Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays

Last year was the first installment of my Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays.  I’m very excited to bring it back again, updated, for this year!  You can check out last year’s posts here.

Unfortunately, many tweens and middle schoolers are blank slates when it comes to reading.  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, whether they are an avid reader or dormant readers.  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.

Give the tweens in your life the gift of reading.  A book is a gift you can open again and again, and it does not have to be an expensive gift.  What other gift will take tweens to new places, back in time, or away from their world?  For approximately ten dollars, you can do all that for the tweens in your life by wrapping a book and giving it to them for the holidays.

Check back here starting December 1st for the first installment of  my Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays 2009!

Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- Graphic Novels

Only recently did I get into graphic novels.  However, they work wonders for reluctant and struggling middle grade readers!  Even better, they force readers to use different aspects of their brain because the have to interpret the pictures and the text in a way that is very different from novels.  Plus, graphic novels have plots that are intricate fun!

  • Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and Nathan Hale- This is not your mother’s Rapunzel! Set on the Western Frontier, this Rapunzel is spunky and smart, far from the typical damsel in distress. Shannon Hale is a Newbery-winning author and this graphic novel is fun for boys and girls!


  • Laika by Nick Abadzis- This story broke my heart. It is a fictionalized account of the story of the dog Laika, the first living creature launched into outer space, aboard the USSR’s Sputnik 2 in 1957. Gorgeous and heart-breaking!


  • Into The Volcano by Don A. Wood- I just picked this one up at the last Scholastic Warehouse Sale. It’s quietly gaining steam in my classroom. Two brothers are told they have to travel to a volcanic island to help an aunt they have never met. When they arrive on the island, they are sent on an adventure that take them on a wild boat ride straight into an erupting volcano! Great for your adventure-lovers!


  • Bone Volume 1: Out From Boneville by Jeff Smith- This was the first graphic novel I bought for my classroom library, when I knew absolutely nothing about graphic novels. It’s always a popular choice in my class and the entire series is great (and always available from Scholastic- a huge bonus). The story follows three cousins who have been thrown out of their town for cheating the citizens. Shortly thereafter, they are separated. Each Bone stumbles into a mysterious valley full of odd creatures that reveal strange happenings.

Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- The Science- Fiction and Fantasy Fan

The following are the most popular science-fiction and fantasy novels in my classroom this year.

  • Harry Potter– I have more than a few Potter-fanatics this year! What I love about the Harry Potter series is that the books lend themselves so easily to discussion. My fanatics are always coming up with theories and sharing them with each other, answering each other’s questions, and arguing about which book is the best in the series. I love it!


  • The Hunger Games by Suzane Collins- I wasn’t too sure how this would be received by my class this year once I added it to the library. Don’t get me wrong- I loved it! But the length of this novel really made me think my more reluctant readers would steer clear. Boy was I wrong! This is being passed around like hotcakes and I don’t think it has been back on the library shelf for more than a day at a time since September. Action-packed, this story is reminiscent of Survivor and American Idol, with a touch of love and friendship thrown in for good measure.


  • Turnabout by Margaret Peterson Haddix- Haddix is like some type of elixir for reluctant readers. Even kids who hate reading can’t put her books down. This year, Turnabout has been extremely popular with my 6th graders. Dealing with the idea of living forever, Haddix keeps kids turning the pages, whether they are advanced readers or the most reluctant of readers. At age 100, Melly and a few other nursing home residents are injected with an experimental drug. The drug was supposed to make them age backwards until they reached a self-determined ideal age, at which point they would get another shot to stop the process. The second shot, however, proved fatal, and the participants of the project were doomed to continue unaging until they reached infancy and eventually zero. Now teenagers, Melly and her friend Anny Beth need to find parents who can care for them in their approaching infancy. But then a snooping journalist begins prying into their lives and they are forced to go underground.


  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman- My kids love reading books right before a new movie opens. Lately, Coraline has been a popular choice for my horror and fantasy fans because the movie trailers and advertisements have started making their way into the mainstream media. Coraline and her family move to a new home where she discovers that there are 14 doors- 13 of which are unlocked. Late one night, the 14th door is unlocked and she steps through. On the other side is a world virtually identical to her own. At first, this appears to be perfect. There is even another mother and another father, who want Coraline to be their little girl. Then she learns that they want to change her and keep her there forever. And there are other lost children in this world, whose souls are trapped in a mirror. This is one creepy book and my 6th graders love it!


