If you want to improve your English, the books on this list will contribute to your growth as an ESL learner.

The best part? The books are actually interesting and you’ll improve your knowledge of English literature in the process.

I’m asking you to read one of them. Just one

Do it 🙂

1. The Old Man and the Sea

William Faulkner famously described Hemingway as an author, who “has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” I disagree, but only a little. In spite of some difficult parts with vocabulary, you’ll find a short read with this book.

For example, Hemingway describes the bait used to catch fish in technical detail. Overall, the beauty of Hemingway is his ability to create visual narratives with simple words. This book meets that standard.

2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Lexile Ranks help educators assess whether certain books are appropriate for the age level they are teaching, and this installment in the Harry Potter series scores an 880L. That’s barely good enough for the 5th grade reading level.

Considering that the average American can read at the equivalent of a 7th grader, JK Rowling’s epic introduction to Harry Potter should do just fine getting you started. Besides creating millions of Harry Potter fans, the book has sold 120 million copies worldwide.

3. Charlotte’s Web

E.B. White wrote this book about a pig and a spider living in a barn, so don’t expect the vocabulary to get extremely complex. With Charlotte the spider’s web of PR campaigns to save Wilbur the pig from getting turned into a piece of bacon, the book will appeal to your emotions.

More importantly, it will be readable. It won the John Newbery Medal for excellence in children’s books in 1953. So White’s classic might be best reserved for readers who are still children at heart.

4. The Client

John Grisham wrote in the New York Times in 2017 that there are 3 kinds of words:

  1. Words we know
  2. Words we should know
  3. Words nobody knows

By recommending that authors stick with the first category only, ignore the third, and use the second sparingly, Grisham makes his values clear: simple is beautiful.

This legal thriller includes a narrative about the Mafia and a toxic landfill, but the prose is very approachable.

5. The Kite Runner

This is not a small novel at over 100,000 words, but it registers at a 6th grade reading level (equivalent of 11-12 year old). Khaled Hosseini tells the story of an Afghan friendship between a rich boy and a poor boy living in the same home. It was converted into a film and then banned by the Afghan ministry of culture in late 2017.

It has also been challenged by US school districts in California, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Indiana. The American Library Association shares that it was the fourth most challenged book for its sexual violence and Islamophobia.


That’s it for my list of books to read. Remember, you don’t have to read every book on this list. Pick whichever one stands out. Then boost your ESL skills by knocking the book off your list.

Start small. Start with one.

You have the time… it’s up to you to do it.

You‘ve been reading a guest post by Jacob Hallman

Jacob is the learning-obsessed co-founder of StudyGate, a tutoring platform for English language learners. Why so obsessed? Well his skills on the saxophone have nothing to do with it (OK maybe a little). It’s because StudyGate provides insanely practical help that students can use to start getting better grades.