11 Short Classic Books for Teens

Help teens fit reading into busy schedules

By Cindy Hudson

For many teens, reading is a luxury that often gets squeezed out of a schedule that can include hours of nightly homework, sports practice, music lessons, household chores and more. In fact, many teens say they would love to read if only they had the time. Short classics, also sometimes called novellas, may be just the solution they are looking for.

Classic stories are fun to explore, because readers often think they know the story well, either from movie versions of it, references in popular culture, or both. They are surprised when they find big differences between the versions they know and the original tale.

It’s also usually easy to find copies of classic books in libraries or for low cost online and in bookstores, making them light on the budget. Another plus? Classic editions are often compact, which means they fit into a pocket on a pair of jeans or a small zippered compartment on a backpack without adding much weight.

Here’s a list of 11 short classics that range from tales of everyday life to those of horror or science fiction. Introduce one to your child and you just might get him hooked on classics.


by Mary Shelley , 166 pages, first published in 1820.

The horror of Dr. Frankenstein creating a living creature cobbled together from human body parts has kept readers rapt for nearly two centuries. The story explores Frankenstein’s childhood, his motivations for wanting to create new life, and how things go wrong. Fans of Frankenstein movies may be surprised to find the monster intelligent and sensitive.

The Scarlet Letter

by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 192 pages, first published in 1850.

This tale of sin, guilt and redemption set in the Puritan world of Boston, Massachusetts, in 1642, still has lessons to teach today.

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

by Robert Louis Stevenson, 64 pages, first published in 1886.

A London lawyer notices strange occurrences between his friend, good Dr. Henry Jekyll, and an evil man, Edward Hyde. When he investigates, he discovers his friend had one personality by day and another by night.

Northanger Abbey

by Jane Austen, 179 pages, first written in 1789-99.

Austen is a master at writing understated comedy while shedding a light on the good and bad of English society of her time. Northanger Abbey, with its story of a small-town girl who falls in love while on holiday in Bath, is a good introduction to some of Austen’s better-known works.

Around the World in 80 Days

by Jules Verne, 130 pages, first published in 1872.

Londoner Phileas Fogg wagers a fortune that he can travel around the world in 80 days or less. An adventure that takes place in exotic locations on trains, ships, even elephants, follows.

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 180 pages, first published in 1925.

A millionaire throws lavish parties and pines for the woman he cannot have, ultimately leading to tragedy while giving readers a glimpse of the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties.

Fahrenheit 451

by Ray Bradbury, 159 pages, first published in 1953.

What is worse for a reader to imagine than a world where books are outlawed and firemen seek them out to burn? It’s all a way to stamp out dangerous ideas and dissension among the populace. A cautionary tale to be sure.

The Hound of the Baskervilles

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 116 pages, first published 1901-02.

Recent small-screen versions of Sherlock Holmes stories have ignited a new, widespread interest in the Arthur Conan Doyle series. The Hound of the Baskervilles, in which a dangerous beast may be on the loose, has been called the best detective story ever written.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

by Oscar Wilde, 140 pages, first published in 1890.

A young man gazes at his portrait and regrets that he will grow old while the portrait remains young, vowing that he would give everything if he could switch those facts. When he gets his wish, he eventually discovers that youthful looks and beauty can never compensate for a corrupted soul.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

by Washington Irving, 96 pages, first published in 1820.

Superstitious Ichabod Crane takes a fateful ride through the woods after failing to win the hand of his beloved. What follows has delighted readers through the ages.

The Time Machine

by H. G. Wells, 80 pages, first published in 1895.

Wells imagines a future where humans may evolve into two races, one of peaceful vegetarians and the other of predatory carnivores. He also imagined a time when the heat of the sun would die out and Earth would grow cold. It’s an interesting comparison to dystopian novels of today.