Books for Teens Who Read Below Grade Level
@pragmaticmom would love a list geared to 12-15 year olds reading 2-3 grade levels below… Just saying!!
I am not a literacy specialist but when I think of teens who read two or three grades below, a few things come to mind:
- There is not much difference between the decoding skills of my 10-year-old or my 12-year-old so the differentiation is in comprehension, content, and format. My younger child gets confused by plots with flashbacks or too many characters.
- These kids are probably reading two or three grades below because they don’t like to read. High-interest books that will draw them in are key.
- It’s also possible that these kids read and decode just fine but don’t enjoy the act of reading. Let’s try some different formats like graphic novels and magazines.
These lists also have some good choices:
Top 100 YA Books
Young Adult and Middle Grade Books For Tweens Who Read 2-3 Grades Below
A Twitter follower suggested the Orca Currents Series for Teens who read several grades below and I tried it on my Teen Reluctant Reader friend in Hawaii. It worked beautifully! He loved them and would read them happily. I liked how the books are very small, and short but with high-interest topics. In his case, he loved skateboarding. There were a few with this theme that also combines Middle School socialization issues. It’s a winning combination!
Maximum Ride series by James Patterson
In James Patterson’s blockbuster series, fourteen-year-old Maximum Ride, better known as Max, knows what it’s like to soar above the world. She and all the members of the “flock”–Fang, Iggy, Nudge, Gasman, and Angel–are just like ordinary kids–only they have wings and can fly. It may seem like a dream come true to some, but their lives can morph into a living nightmare at any time…like when Angel, the youngest member of the flock, is kidnapped and taken back to the “School” where she and the others were experimented on by a crew of wackjobs. Her friends brave a journey to blazing hot Death Valley, CA, to save Angel, but soon enough, they find themselves in yet another nightmare–this one involving fighting off the half-human, half-wolf “Erasers” in New York City. Whether in the treetops of Central Park or in the bowels of the Manhattan subway system, Max and her adopted family take the ride of their lives. Along the way Max discovers from her old friend and father-figure Jeb–now her betrayed and greatest enemy–that her purpose is to save the world–but can she?
This series has very short chapters with non-stop sci-fi action. The plot revolves around a small group of genetically mutated kids who can fly due to bird-like bodies that include light bones and wings. It’s the extremely fast-paced plot twists that will keep readers wanting more. The lead character is a girl but I found that boys are equally interested in this series as boys.
How to Rock Glasses and Braces by Meg Haston
Super-stylish and über-harsh, Kacey Simon is the social dictator of Marquette Middle School. But when an eye infection and a visit to the dentist leave her with Coke-bottle glasses, a mouth full of metal, and…a little, Kacey is dismissed by her popular friends, falling so far down the social ladder she can barely see the top, even with her magnifying specs.
With nowhere else to turn, Kacey has to hang with her nerdy neighbor and a boy who walks to beat his own drum, but she’s determined to reclaim her throne. Will she climb back to the top? Or will she discover that hitting rock bottom kind of…rocks?
A queen bee girl bully turns nerdy and finds out what it’s like to be on the outside. Can she make it back into the cool crowd?
Worst Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure series by Hena Khan (Author), David Borgenicht (Author), Yancey Labat (Illustrator), Ed Stafford (Contributor)
A new thrill ride begins in the Amazon rainforest with the latest novel in the Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure series! Join an expedition of students exploring the Amazon jungle and face real dangers and decisions. Your choices will determine your fate. Will you survive your encounters with piranhas, tarantulas, mosquitoes, monkeys, and jaguars? Or will you be forced to return home early? Only you can decide how to survive. There are twenty-two possible endings to this adventure, but only ONE leads to ultimate success! Featuring dynamic comic book–style illustrations, and based on real, true-life facts about the Amazon, this story will be a surefire hit with anyone craving a fun, highly visual reading experience.
The reader gets to decide how the story will go down by making decisions along every step of the adventure with a choice of two possibilities. There is a fact guide at the back of each book that gives you realistic information on surviving this scenario. It has all the elements to engage a reader including interactivity, facts to learn something useful, characters of all ages and ethnicities to relate to, and an exciting adventure. I’m glad that this is a series!
I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You (Gallagher Girls) by Ally Carter
Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume
Faced with the difficulties of growing up and choosing a religion, a twelve-year-old girl talks over her problems with her own private God.
Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life series by James Patterson
It’s Rafe Khatchadorian’s first day at Hills Village Middle School, and it’s shaping up to be the worst year ever. He has enough problems at home without throwing his first year of middle school into the mix, but luckily he’s got an ace plan for the best year ever–if only he can pull it off. With his best friend Leonardo the Silent awarding him points, Rafe tries to break every rule in his school’s oppressive Code of Conduct. Chewing gum in class–5,000 points! Running in the hallway–10,000 points! Pulling the fire alarm–50,000 points!
But not everyone thinks Rafe’s plan is a good idea, especially not the teachers, parents, and bullies who keep getting in his way. Will Rafe decide that winning is the only thing that matters? Are things about to go from magic to tragic? Find out in this hilarious–and heartwarming–#1 New York Times bestselling hit! Includes over 100 illustrations.
If your child liked Diary of a Wimpy Kid series then this is a great series perfect for middle schoolers.
Tales of a 6th Grade Muppet by Kirk Scroggs
On a scale of one to ten, sixth-grader Danvers Blickensderfer’s life is a solid minus two. But he really hits rock bottom when he auditions for the local talent show: his death-defying hula-hooping-ninja tribute to Gonzo the Great is beat out by the world’s most obnoxious middle school boy band, Emo Shun.
With his daredevil dreams dashed, Danvers goes to bed… and wakes up feeling a little fuzzy-literally! He’s turned into a Muppet!
Fortunately, there’s an internship open at the Muppet Theater and Danvers has a chance to meet his long-nosed, stunt-lovin’ hero! All aboard The Electric Mayhem bus as this misfit makes good and joins the zaniest crew ever: The Muppets!
This is another spawn of Diary of a Wimpy Kid that is perfect for 12-year-olds who want graphics to break up text.
Smile by Raina Telgemeier
The True Story: The Lost Trail, Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness by Donn Fendler with Lynn Plourde, illustrated by Ben Bishop
Donn Fendler’s harrowing story of being lost in the Maine wilderness when he was just twelve, was made famous by the perennial best-seller, Lost on a Mountain in Maine. In Lost Trail, more than 70 years after the event, Donn tells the story of survival and rescue from his own perspective. Lost Trail is a masterfully illustrated graphic novel that tells the story of a twelve-year-old boy scout from a New York City suburb who climbs Maine,s mile-high Mt. Katahdin and in a sudden storm is separated from his friends and family. What follows is a nine-day adventure, in which Donn, lost and alone in the Maine wilderness with bugs, bears, and only a few berries to eat, struggles for survival.
The perfect realistic (because it’s a true story!) graphic novel for boys who liked The Hatchet or My Side of the Mountain. This is a perfect book for anyone who has been to Newport, Maine. Bonus points for knowing where Sebasticook Lake is. Donn, as a 12-year-old boy scout, spent nine days alone in the wilderness, struggling to survive with no supplies or weapons.
The Amazing Adventures of Nate Banks by Jake Bell
Sixth grader Nate Banks, who’s obsessed with comic books, leads a normal life until he discovers his history teacher may be a superhero.
As the three-time winner of the Ultimate Comic Book Trivia Championship of Knowledge, Nate Banks has always been the sixth grade’s biggest comic book expert. But when a mysterious new superhero shows up in town, not even Nate knows who she really is. And when he sets out to discover Ultraviolet’s secret identity, all of the clues seem to lead Nate to the least likely suspect-his uptight history teacher, Ms. Matthews! Could she really be moonlighting as a super-powered crime fighter? It’s up to Nate to find out!
Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri
Eleven-year-old Roger is trying to make sense of his classmate Robert “Yummy” Sandifer’s death, but first, he has to make sense of Yummy’s life. Yummy could be as tough as a pit bull sometimes. Other times he was as sweet as the sugary treats he loved to eat. Was Yummy some sort of monster, or just another kid? As Roger searches for the truth, he finds more and more questions. How did Yummy end up in so much trouble? Did he really kill someone? And why do all the answers seem to lead back to a gang-the same gang to which Roger’s older brother belongs? Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty is a compelling graphic dramatization based on events that occurred in Chicago in 1994. This gritty exploration of youth gang life will force readers to question their own understandings of good and bad, right and wrong.
YUMMY wins a 2012 Street Lit Book Award in a new category created just for it: Emerging Classic.