  • Into the Wild and Out of the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst- These hysterical romps through the lives of fairy tale characters living in the modern world will leave your tween in stitches. You see, Julie is a regular girl. Except for one thing. Her mom is sort of embarrassing. You would be embarrassed too, if your mom was Rapunzel! And if it was your job to keep “the wild” under your bed and under control. Because if it escapes, it will take over your town, your state, and maybe even the world. And anyone caught in it’s bath will become a part of the fairy tale world, doomed to live the same story over and over again….FOREVER!


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Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- The Detective

Mystery books are always hot in my classroom.  The danger, intrigue, and suspense are enticing to tweens and there is an abundance of titles out there that keep tweens turning the pages.

  • The 39 Clues (The Maze of Bones, Book 1) by Rick Riordan and the second book, 39 Clues: One False Note by Gordan Korman are the most popular books in my classroom right now. Eventually a 10 book series, The 39 Clues, is the story of two orphans who are swept into a worldwide hunt for the story of their family.  When their Aunt Grace dies, they discover that her will is not the typical will.  Instead, she gives her descendants a choice- take 1 million dollars right now or take a clue.  Grace is the last matriarch of the Cahills, the world’s most powerful family. Everyone from Napoleon to Houdini is related to the Cahills, yet the source of the family power is lost. 39 clues hidden around the world can reveal the family’s secret, but no one has been able to assemble them. Whoever does find the 39 clues will win much more than 1 million dollars.


  • The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney- I still remember reading this when I was in middle school.  Man, did I love it.  A decade later, I wasn’t sure if my students would connect with it.  It turns out I didn’t need to worry at all- this is another series that never stays on my library shelves.  For those who haven’t read the book, it’s absolutely fascinating.  When Janie finds her own picture on the back of milk carton, labeled as a missing child, her entire world is turned upside down.  Who are her parents?  Are they really her parents?  Is her whole life a lie?  This is a page-turner that tweens don’t want to put down, and I haven’t had a single reader give up on the series after one book- they all read the entire series!


  • The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright-  This is a mystery that I see many of my students reading and rereading.  Many of them read it as a class novel in 5th grade and choose to reread it again at some point during 6th grade because they enjoyed it so much.  A quick summary (courtesy of Amazon)- The attic is always a great place to look for nuggets of one’s family history, but when 12-year-old Amy explores her great-grandparents’ attic, she uncovers clues to a chilling family secret. As Amy and her Aunt Claire sift through clothes, trinkets and other memorabilia, Amy comes across Aunt Claire’s long-forgotten dollhouse, a finely crafted replica of the house they are in. Aunt Claire seems unusually distressed about the dollhouse and Amy is determined to find out why. The real fun begins when Amy learns that the dolls in the dollhouse move of their own willAand that they seem to be trying to tell her something. After a little sleuthing at the local library, Amy learns that her great-grandparents were murdered years ago and that Aunt Claire’s fiance (who died in a car accident that same night) was the prime suspect in the unsolved case.  Chilling!


  • Silent to the Bone by E.L. Konigsburg- What happened on November 25, 2:43 P.M. to cause Branwell Zamborska to become stop speaking? All anyone knows is that he called 911 because his baby sister stopped breathing, and when he was unable to speak to the operator, Vivian, the English nanny, said that Branwell had dropped the baby and shaken her. Branwell’s best friend, Connor, begins visiting him at the juvenile hall, where he has been sent while Nikki remains in a coma at the hospital. Working out a code they both can use, Connor begins the long process of trying to communicate with his friend to find out what really happened. Connor knows that his best friend didn’t hurt the baby, but how can he prove it to everyone else if Branwell won’t speak. This is a realistic mystery that kids won’t want to put down.


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Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- The Struggling Reader

Sometimes the hardest tweens to shop for are those who read below grade-level.  They long to read the books that their peers are reading but the fact is they have note reached that level yet.  And they don’t want to read “baby” books.  Below are a few books that my struggling 6th grade readers are really enjoying this year.


  • Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford- Moxy Maxwell is a procrastinator (much like my students). She was assigned Stuart Little for summer reading, but it is still unread on the last day before the first day of school. Sound familiar? Moxy won’t be allowed to play the eighth daisy petal in the water ballet at the local pool if she hasn’t finished the book by the time Mom returns home. Moxy is trying to read. Or start to read. But things keep getting in the way! First, Moxy’s room must be cleaned, Then the dog has to be trained. She also takes time to ponder the idea of inventing a hammock that automatically stops swinging when the person gets off. She decides to plant a peach orchard). And all of her procrastinations are documented by her brother, a budding photographer. The book has great photos and a lot of white space, perfect for struggling readers! Plus, it’s hysterical.


