Every year I begin our reading workshop with a reading survey. It lets me get to know my new students as readers and I enjoy learning about their thoughts on reading. Without fail, at least half (sometimes 75%) of my new students note that they dislike reading. Their reasons are varied, from not having the time to read, to hating books, and sometimes just a lack of good books to choose from. Reluctant readers are some of my favorites, because the feeling I get when I am able to turn them on to reading is amazing. This holiday season, try to share the joy of reading with a reluctant reader.
Some favorites in my room, which always hook reluctant readers:
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney- Told in prose and illustrations, Jeff Kinney’s hysterical tales of Greg and his middle school misadventures are impossible to keep on the shelf. For the last two years my students have passed these around to each other. Greg is a typical middle schooler who has an embarrassing mom, a strict dad, a crazy older brother, and a spoiled little brother. My students identify with his family misadventures and his struggles in middle school. Plus, the journal format (which includes Greg’s own cartoons and illustrations) is kind to reluctant and struggling readers alike. And the best part is that Kinney has made this into a series! Check out Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw (available January 13, 2009), and Diary of a Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself Book (for the budding writer/comic book artist in your life).
- Shadow Children Series by Margaret Peterson Haddix- It’s hard to find tween-friendly science fiction that isn’t a turn-off for my students. Haddix’s Shadow Children Series is the story of a world much like ours where families are only permitted to have two children. Third children are illegal and if found they are killed by the Population Police. Luke is a third child and as such has spent his 12 years of life in hiding. For most of his life the woods around the family farm are thick enough to protect him. But when the government purchases the land and begins building homes there, Luke is sentenced to life indoors and away from all windows. While sneaking a loom out the attic window one day, he spies a child’s face in the window of one of the new homes, after the family of four has left for the day. Is it possible that he is not the only third child in the area? Luke is faced with tough decisions and his situation is realistic enough to be frightening. Haddix’s series follows Luke as he begins to question the law and fight the government. Without fail, students read the first book and immediately demand the rest of the books. A great way to hook reluctant readers!
- the dead and the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer- Pfeffer’s post-apocalyptic tale of New York City after the moon has been knocked out of orbit is an obsession with my students this year. I only have one copy in the classroom library, and the last time I checked there were 5 or 6 copies that kids themselves bought and began passing around to each other. To sum up the story (this is a companion novel to Life As We Knew It), it is based on an asteroid hitting the moon, setting off a tailspin of horrific climate changes. The story examines these events as they unfold in New York City, revealed through the eyes of seventeen-year-old Puerto Rican Alex Morales. When his parents disappear in the aftermath of the disaster, Alex is forced to care for his two younger sisters, even as Manhattan becomes a deadly wasteland, and food and aid dwindle to nothing. A little gross, very graphic, and frightening enough to make you want to stock up on canned goods, the dead and the gone is impossible to put down, even for the most reluctant reader!
- Amulet, Book One: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi- This graphic novel is great for kids who can’t even imagine having to read a novel. The illustrations are beautiful and the story will keep them turning the pages. After the tragic death of their father, Emily and Navin move with their mother to the home of her late great-grandfather. But is the house really safe? Soon, a sinister creature lures the kids’ mom through a door in the basement. Emily and Navin, desperate not to lose her, too, follow her into an underground world inhabited by demons, robots, and talking animals. And don’t discount graphic novels for readers of all levels! Graphic novels require readers to be engaged in the process of decoding and comprehending a range of literary devices. According to a study by Scholastic, “graphic novels can also help improve reading development for students struggling with language acquisition, as the illustrations provide contextual clues to the meaning of the written narrative. When graphic novels are made available to young people, even those deemed “poor readers” willingly and enthusiastically gravitate towards these books. Providing young people with diverse reading materials can help them become lifelong readers.”
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