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Introducing The Contemporary 21, a collection of contemporary fiction titles chosen by pupils, for pupils, to reflect the best of popular reading for young people.

We had a large number of books nominated by pupils from across all years. Our pupil-led Highgate 21 Reading Committee have taken this shortlist to a more ‘contemporary’ place and selected five key books per year group. This means that if each pupil selects a minimum of three books to read each year, they will have read 21 key titles from the world of contemporary literature by the time they leave Highgate.

The Highgate 21 will continue to run as a static list of classic literature through the ages, and The Contemporary 21 will run in tandem alongside it, as a ‘living list’, in the sense that it will evolve each year with new titles added. Fictional work that offers a diverse representation of society, and will also appeal to different age groups, has been chosen. The genres and themes are broad – comedy, satire, dystopia, rites of passage, science fiction, historical fiction and romance, alongside justice, politics, family, gender, sexuality, environment and race.

Meera Syal Launches The Contemporary 21

Author and actor Meera Syal launched The Contemporary 21 as our honorary patron of the Highgate 21 Reading Committee, as well as author of one of the Year 9 selected titles, ‘Anita and Me’, a funny and poignant rites of passage story about growing up in the only Punjabi family in the Midlands.

Meera said of her passion for reading and writing:

“I started writing because I was wanted to share my story and be understood. I had a very unusual childhood and felt I didn’t fit in anywhere. Books were my escape and my best friend. In books I found myself and my friends.”

Pupils and staff from across the Senior School came to hear Meera read extracts her from her novel and participate in a Q&A on literature. On one of the key values of reading, Meera explained how books teach us empathy:

“Having emotional intelligence and understanding how people think and feel can help you enormously through life. Reading gives us a window into worlds we would never usually visit.”

She suggested time-tabling 30-minutes of reading in each day before bed and even creating a library of favourite books that can be read and re-visited in a week, month or even years’ time:

“If there’s a book you love, buy it and keep it. It’s so important to keep your love of reading alive as the years pass by. In the same way that exercise keeps your muscles toned and strong, if you stop reading, your ability to dip in and out of literature can get weak – it can be hard to get started again.”

A World Within A Book

Our pupils talk about their love of reading. Year 8’s Audrey explains how the world within a book can offer great escapism:

“One of the reasons I love to read is that it allows you to leave your problems behind for a little while and go into someone else’s life.”

Year 10’s Liv said:

“Highgate is incredibly dedicated in promoting reading. We have regular author talks, a writer-in-residence (Roly Chambers) and last year we launched our own literary magazine, ‘The Windhover’. I am constantly reminded of the power of literature.”

Regular Author Visits

Acclaimed writer, Jeanette Winterson, author of Y10’s recommended fictional title ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit,’ also delighted pupils with her visit to School to talk about her novel and topics of gender equality and LGBTQ+. She imparted some valuable insights for our Senior School pupils on learning through experience:

“It’s great being wrong and changing your mind. It means you’ve really understood something.”

Year 10’s Max said how much he enjoyed Jeanette’s talk, as well as seeing other visiting authors: 

Highgate is great at bringing in authors to tell us about their writing. It’s given me a whole new perspective on reading.”

Click to view The Contemporary 21 reading list

DISCLAIMER: we noticed while working with the Committee that there is a huge disparity between parents and carers in what the type of novel and theme they are comfortable with their child reading. If you feel the content of some of these titles might be too sensitive, please do not feel obliged to read novels that could be upsetting.