At our school’s curriculum night, I always tell parents that my number one goal is to help their child love to read so that he or she will become a lifelong reader. For some students, this goal has already been met — the children come to me with a love of literature. For others, it is more difficult.
This can be for a multitude of reasons. Maybe the child is still learning to read and has not built up the reading skill or endurance needed to focus on the content of the book versus the process of reading. Maybe the child has not found the right kind of books for him or her – maybe they are trying to read books that are too long or that they don’t have the necessary background knowledge for.
Whatever the reason, it is my job to push, challenge and empower those children to become book lovers.
Through my years of teaching (six now!), I have compiled a list of “go-to” books and authors that I know will be instant hits with reluctant readers. I do not hesitate to suggest these titles to established readers as well because they are all-around great reads.
Best Books for Kids Who Don’t Like to Read
Author Barbara Park might be known best for writing the series Junie B. Jones for the younger crowd. However, she has two gems of books called Skinny-Bones and Almost Starring Skinny-Bones that are sure to please even the most reluctant of readers. The pair of books star a young man named Alex “Skinnybones” Frankovitch who has a huge mouth that gets him into a lot of trouble! In Skinny-Bones, he challenges the star pitcher to a pitching contest with hilarious results. I remember reading Skinny-Bones for the first time when I was younger and laughing hysterically at Alex’s antics! I highly recommend these short reads for both boys and girls who are looking for a laugh-out-loud book.
In the spirit of hilarious books, my next suggestion is The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. From the Barnes and Noble synopsis, “The horrible Herdmans are the meanest kids around. They lie, steal, cuss, and smoke cigars—even the girls. The last place anyone expected to see them is in church. So when the Herdmans storm Sunday school and take over the annual Christmas pageant, everyone braces for the worst. But no one is prepared for what really happens when the most rotten kids in the world take over the greatest story ever told. It’s a pageant full of surprises for everyone–including the Herdmans themselves.” I just love this short novel. The Herdmans are so terrible but so endearing at the same time. This is an easy book for students to read; it has humor but also shares a good message about the true meaning of Christmas.
Author Mary Downing Hahn is one of the greatest writers out there for middle grade readers. For this reason, I suggest ANY of her books to my students. It is so interesting to see kids latch onto her novels. You put one of them in their hands, they read it, and then they are going through the rest like wildfire-they just can’t get enough! I would suggest starting with Wait Till Helen Comes, The Doll in the Garden, or Deep, Dark and Dangerous. These are spooky books but it is the right mix of scary and safe. The students are creeped out and want to read more, but they are not going to have nightmares. Hahn also has great character development in her stories.
This is especially evident in her non-spooky, historical fiction novel: Stepping on the Cracks. From the Barnes and Noble synopsis: “Margaret and Elizabeth support everything about the war: the troops, the reasons for going to war, even the food rations. After all, this is the good war and the Americans are the good guys. But when the girls stumble upon a classmate’s secret, their feelings about the war begin to change. Is it really a good war? Is there ever such a thing?” This was one of my favorite books growing up and has quickly become a favorite of my students. You will not regret introducing Mary Downing Hahn into your classroom.
My next suggestion for reluctant readers is the Baseball Card Adventure series by Dan Gutman. This series stars Joe Stoshack who finds baseball cards that enable him to travel back in time to the period in which the player lived. These books are a wonderful mix of both realistic and historical fiction. Gutman even includes facts about the player and time period along with black and white photographs sure to inspire your student to pick up a non-fiction book to complement the fiction one. Gutman’s writing style is very accessible for the reluctant reader – straightforward with cliff-hangers aplenty. My personal favorite from the series is Honus and Me in which Joey finds an extremely valuable Honus Wagner baseball card while cleaning out his neighbor’s attic. Students will identify with the decisions that Joey has to make through the novel and find value in the lessons he learns. While this is a great book for everyone, I find that Gutman really speaks to the boy reader.
Kids love to read about kids who are just like them. There is perhaps no better author who writes the “school story” than Andrew Clements. My students love the novel Frindle. Frindle is about a bright, creative thinker named Nick Allen. Nick has just started fifth grade when he gets an idea inspired by his dictionary-loving teacher, Mrs. Granger. Nick is going to create a new word, frindle, to replace the word pen. The story set in motion from this act is fast-paced and engaging. When I finished it as a read-aloud, I asked the students what Clements’ message was. Many students noted that he had an empowering message for kids–they can do anything they set their mind to! What a great message for kids to get.
Of course, there are many more authors and books that you can use for reluctant middle-grade readers. I love Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog and Hate That Cat. I also have used Grace Lin’s Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat. The fun, simple illustrations in the books are a great accompaniment to the text. I also love some of Gary Paulsen’s new books like Lawn Boy, Mudshark, and Masters of Disaster. He is such a great writer to hook boy readers.
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.