets in a small village

You guys!!! You wouldn’t believe that a ghost story would mess with your emotion. The Girl and the Ghost follow Suraya, a Malaysian Muslim girl, who inherits a pelesit named Pink from her late grandmother. The two have to find a way to keep Pink safe from pawang hantu and in their journey, they discover the truth that connects their past together. Personally, I love this book so so much and I thought it would be scary since Malay ghosts are, well, terrifying, but no!! This book is funny and heartwarming, I know you’ll love it!

Dragon Pearl
by Yoon Ha Lee

Read this book if you’re looking for:
○ Space opera
○ A book with myth and lore
○ Mythological creatures doing mythological things
○ Futuristic setting
○ Ghost

Rick Riordan Presents continue to amaze me. I debated whether I should put Pandava Quartet by Roshani Chokshi or this book but then I think a stand-alone is more convenient. Dragon Pearl follows 13-year-old Ming, a gumiho, who tries to find her deserted brother in outer space! One of my favorite things from this book is there are so many mythological creatures and I love them.

Ghost Squad
by Claribel A. Ortega

Read this book if you’re looking for:
○ Spooky reads
○ Adorable cat
○ The complexity in between the main character and her father
○ Adventurous yet lovely read

Every good middle grade book features a ghost and none of these books are scary. Ghost Squad follow Lucely and Syd, who accidentally cast a spell that awoke malicious spirits. Okay but!!! Even though I said spooky, this book is spooky and adorable at the same time! I personally love the dynamics in between each character, especially Lucely with her father, and Lucely with her relatives.

Then we also have Chunk, the iconic, adorable cat that I adopt because of the cuteness. Okay no, don’t tell Chunk I said that because yeah he doesn’t like being called cute.

young adult contemporary

Clap When You Land
by Elizabeth Acevedo

Read this book if you’re looking for:
○ A book with family dynamics
○ An emotional read
○ A book that is written in verse
○ Sapphic main character

Hands down to my best read of 2020! I actually listened to the audiobook and it’s one of the best audiobook experiences ever. I don’t think Elizabeth Acevedo ever disappointed me and I think you’ll like her works! So, Clap When You Land is about two sisters, Camino and Yahaira, who never know about each other’s existence until their father’s plane to Dominican Republic crashes. I’m suck at reviewing books I love because my mind just goes… this book is good, I swear, the 5 stars rating is worth it, I love this book so much.

I Was Born for This
by Alice Oseman

Read this book if you’re looking for:
○ Stan / fan culture
○ Idol/fangirl interaction
○ Hijabi main character
○ Trans biracial main character
○ A relatable story

This was my first Alice Oseman’s book and I just want to thank her for writing Muslim character in non-stereotyping way. I Was Born for This follows Angel, the Ark stan, who wants to see her favorite band. But a thing or two happens and Angel meets Jimmy, the Ark member, in a circumstance that she never imagined. When I said I regretted unhaul my copy, I mean it. I Was Born For This reminds me of my old being a band stan and wanting to see my idols live–and I know many of you will feel the same! (especially if you’re now still a stan and yep)

Opposite of Always
by Justin A. Reynolds

Read this book if you’re looking for:
○ Time travel loop
○ A book that focuses on relationship and friendship
○ A devastating book
○ Black main character
○ A book with supportive family
○ Heroic main character

I know I said the previous books I mentioned that I love them… but yeah, I love Opposite of Always too. This book follows Jack and Kate who meet at the party. Soon they’re dating but then Kate died and Jack found himself waking up at the party where he first met Kate. Usually I don’t read this type of book but the premise looks good and yep it turns out, I enjoyed this book so much!

young adult romance

Love from A to Z
by S.K. Ali

Read this if you’re looking for:
○ Halal romance wink wink
○ Soft and fluffy
○ Muslim main characters
○ A book sets in Qatar
○ Adorable love interest!

I LOVE THIS BOOK SOOOOO MUCH!!! Okay well Love from A to Z is a perfectly written book that features two Muslim teenagers, Adam and Zayneb, who are embracing their faith and don’t need a white savior to save them. This is an unapologetically Muslim book that will have a special place in my heart. I just… okay, this is just AMAZING! Even though this book tackles so many issues such as Islamophobia, it doesn’t erase the fact that Adam and Zayneb are the cutest couple out there and I will be rooting for S.K. Ali from now on.