  • Clementine by Sara Pennypacker- Clementine will remind older readers of Ramona and Junie B. Jones. Always getting into scrapes, she only has the best of intentions. For example, who hasn’t cut their friend’s hair in order to get glue out of it? Clementine takes it a step further (and better) by drawing hair back on her friend’s scalp. In flaming red marker! Readers will be laughing out loud while reading this book!


  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick- Last year’s Caldecott winner, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a gorgeous and stunning book. It’s also perfect for struggling readers. The story is told in words and pictures. Flipping through the book is almost like watching a movie. The illustrations sometimes go on for 50 pages and if you don’t read the pictures, you won’t understand the story. The perfect cross between a novel and a graphic novel, this 544 page book is just perfect for older readers who struggle with typical novels. And the heavy tome makes them fit right in with their peers.


  • Just Grace by Charise Mericle Harper- Just Grace is in class with three other Graces. Hence the “Just Grace” moniker. Her adventures are reminiscent of Ramona and Moxy, with plenty of laughs and scrapes to get into (and out of).  This is the beginning of a great series that readers won’t want to put down!


  • The Houdini Box by Brian Selznick- Ten-year-old Victor has no success trying to do the same tricks as his hero, Harry Houdini; no matter how hard or often he tries, he just can’t escape from a locked trunk, or hold his breath underwater, or run through walls. Then he meets the magician himself in a crowded train station, and some time later receives a mysterious locked box engraved with the initials “E. W.” Victor can’t figure out who E. W. is and, annoyed, puts the box away without a second thought. Many years later, after he grows up and has a son of his own, he learns that Houdini’s real name was Ehrich Weiss. Remembering the box, he rushes home, opens it, and that night, he locks himself in the trunk–and escapes in less than 20 seconds. The book includes a small biography of Houdini and is perfect for magic-lovers.

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Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- The Twilight Fanatic

The symptoms are clear.  Your tween reader is suddenly in love with an older man.  A much older man.  His name is Edward Cullen.  Or maybe your teen suddenly asks about becoming a vegetarian.  You know, like the vampires.  Before you know it, you’ve been dragged to a midnight showing of Twilight and you have no idea what has gotten into your tween!

These symptoms have been manifesting themselves in my classroom for weeks now.  Boys and girls alike are working their way through Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1) series.  But what do they read after they finish the addictive story of Edward and Bella?


For the reader who is now obsessed with vampires:

  • London, 1850 (The Vampire Plagues I) by Sebastian Rook- Set in London’s Victorian Age, an enormous ship has just reached port. From its hull, a flock of bats ascends and disappears into the streets of London. Jack plans to board the ship, in search of food or money to steal. Instead, he meets a boy who is running for his life! The boy recounts horrific tales about a vampire plague that’s killed the entire crew. Jack immediately vows to vanquish the creatures and this is the first book in a series. Great for those who love the vampires in Meyers’ books!



  • Cirque Du Freak Boxed Set #1 by Darren Shan- Soon to be a feature-length motion picture starring John C. Reilly and Salma Hayek, Cirque Du Freak is the story of a young boy who visits a freak show and must become a vampire in order to save his friend’s life. Sufficiently gory and creepy in turn, this is a series that rarely stays on the shelves in my classroom library. With the movie being released in 2009, it will only grow in popularity!


For the romance lover:

  • The Luxe by Anna Godbersen- Like Gossip Girl, only set in the 1890’s, this luscious tale of murder (or so the reader thinks), love, class, and wealth is full of ballrooms, gowns, and illicit romances. My Meyers’ fans are passing this series around and loving it!


For the “I love Stephenie Meyers and Gossip Girl/The Clique” reader:

  • Blue Bloods (Blue Bloods, Book 1) by Melissa de la Cruz- This story features a group of attractive, privileged Manhattan teens who attend a prestigious private school. Sound familiar? Schuyler Van Alen is 15 and the last of the line in a distinguished Manhattan family. Schuyler and her friends Oliver and Dylan are treated like outsiders by the clique of popular, athletic, and beautiful teens made up of Mimi Force, her twin brother, and her best friend at their school. Little do they know that they are all more connected than they realize. What they have in common is the fact that they are all Blue Bloods, or vampires. They don’t realize that they aren’t normal teens until they reach age 15. Then the symptoms manifest themselves and they begin to crave raw meat, have nightmares about events in history, and get prominent blue veins in their arms. Their immortality and way of life are threatened after Blue Blood teens start getting murdered by a splinter group called the Silver Bloods.


