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Crime and Punishment Topic

Crime and Punishment Topic Booklist

Explore the history of crime and punishment in Britain – from gallows and gangsters to jails and juries. We’ve put together a list of recommended children’s books to support the KS2 topic of how crime and punishment have changed through the ages.

Chapter books about crime and punishment

Louis Sachar
Chapter book

An absorbing read about an American boy who is unfairly sent to a juvenile detention centre called Camp Green Lake. There, he and the other prisoners are forced to dig a large hole each day in the intense heat of the desert, because the warden claims it is character building. He soon discovers that much more is at play and themes of prejudice, family, fate, identity, and justice emerge as he digs for the truth. A popular choice in Upper KS2/Lower KS3 classrooms.

Katherine Rundell
Chapter book

The Good Thieves transports readers back to the roaring twenties in New York City, complete with its mafia presence, its speak-easy hide-outs and promises of wealth. Vita arrives in New York to find that her grandfather has been robbed of his family home, Hudson Castle, by mafia-linked scammers. Clever and spirited Vita gathers together a crew of unlikely vagabonds to help her reclaim it, becoming the ‘good thieves’ who will carry out a Robin Hood style mission leading to a daring heist scene.

Berlie Doherty
Chapter book
Most suitable for upper KS2, Berlie Doherty offers a tensely dramatic tale with plenty of detail to explore about Tudor life. Set in the time of Henry VIII, this story explores the high tensions around religion and politics in this era as well as opening discussions about the power of the monarchy.
Kate Wiseman
Chapter book

Gangster School is a warm and witty series that will hold a high appeal to young readers. Imagine a Hogwarts for criminals and you will very quickly understand the premise of these entertaining and light-hearted books. The students at Blaggard’s Gangster School take lessons in thievery, fabrication and stealth as they desperately attempt to become less ‘dependable’ and make their felonious families proud by proving they have what it takes to succeed in the world of crime.

Ally Sherrick
Chapter book

An action-packed historical adventure that transports the reader back to England at the time of the Gunpowder Plot. Black Powder tells the story of a boy called Tom, who finds himself at the service of an intriguing stranger called ‘The Falcon’. The stranger seems to be the only person who can help Tom to save his father from being hanged, but as Tom journeys towards London he discovers that the Falcon has his own, somewhat explosive, mission in mind. Suddenly Tom is faced with the choice of freeing his father or saving the king from an assassination plot. This gripping adventure will capture imaginations and is likely to resonate with anybody who has ever felt like knowing which people and beliefs to trust can sometimes be extremely difficult.

Frank Cottrell Boyce
 & Steven Lenton
Chapter book

Millions is the humorous tale of a not-so-great train robbery. Damian and Anthony are brothers who unwittingly find themselves in possession of a large amount of money after being caught up in a train robbery. The pair have big decisions to make, needing to reconcile their wildly different ideas about what to do with the cash. You may also like Framed by the same author.

Malorie Blackman
Chapter book
A cyber-crime thriller from the former Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman. Vicky's father is sent to jail for stealing a large sum of money from the bank and she sets about to prove that he is innocent. Using her brilliant computer skills, Vicky decides to hack into the bank computer files to find evidence of the truth about the real thief.
Sharna Jackson
Chapter book

When their art teacher is mysteriously murdered during the summer holiday, sisters Nik and Norva turn detective to solve the case and find his killer. With a modern-day urban setting in a high-rise block, this entertaining whodunnit will keep you turning the pages. A sequel, Mic-Drop, sees the smart and curious young sleuths investigate the suspicious death of a pop-star — and I hope there will be lots more mysteries to come for Norva and Nik.

Bethany Walker
 & Jack Noel
Chapter book

A funny art heist mystery from the duo behind Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs and Me. One day, the Royal Family announces a £25 million reward for a painting that has been missing for about 200 years – a second version of The Mona Lisa. As the hunt is on for the missing painting, criminals start to think that it might be hidden at Mia and Jake’s school.

The layout of the book is fun and really appealing with different size fonts and small illustrations around the writing. The story is mainly told through emails between Mia and her granny but there is occasionally a newspaper article, blog, or notes between the characters.  A great medium-length book for Year 4 and up, and one that will appeal to fans of Liz Pichon, Danny Wallace or Sam Copeland.

Shorter novels about crime and punishment

Philip Ardagh
 & Jamie Littler
Chapter book

Part of Philip Ardagh’s popular ‘The Secret Diary of…’ series, this is highly entertaining historical fiction for a young audience, bringing a place, a time and a way of life alive for its readers. This one is set in 18th century Cornwall, where Kitty and her family live in a small fishing village. Kitty’s father is the head of a gang of smugglers who are trying to keep their contraband and illegal activities hidden from the excisemen. Kitty is supposed to stay safely at home but she regularly creeps out at night to watch her father and his men at work. Very soon she gets caught up in the action, including a shipwreck, secret caves, betrayal and a prison break.

Terry Deary
 & Stefano Tambellini
Chapter book
Super-readable historical fiction from the creator of Horrible Histories. Terry Dreary explores the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin through the eyes of different people in the crowd at his execution scene. An easy-to-read introduction to Dick Turpin with short chapters and dyslexia-friendly formatting.
Terry Deary
 & Helen Flook
Chapter book
The year is AD 51 and Bran is a slave, a prisoner of Rome, but dreams of one day returning to his homeland, Britannia, to fight against the Romans. When the proud young slave is overheard criticizing Rome, he is thrown into prison and faces execution the next day. Luckily, his cellmate Caratacus is a very special prisoner indeed - a British chief. He believes he has a way to save both their skins, but he'll need Bran's help. A tale based on a key moment in Roman history, full of Terry Deary's dark humour and dry wit.
Terry Deary
Chapter book
In Saxon Kent the law says thieves should be executed, and soup made from a stolen sheep has been found in the Medway house. Young Edward takes the blame, but does his father know more than he's letting on? And can he find a way to save his son from hanging? Join master storyteller Terry Deary for a trip back in time to Saxon times and an exciting adventure.

Picturebooks and graphic novels about crime and punishment

Alfred Noyes
 & Charles Keeping

This is a classic narrative poem from 1906. It tells the story of an 18th Century highwayman who rides the roads at night to rob travellers. He falls for a landlord’s daughter called Bess and comes to a terrible fate in a tale of betrayal and sacrifice. This version won the Kate Greenaway Medal for its atmospheric illustrations.

If you study this poem in KS2, take the opportunity to show pupils the picture book the Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler – they will enjoy their newly informed understanding of the inspiration behind an old favourite picture book!

Marcia Williams
Graphic Novel
Delve into the fascinating tales of outlaw Robin Hood and his merry men. The tales are retold in Marcia Williams' distinctive comic book style, with speech bubbles and many humorous details in both the text and illustrations that pupils will love.
Job Scieszka
 & Lane Smith

A tongue-in-cheek twist on a well-loved fairy tale. This version of the Three Little Pigs story is retold from the eyes of the wolf, who claims the whole story was a misunderstanding and that he has been wrongly framed for his crime of killing the pigs. This picture book can be used in KS2 to explore themes of objectivity, prejudice and the importance of hearing different sides of the same story before reaching a verdict.

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