Greg Niri’s graphic novel tells the true but brief life story of a young gang member. It’s a gritty story told in a dispassionate way that makes it all the more real. For those of us who don’t live in an inner-city environment, this book expands our horizons and helps us appreciate what those kids deal with every day.
Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins
A Jane Addams Honor Book
Maine Library Association Lupine Honor Book
Skipping Stones Honor Book
ALA Amelia Bloomer Project Award Book
Bank Street Best Children’s Books List (Starred)
Boston Author’s Club Highly Recommended Book
Association of Children’s Booksellers Best Book
With both a girl protagonist and a male friend, this short multicultural chapter book transports the reader to a small village in Bangladesh where 10-year-old Naima tries to help her ailing father with his rickshaw business only to discover that her talent as an artist might be the key to a better future.
Odyssey 3 Ways
Stickman Odyssey by Christopher Ford
When Zozimos is banished by an evil witch (his stepmother!) from the kingdom of Sticatha-the kingdom he was next in line to rule-he trains at the battle (if you call chasing after butterflies training), travels across stormy seas (thanks for that, Poseidon), slays golems and monsters (with a lot of help), charms beautiful women (not really), and somehow (despite his own ineptitude) survives quest after quest. By the love of Zeus, though, none of it brings him any closer to home!
It does, however, make for one quirky, original, giggle-provoking graphic novel sure to appeal to any kid interested in Greek mythology, or merely looking for an entertaining read. [graphic novel]
This is a stickman VERY abbreviated version of The Odyssey but it might spark a deeper interest in Greek Mythology which is also on the 6th grade Common Core Curriculum. There are worse ways to learn about the classics!
The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds
“Gareth Hinds brings THE ODYSSEY to life in a masterful blend of art and storytelling. Vivid and exciting, this graphic novel is a worthy new interpretation of Homer’s epic.”
—Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series
Fresh from his triumphs in the Trojan War, Odysseus, King of Ithaca, wants nothing more than to return home to his family. Instead, he offends the sea god, Poseidon, who dooms him to years of shipwreck and wandering. Battling man-eating monsters, violent storms, and the supernatural seductions of sirens and sorceresses, Odysseus will need all his strength and cunning—and a little help from Mount Olympus—to make his way home and seize his kingdom from the schemers who seek to wed his queen and usurp his throne. Award-winning graphic artist Gareth Hinds masterfully reinterprets a story of heroism, adventure, and high action that has been told and retold for more than 2,500 years—though never quite like this. [graphic novel]
Stickman Odyssey makes this graphic novel version look like a serious tome, but it will give readers the real story via graphic novel so it’s still an easy and engaging read.
Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can’t seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. When his mom tells him the truth about where he came from, she takes him to the one place he’ll be safe—Camp Half-Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island). There, Percy learns that the father he never knew is actually Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon Percy finds himself caught up in a mystery that could lead to disastrous consequences. Together with his friends—a satyr and the demigod daughter of Athena—Percy sets out on a quest to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.
There are now two Percy Jackson series. The first one is strictly Greek Mythology. The second one combines Greek and Roman mythology. Throughout it, is Percy Jackson, ADHD hero, and son of Poseidon. Pair up the movie with the first book for a compare and contrast.
Picks from @PamTee
The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
The book that launched Sherman Alexie onto the YA market is now available in a deluxe collector’s edition! Beautifully designed with a gifty new look that includes a foil-stamped, die-cut slipcase and 4-color interior art, this edition is perfect for fans and collectors alike.
In his nationally acclaimed, semi-autobiographical YA debut, author Sherman Alexie tells the heartbreaking, hilarious, and beautifully written story of a young Native American teen as he attempts to break free from the life he was destined to live.
Big Nate series by Lincoln Peirce
Big Nate is going for broke!
Mighty Jefferson Middle School always wins. Then Nate decides it’s time to go from zeroes to heroes! Will Nate crack under the pressure of the “Ultimate Snowdown”? Or lead P.S. 38 to its biggest victory ever?
Gone by Michael Grant
In the blink of an eye.
Everyone except for the young. Teens. Middle schoolers. Toddlers. But not a single adult. No teachers, no cops, no doctors, no parents. Gone, too, are the phones, internet, and television. There is no way to get help.
Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents—unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers—that grow stronger by the day.
It’s a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen and war is imminent.