The “I will read anything Stephenie Meyers says is great” fan:

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins- When Stephenie Meyer mentioned on her website that she loved Suzanne Collins’ new book, The Hunger Games, teens all over the world began clamoring for copies. What they didn’t know is that booksellers, librarians, and teachers had already been talking about the book and building buzz for a possible Newbery Medal or Honor. A phenomenal book, tweens won’t be able to put The Hunger Games down! Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games.” The location, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Kat’s sister is chosen by lottery, Kat steps up to go in her place. A frightening combination of Survivor and American Idol, you won’t be able to put this one down!



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Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- Non-fiction

For some reason, we always seem to skip over non-fiction when we buy books for children. Yet it is one of, if not the, most popular genres when you ask kids what they like to read. So with that in mind, here are some favorites from my classroom library!

  • Albino Animals by Kelly Milner Halls- My students are obsessed with this cool book about albinos. Full of pictures, some of which are a little creepy (it’s the red eyes!), kids won’t be able to put this one down. The chapters are arranged by animal category (reptiles and amphibians, sea mammals, and so on), and Halls cites real-life examples of albino animals and discusses the special concerns that albinism raises in each one. And this Language Arts teacher loves that a glossary and bibliography are included!


  • The Race to Save the Lord God Bird by Phillip Hoose- This is the story of the first modern endangered species in America, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. In 1800, the large and impressive woodpecker lived in the southeastern United States, from Texas to the Carolinas and as far north as Indiana. By 1937, it could be found on only one tract of land in northeastern Louisiana. Its last confirmed sighting was in Cuba in 1987. The story is full of suspense and intrigue and is difficult to put down. There are original archival photos included, along with paintings (the Ivory-billed woodpecker was a frequent model for artists). A great book for any kid who loves animals, endangered species, or the environment.


  • The Devil on Trial: Witches, Anarchists, Atheists, Communists, andTerrorists in America’s Courtrooms by Philip Margulies- For some reason, court trials are absolutely fascinating when you are in middle school. aturing five famous trials, this book examines the way our right to a fair trial can be threatened, when people are tempted to abandon their principles in the name of safety. Trials included in this book include the always-popular Salem Witch Trials, the Haymarket Affair Trial, the Scopes “Monkey” Trial, the trial of Alger Hiss, and the recent trial of Zacarias Moussaoui


  • Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and the Recovery of the Past by James M. Deem- Perfect for that one child in your life who is fascinated by gross and/or morbid things. In 1991, mountain climbers on the Niederjoch Glacier on the Italian-Austrian border came across something gross: a body. It had been a very warm summer, and five bodies had already turned up in the area (sadly common on mountaintops). But something here was different. The materials found with the body suggested it might be very old, perhaps from the 1800s. But radiocarbon dating proved the iceman was 5,300 years older, from the Copper Age. He was named Ötzi and he is the oldest human mummy preserved in ice ever found. Deem takes the reader on a fascinating journey as you learn about the mummy and the scientists who studied him.


  • The Way We Work by David Macauley- This is the book that any future doctor needs! David Macauley reveals the intricacies of the human body with detailed artistic drawings. The book is divided into seven sections – from the cells that form our foundation to the individual systems they build. Each gorgeous illustration details different aspects of our complex body structure, explaining the function of each and offering up-close glimpses and unique cross-sections and perspectives. Plus, it’s funny, too!


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Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- Read Alouds

I often get strange looks from other middle school educators when I tell them that I read aloud to my students everyday.  For some reason, adults have this idea that they should stop reading out loud to children once they are able to read for themselves.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth!  Reading aloud to your children is a great way to spend time together, have meaningful discussions, get to know your children better, and share a special bond.  (For more information on why all families should read aloud, at any age, check out Jim Trelease’s web site).

I always read a wide variety of genres to my students.  Some of the most popular read alouds include:


The Underneath by Kathi Appelt- The most recent read aloud we have completed as a class, this deeply complex novel is dark, moving, and full of hope.  My students were engaged in the story and our conversations ranged from the philosophical to the angry to the intense.

Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick- Every year my classes create Valentine’s Day Hope Chests for the patients at the Institute for Children with Cancer and Blood Disorders.  Before we begin the project we read Sonnenblick’s heartwarming and funny story about a middle school boy whose brother is diagnosed with leukemia.  While the premise is heartbreaking, Sonnenblick approaches it realistically and much the book will leave you laughing out loud.  A great conversation starter, this book is great for middle schoolers.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt- Would you choose to live forever, if given the choice? That’s the decision 10 year old Winnie Foster must make when she meets the mysterious Tuck family. Referred to as the greatest children’s novel ever written, Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting will force you and your child to think long and hard about the road they would choose. (Keep in mind that the book starts out slowly, but it quickly snowballs and becomes a pageturner!)

