A list of some of our favorite German books to aid you in your quest to conquer the German language.
I can’t tell you that there is a single best way to learn a language, because it really depends on your goals, current level, and the material you have access to; however, one thing is clear, and it’s that one of the best ways to improve your vocabulary, grammar, writing ability, and overall comprehension is by consuming an incredible amount of input in that language. Books are one of the easiest forms of input because they allow you to move at your own pace, looking up words you don’t understand along the way.
Languages can more or less be divided into four main parts: speaking, writing, listening, and reading, with grammar and vocabulary acting as supporting structures for those four chunks. If you haven’t heard of Stephen Krashen, allow me to briefly share who he is and how his theory of comprehensible input can help you reach your goals in your target language. In a nutshell, the comprehensible input hypothesis states that we acquire a language in only one way - when we understand it. Not by drilling grammar, not by memorizing conjugation tables, and not by passing standardized tests. Although, if you do need to memorize things for a test, it might be useful to learn about Anki.
If we think about this in the context of the aforementioned four pillars of a language, it becomes clear that speaking and writing are forms of output, while reading and listening are forms of input. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence to suggest that our output, which is our ability to speak and write in a language, is a result of receiving lots of INPUT and NOT a result of practicing lots of output. This sounds a little bit counterintuitive, but the research does support this hypothesis. Does this mean you should never study grammar or speak a language? NO. It simply means that if you want to be efficient with your time and arguably have a more enjoyable experience, then you should focus on input (reading and listening). Alright that’s enough of that, let’s get into the German book recommendations. Oh, and here is a link to Stephen Krashen’s website if you want to check out some of the FREE research he has published and compiled on how people acquire languages: Books and Articles by Stephen D Krashen.
If you aren’t familiar with graded readers, they are essentially simplified texts that use a reduced vocabulary and employ fewer grammatical structures, making them far easier to comprehend than native content. If you are completely new to German, I would not recommend trying to read anything authentic until you at least have a basic understanding of the language. After a couple of weeks though, you will probably be able to slog your way through some A1 graded readers and once you can do that, you will not only reinforce your knowledge of the words you already know, but also begin to learn the new words that are required to understand the next level of reader: A2. See the link above for resources that provide free graded reading material in German. The goal is simple: Read as many A1 books as you can until they are too easy or you get bored, and then move onto A2. Repeat the process until you can more or less comprehend B1 books, and then move on to native content.
📖 An example graded reader to start with: Du Findest mich nicht (free through Goethe Institut library).
You can definitely read this before you finish the “graded reader climb”, but it’s trickier than you might think for a single page children's book. Basically, a caterpillar wakes up and is hungry, it eats a bunch of things, and then it builds a cocoon and … well, I won’t spoil the ending for you, but you can probably guess what happens next! The book is difficult for beginners not because of the vocabulary, but because it uses das Präteritum, which is essentially the simple past tense in English. Das Präteritum is used mainly in written German, so if you want to be able to read books, you are going to have to become comfortable with it.
📖 You can find the reading sample, and buy the full version on dtv.de site, or on Book Depositry (free worldwide delivery).
A little witch is living alone in the woods in her little witch house. There are a bunch of other witches living somewhere else, but they don’t really get along with the little witch. There is a giant magic party or something and everyone except the little witch is invited - how rude! She’s cheeky though, so she goes to the party anyway. She gets caught though - oh no! - and the head witch decides to punish her. For her punishment, she’s put into a hot cauldron and turned into a stew. Just kidding, but you’re going to have to read it if you want to find out what really happens to the little witch.
📖 You can buy the book on Book Depositry (free worldwide delivery), or listen for free through Goethe Institut library.
The Little Prince is a classic book that was originally written in French and English. Since then, it has been translated into tons of other languages, making it very possible you have already read it in your native tongue. The book touches on topics of adventure and childhood wonder, and how we seem to leave some of those things behind when we enter adulthood. If you’re looking for something a little bit longer and harder than die Kleine Hexe, then this might be a good one to check out.
📖 You can read the book for free on this site that's fully devoted to the German version of The Little Prince.
How could I make a list about good books to read for language learning without including the Harry Potter series? There are a couple of things that make these books great. First, the original was written with a target audience around the age of 10-12. This means the language in the book is not overly complex, but don’t get cocky because it isn’t a walk in the park. As J.K. Rowling continued to write the series, her initial audience and the characters in her books grew older, and with them grew the vocabulary and complexity of the books. This means that as you progress through them, they will grow in difficulty as your knowledge of the language expands alongside them. It’s also very likely that you already know the story, which makes it easier to comprehend even when you don’t understand all of the words. On top of all that, the story is actually pretty good, so if you can get through it without suffering too much, then you will make progress in German without even realizing it! Oh, one more cool thing - if you add up all the words in the Harry Potter series it equals roughly 1 million words, so if you finish the series, you will have read 1 million words in your target language. Cool!
📖 The first book in the series is called "Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen" and you can buy it through Book Depositry (free worldwide delivery).
Originally written in German and eventually translated into other languages (Inkheart in English), Tintenherz, coming in at nearly 600 pages, is one of the longest books on this list. Like Harry Potter, it’s a young adult novel, meaning you can get into it earlier than some of the more difficult fiction or nonfiction content. I’ll give you a brief summary of the book (no spoilers!), so you can see if it might interest you. A girl and her father are living on a farm somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Apparently, the father has a magic power and can “read” things to life or something. At some point, he accidentally “reads” (they come to life) a group of insane murderous characters out of a particular book. What happens next? Action, heartbreak, love, adventure, kindness, malice, capture, escape, and lots more. If I’m honest, I thought the book got off to a slow start. I almost put it down around 10-15% of the way through, but it does pick up and get more exciting as time goes on. When you have read all or some of the books on this list, it will be impossible not to have made progress with your German. Good luck!
📖 You can read the book for free through Goethe Institut. It is available also as a free audiobook.