The first in a breathtaking saga about teens battling each other and their darkest selves, gone is a page-turning thriller that will make you look at the world in a whole new way.
Warriors series by Erin Hunter
Fire alone can save our Clan…
For generations, four Clans of wild cats have shared the forest according to the laws laid down by the powerful ancestors. But the warrior code is threatened, and the ThunderClan cats are in grave danger. The sinister ShadowClan grows stronger every day. Noble warriors are dying — and some deaths are more mysterious than others.
In the midst of this turmoil appears an ordinary housecat named Rusty . . . Who may yet turn out to be the bravest warrior of them all?
Star Wars Infinity Series
The first title in a series of non-continuity Star Wars stories shows what happens when Luke Skywalker and the rebels fire on the Death Star and miss their mark. A Graphic Novel. Original.
Picks from @Alicia_Dean_
Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
Greg Heffley is in big trouble. School property has been damaged, and Greg is the prime suspect. But the crazy thing is, he’s innocent. Or at least sort of.
The authorities are closing in, but when a surprise blizzard hits, the Heffley family is trapped indoors. Greg knows that when the snow melts he’s going to have to face the music, but could any punishment be worse than being stuck inside with your family for the holidays?
Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renee Russell
It’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid for girls in this hilarious new novel!
Dork Diaries follows eighth grader Nikki Maxwell as she chronicles through text and sketches her move to a snooty new school; her epic battle with her mom for an iPhone; her enthusiasm for drawing and art; and a love/hate fascination with the new school’s queen bee, a girl named Mackenzie, who becomes Nikki’s rival in a schoolwide art competition. Nikki writes about friendships, crushes, popularity, and family with a unique and fresh voice that still conveys a universal authenticity. Nikki’s sketches throughout her diary add humor and spunk to the book, a surefire hit with tween girl readers.
Ramona series by Beverly Cleary
Ramona is off to kindergarten, and it’s the greatest day of her life. So why is she sitting on the bench while the rest of the students play the game gray duck? Laughs and minor upsets abound in an enormously popular story starring the one and only Ramona Quimby!
Picks from @CourtneyLarking
my 9th grade low readers (boys) loved Pete Hautman‘s Godless.
“Why mess around with Catholicism when you can have your own customized religion?”
Fed up with his parents’ boring old religion, agnostic-going-on-atheist Jason Bock invents a new god — the town’s water tower. He recruits an unlikely group of worshippers: his snail-farming best friend, Shin, cute-as-a-button (whatever that means) Magda Price, and the violent and unpredictable Henry Stagg. As their religion grows, it takes on a life of its own. While Jason struggles to keep the faith pure, Shin obsesses over writing their bible, and the explosive Henry schemes to make a new faith even more exciting — and dangerous.
When the Chutengodians hold their first ceremony high atop the dome of the water tower, things quickly go from merely dangerous to terrifying and deadly. Jason soon realizes that inventing a religion is a lot easier than controlling it, but control it he must, before his creation destroys both his friends and himself.
Rash by Pete Hautman
Consumption of alcohol: Illegal.
Football and other “violent” sports: Illegal.
Ownership of guns, chain saws, and/or large dogs: Illegal.
Body piercings, tattoos: Illegal.
It’s late in the twenty-first century, and the United Safer States of America (USSA) has become a nation obsessed with safety. For Bo Marsten, a teenager who grew up in the USSA, it’s all good. He knows the harsh laws were created to protect the people. But when Bo’s temper flares out of control and he’s sentenced to three years of manual labor, he’s not so down with the law anymore.
Bo’s forced to live and work in a factory in the Canadian tundra. The warden running the place is totally out of his mind and cares little for his inmates’ safety. Bo will have to decide what’s worse: a society that locks people up for road rage, or a prison where the wrong move could make you polar bear food.
Billy Hooten: Owlboy by Tom Sniegoski
Billy Hooten is a weird kid. He gets beat up a lot and spends the rest of his time doggedly trying to build a robot. One day, Billy Hooten hears a cry for help coming from the cemetery that borders his backyard. Against his better judgment, he runs toward it. And after that, everything changes for Billy Hooten. Because Billy Hooten, you see, is Owlboy. A quick-thinking, goggle-and-feather-wearing superhero who protects the bizarre and monstrous citizens of Monstros City, a city that exists under Billy’s hometown of Bradbury, Massachusetts. But is Billy truly worthy of the moniker Owlboy?