The Giver by Lois Lowry- Another controversial book that will stoke some great arguments. Jonas lives in the Community, a utopian town where no one argues, no one fights, and everything is perfect. Or is it? Does a lack of choices mean perfection? Or is it all just a big lie? (This is a book chock full of higher level thinking. And be aware that the meat of the story involves human euthanasia, a mature topic).

Guys Write for Guys Read: Boys’ Favorite Authors Write About Being Boys by Jon Scieszka- Aimed at reluctant middle school boys, this books never fails to connect with my girls, too. More than 80 guys (from Lloyd Alexander to Paul Zelinsky) contribute very short stories/anecdotes about their childhood. The stories range from the grotesque to the heartwarming to the hysterically funny. Short story anthologies are great read alouds because you can pick and choose the stories to read and they don’t take a lot of time to get through. Perfect for the busy family!

Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson- Need a great adventure book to hook your kids? Having trouble finding a well-written adventure book that adults can enjoy as much as kids? This is the perfect book! .Tom is a kid. He lives on top of a rock, in an old house that’s literally chained to the ground. He’s not too thrilled that his mom is considering marrying her boyfriend, Jeff, a teacher from his school. When a new refrigerator is delivered on the same day that his mother ponders accepting Jeff’s proposal, Tom takes the large box and sets off sailing down the creek that runs through his yard. Rebellious and angry, he rides the current for miles, eventually falling asleep. He awakens when the water becomes rough and he is suddenly pulled under a ridge and into the bowels of the mountain. He is alone, and trapped. Save for a dog and a corpse to keep him company….I hesitate to summarize anymore of the plot for fear of spoilers. Tom is brave, scared, brilliant, naive, and in a million other ways a normal eleven year old boy. He is Robinson Crusoe. He is Odysseus. He is MacGuyver. He is eleven.

Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- The Realistic Fiction Fan

Realistic fiction is always the most popular genre in my classroom.  Middle schoolers love to read about other middle schoolers!  Some of the most popular choices in my classroom would invariably make great gifts!

  • Stanford Wong Flunks Big-time , Millicent Min, Girl Genius, and So Totally Emily Ebers by Lisa Yee- This series by Lisa Yee is always popular.  Everyone can identify with one of the main characters, whether it’s Millicent, Emily, or Stanford.  And kids love that the same story is told, but from the perspective of each character.  It makes each book just different enough from the last one while still retaining that familiarity that is so important for a lot of my readers.  Plus, Lisa Yee is hysterical!


  • Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis- A personal favorite, Emma Jean represents that kid everyone remembers from middle school- lacking certain social skills, reveling in being different, and getting into everyone’s business. And her classmate, Colleen, is the girl who just wants to be popular, even if some of the “popular” ways go against her sweet and compassionate personality. A gentle read, this novel is perfect for fans of realistic fiction about middle school.


  • The Graduation of Jake Moon by Barbara Park- A word of warning- this is a sad book! However, it’s always a popular choice for boys and girls alike. This short novel deals with Jake’s relationship with his grandfather as his Alzheimer’s slowly worsens. You meet Jake when he is in third grade and follow him through eighth grade. He starts out looking after his grandfather an hour a day, a job that becomes more and more burdensom. He is embarrassed by his grandfather’s increasingly erratic (and sometimes crazy) behavior. Looking after his grandfather slowly alienates him from his friends, as he is embarrassed to have them see his grandfather. This is an issue a lot of kids deal with these days, and this slim novel is heavy-hitting.


  • Rules by Cynthia Lord- This is a powerful story about a young girl whose brother is autistic. Twelve-year old Catherine tries her best to help David get along in the world, developing lists of rules for him to follow. However, while she loves her brother, she is trying to live her own life, too. When a new girl moves in next door, Catherine isn’t sure she wants her to know about David. A great novel to introduce autism and special needs to tweens, this isn’t a preachy story and my students love it!


  • The Landry News by Andrew Clements- Andrew Clements is probably the most popular author in my 6th grade classroom. While all of his novels are a hit, this one is particularly popular this year. Mr. Larson has taught for 20 years and he’s burned out. So he decides to let his fifth graders do a project on their own while he sits back and relaxes. So when a student, Cara Landry, writes a newspaper with an editorial about the lack of teaching going on in room 145, the former “Teacher of the Year” gets very upset. Realizing that the girl is stating the truth, he starts a unit on journalism and the class enthusiastically begins a newspaper. The newspaper is a huge success. However, when she allows a very personal story about divorce to be printed, the principal sees it as an opportunity to get rid of Mr. Larson. A great story about the First Amendment, kids can’t put this down!



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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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