Loveboat, Taipei
by Abigail Hing Wen

Read this book if you’re looking for:
○ Summer school
○ Love triangle
○ But also, fake dating
○ Chinese-American main character
○ Familial expectation and how to deal with it
○ A discussion about immigrant


Of course I will be featuring Abigail Hing Wen here! Pretty girl on the cover should be enough for you to pick this book up but if you need more reasons to do so, I’m here to help you! So, Loveboat, Taipei follows Ever who’s being sent to a summer school program in Taiwan by her parents. Little did her parents know that this ‘summer school place’ is actually a place where teenagers can go wild and nothing can stop them? It would be fun to read Loveboat, Taipei for the summer!

I Love You so Mochi
by Sarah Kuhn

Read this book if you’re looking for:
○ Fluff & all the softness!
○ A heartwarming book
○ Unique and creative main character
○ A coming-of-age story

I feel guilty that I haven’t finished listening to this audiobook (I’m on 90% mark so!) but I’m in love with this book already. I Love You So Mochi follows Kimi who flies to Japan to visit her grandparents where she meets a cute boy in mochi costume. Yes, a mochi costume! There are so many scenes that make me feel so happy–listening to the audiobook even feels like listening to Kimi telling me her story with Akira. Yep!! This is one of the best YA romances I read!

young adult sff

These Witches Don’t Burn
by Isabel Sterling

Read this book if you’re looking for:
○ Witches being badass
○ Elemental magic
○ Lesbian main character & bisexual love interest
○ Supernatural drama
○ A book to read in autumn

If I had a chance to blurb this book, it would be like, “There is no heterosexual explanation for this. Also, supernatural drama is just a big high school drama but makes it magic.” But it’s true! I think These Witches Don’t Burn would make a great tv show. This book follows Hannah, an Elemental witch, dealing with her break up with her ex-girlfriend. But things go interesting when a dark magic suddenly appears in Salem, Massachusetts. And the romance? Super cute!

We Set the Dark on Fire
by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Read this book if you’re looking for:
○ Angry women take down patriarchal government
○ Political game
○ Best friends to enemies to lovers
○ Sapphic romance
○ Latina main characters

When I say I need more feminist characters taking down sexist and patriarchal system, what I meant is Dani and Carmen. So, We Set the Dark on Fire follows Dani, Medio School for Girls’ top student, who is married to an important politician’s son. Her marriage turns into something she never expected when she’s asked to spy for the resistance. In conclusion, this book is amazing and I love how Tehlor Kay Mejia brought social and political issues in her book. We Set the Dark on Fire is actually one of those heterobait books so don’t be fooled! Wait for it and you’ll get the enemies to lovers you crave.

Spin the Dawn
by Elizabeth Lim

Read this book if you’re looking for:
○ A fairytale-ish book
○ Light and fun read
○ Fantasy romance
○ Friends to lovers trope
○ Soft love interest

Yooooo this book wrecked me so much that I barely recovered from the ending. Okay despite how this book messed me up, I will always suggest Spin the Dawn to everyone. So, Spin the Dawn follows Maia, a young tailor who disguised herself as her brother to become the Emperor’s tailor. A thing and two happens and Maia has to make a magical dress that is almost impossible to make. What I love the most about this book is how magical it feels!! And the romance??? TOTALLY ADORABLE.

🍂 Do you find a book that you’re going to read?
🍂 Do you have other helpful tips?
🍂 Let me know in the comment section!

3 thoughts on “Beginner’s Guide to English Books + Recommendations!

  1. Agreed with your point about start with something small/easy like fanfictions! I read a bunch of English fanfictions for three years before comfortably jump into a full-length English language books & those FFs truly help a ton in familiarize myself with the language 😁

    Like

  2. These tips are great, especially about middle grade! I didn’t even know what middle grade was when I started reading in English (contemporary YA romances so it worked well anyway) but now I LOVE middle grade and it’s great when you need something quick and easy to read.
    I’m hoping to start reading in a 3rd language soon so I might reread one of my favorites to start (French or Spanish not sure yet) or revisit your great post for more tips!

    Like

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