Oh, and add the Billy Hooten, Owlboy series by local author
@TomSniegoski to your list! Funny, exciting & a little gross 🙂
Try These Realistic Fiction and Non-Fiction Picks for 8th Grade
The Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
A short book with a lot of boy appeal.
Since it was first published in 1987, the story of thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson’s survival following a plane crash has become a modern classic. Stranded in the desolate wilderness, Brian uses his instincts and his hatchet to stay alive for fifty-four harrowing days.
This twentieth-anniversary edition of Hatchet contains a new introduction and sidebar commentary by Gary Paulsen, written especially for this volume. Drew Willis’s detailed pen-and-ink illustrations complement the descriptions in the text and add a new dimension to the book. This handsome edition of the Newbery Honor book will be treasured by Hatchet fans as well as by readers encountering Brian’s unforgettable story for the first time.
I found this list through Twitter from Teacher Vision.
Al Capone Does My Shirts and Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko
- historical fiction set in a time period recent enough for kids to easily relate to the setting.
- set in one of the most famous prisons in the world but are appropriate for younger readers.
- stories that showcase the importance of family, tolerance, and friendship.
- award-winning novels that read like movie scripts.
Final Four by Paul Volponi
Four players with one thing in common: the will to win.
Malcolm wants to get to the NBA ASAP. Roko wants to be the pride of his native Croatia. Crispin wants the girl of his dreams. M.J. just wants a chance.
March Madness is in full swing, and there are only four teams left in the NCAA basketball championship. The heavily favored Michigan Spartans and the underdog Troy Trojans meet in the first game in the semifinals, and it’s there that the fates of Malcolm, Roko, Crispin, and M.J. intertwine. As the last moments tick down on the game clock, you’ll learn how each player went from being a kid who loved to shoot hoops to a powerful force in one of the most important games of the year. Which team will leave the Superdome victorious? In the end, it will come down to which players have the most skill, the most drive, and the most heart.
You don’t have to play basketball to get sucked into this gritty story of four boys from different backgrounds who are using their skills on the court to chase their dreams. This is a great pick for teens. [Young Adult for ages 12 and up]
Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell
From bestselling author Frances O’Roark Dowell, a “funny and winning” (Kirkus Reviews) tale of one teen’s quest for normalcy—and the much more exciting detours she takes along the way.
Janie Gorman is smart and creative and a little bit funky…but what she really wants to be is normal. Because living on an isolated farm with her modern-hippy parents is decidedly not normal, no matter how delicious the goat cheese. High school gives Janie the chance to prove to her suburban peers that she’s just like them, but before long she realizes normal is completely overrated, and pretty dull.
If she’s going to learn how to live large (and forget the haters), Janie will have to give up the quest and make room in her life for things from the fringe—like jam band, righteous chocolate, small acts of great bravery, and a boy named Monster.
Ten Miles Past Normal is a quirky roadmap for life—and also a reminder that detours are not about missing out, but about finding a new way home. [Young Adult for ages 12 and up]
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
First published by Viking in 1967, The Outsiders immediately resonated with young adults. This groundbreaking novel was like nothing else out there? It was honest and gritty and was a deeply sympathetic portrayal of Ponyboy, a young man who finds himself on the outside of regular society. Forty years later, with over thirteen million copies sold, the story is as fresh and powerful for teenagers today as it ever was.
That Was Then, This is Now by S. E. Hinton
Companion to The Outsiders, That Was Then, This is Now is S. E. Hinton’s moving portrait of the bond between best friends Bryon and Mark and the tensions that develop between them as they begin to grow up and grow apart. Now, it too is available in this great new package featuring the larger trim size, eye-catching new cover art, and all-new bonus material. And, like The Outsiders, the new edition will also maintain the same pagination as the previous edition making it ideal for continued classroom use.
The Skateboarding Field Manual by Ryan Stutts
Skateboarding 101: evolution, tricks, etiquette, and dealing with the law.
Are You Afraid Yet? The Science Behind Scary Stuff by Stephen James O’Meara
Uncover the scientific truth about the strange and unusual.
Show Me How: 500 Things You Should Know Instructions for Life From the Everyday to the Exotic by Derek Fagerstrom and Lauren Smith
Fighting a shark, getting out of the car in a mini skirt – it’s all here.
Sports Illustrated for Kids
National Geographic Kids
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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.