Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- The Reluctant Reader

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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Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- The Sports Enthusiast

Whether the tween in your life is a rabid baseball fan or a traveling soccer player, there is a book out there for them.  Sometimes, my athletes are the hardest readers to hook, as they tend to be overbooked, tired after long days on the field or watching their favorite team, and sometimes view reading as “boring”.  But don’t worry, there is a book out there for even the pickiest sports enthusiast in your life!  

Below are some favorites from my classroom:

  • Six Innings by James Preller-  In this book, there are two teams.  Two teams playing six innings.  One championship game.   Each chapter is devoted to the top of bottom of the inning, and the reader experiences the game from both sides, through the eyes of different players.  With details that make you feel like you are in the stands watching the game, you can almost hear the bats crack and see the slides into first base.   But this is more than just a simple baseball book.  Two friends are struggling to come to terms with a cancer diagnosis that has sidelined one of them, forcing him to give up baseball, the game that he loves.   It’s not just a game- it’s life for these boys.  And for everyone else, this is the last- the last game for those who will choose to play a different sport next season, the last time the teams will play together, the last hurrah.                                                                This is a book that has resonated deeply with my 6th graders, whether they are baseball fans or not.  Preller’s story is one that most tweens can identify with, especially those involved in organized sports.  A great choice for tweens, especially baseball players!


  • Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery by John Feinstein-  Sports and a mystery?  Sign me up!  Set at the Final Four, this is an action-packed mystery full of sports trivia and Final Four information.  Two eighth-graders win a writing contest that sends them to the Final Four to report for their local newspapers.  When they stumble upon blackmail threat and one team possibly throwing the game, they may have bitten off more than they can handle.  My students love that fact that throughout the story, famous basketball personalities make guest appearances, including spirited sports analyst Tony Kornheiser and well-known commentator Dick Vitale. Combined with references to real players and coaches, my kids have been eating these up since they entered my library. Feinstein is a best-selling sportswriter and his extensive sports expertise is obvious, which kids appreciate.  And the mystery is realistic and keeps my most reluctant readers turning the pages.  Plus, this is a series!  Check out Cover-up: Mystery at the Super Bowl  and Vanishing Act: Mystery at the U.S. Open, too!


  • Travel Team by Mike Lupica-  Lupica is another sportswriter-turned-children’s-author.  His sports books are go-to selections when I am suggesting books for my biggest sports fans.  His characters are easy to relate to, realistic, and multi-dimensional.  Their problems are realistic and frequently touch on current events in sports.  In this selection, Danny Walker is devastated when he doesn’t make the cut for his local travel basketball team.  He is told that he is too short, but secretly suspects he was cut because of issues with his divorced father, a former NBA player, and the coach.  But then his father announces he is starting his own travel team and Danny finally has a team.  When unexpected events happen and Danny’s dad is unable to coach, Danny himself steps in.  A great sports book that connects with my athletes and non-athletes alike, I frequently find myself recommending this one.  And once they read one Lupica book, the rest usually follow!  Other favorites include Summer Ball and Heat.


  • There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock by Jerry Spinelli-  Jerry Spinelli is formidable force in middle grade literature.  There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock is a tried and true favorite that always connects with my students.  When eighth-grader Maisie Potter decides to try out for the wrestling team, she has no idea that it will be a catalyst for so many issues.  Legally, the school can not keep her from participating, despite that fact that it is a boy’s team.  However, she quickly becomes a hated figure in school and the center of a media storm.  But what is constantly lost in the chaos is that Maisie is a pretty darn good wrestler!  Spinelli’s tale grabs boys and girls alike, and Maisie reminds a lot of my students of Maniac Magee (a perennial favorite read in 5th grade).  


  • We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson- This non-fiction title is absolutely stunning and baseball fans and history buffs will not be able to put it down.  Using an anonymous player as the narrator, Kadir Nelson tells the story of Negro League baseball from its beginnings in the 1920s through its decline after Jackie Robinson crossed over to the majors in 1947. Told through accessible text and accompanied by gorgeous oil paintings (done by Nelson), this is a book that no baseball fan should be without.  There is no doubt this one will be tossed about as a possible Newbery winner come January.  


  • The Million Dollar Kick by Dan Gutman-  Gutman seems to specialize in books for otherwise reluctant readers.  In The Million Dollar Kick, seventh-grader Whisper HATES soccer. Her little sister is the family athlete, and a sports star. However, Whisper is the one who is chosen as a contest participant and she must try to kick a goal past the town’s famous professional star in front of a whole stadium full of huge soccer fanatics. The prize is one million dollars.   Is the chance to win a million dollars worth the huge possibility of total and utter humiliation?  The worst part is that no one supports her! She is fairly certain her family expects her to fail. Her classmates know she won’t make the shot. It seems her only supporter is Jesse, a self-proclaimed computer geek. Does Whisper even want to be seen with him, even if he has created a laptop simulation that could help her succeed?  A funny book that will connect with those who enjoy soccer just as much as those who love realistic middle school fiction.


While this is just a small sample of the great sports books out there, I hope they help you make some great decisions for your holiday book-buying!  Stay tuned for another list tomorrow!



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Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays

The holidays will be upon us shortly.  That means it is gift-giving season!  What is the best gift for any age group?  Books!

Sure, it’s easy to brush off books in the gift-giving category.  How do you know that recipient hasn’t already read the book(s) in question?  How do you know what genre or authors they like? What if the recipient doesn’t even like to read?  And where do you even begin?  That bookstore is huge and intimidating, right?  But you can do it, I promise!

When it comes to the tweens and middle schoolers in your life, I’m here to help this holiday season.  For the next few weeks I will be posting lists to help you find that perfect book or book gift for the 10-13 year old in your life.  Lists will be categorized according to trends I see in my classroom, so you can count on the fact that the books I recommend will be kid-tested and approved.  

Do the tweens in your life a favor.  Give them the gift of reading this holiday season.  Books are the gifts that you can open again and again, and stories are the gifts that keep giving.  So stay tuned from December 1-12 to find that perfect gift for the middle schooler in your life.  Whether they are are avid readers or only skim their summer reading when forced to, there is something out there for everyone.



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