Top 10 Books for Reluctant MG and YA Readers by F.T. Bradley
When I set out to write the Double Vision trilogy, I wasn’t all that knowledgeable on reluctant readers, what books appealed to them, and why. All I wanted to do was write a fun, fast-paced thriller. The kind of book I would like to read if I was still twelve (okay, if we’re honest: the kind of book I still like to read…)
But when I found myself the parent of a very reluctant tween reader, I got serious about understanding what makes kids turn away from books. More importantly: I wanted to figure out how to get those kids to pick up a book again. For fun.
I gathered all that I learned—from studies, books, and from talking to kids—and began giving presentations at school and library conventions. Rather than acting like I know everything (because I don’t), I asked teachers and librarians: what books work best to hook your reluctant MG and YA readers? Here is a top ten, plus a few extras. I hope you’ll add your own recommendations in the comments!
I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis
If you want to hook a reluctant reader, looking at real-life events can be a great place to start. The I Survived series takes historical events like the sinking of the Titanic or the Battle at Gettysburg, and wraps them in a fictional tale. This series is mentioned by at least one teacher or librarians every time I do my presentation, so be sure to check it out.
Other recommendations: Guinness Book of World Records, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not any non-fiction title (this can be a good way to start the reading habit). Note: check these titles first to see if they’re age-appropriate (especially the images)…
An Awfully Beastly Business series (various authors)
Another series full of excitement—this time, werewolves, dragons, fairies and giants need protection from a cruel world that wants nothing more than see them locked away. Like the I Survived series, the excitement makes this a great reluctant reader pick.
Other recommendations: Shadow Falls series (YA) by C.C. Hunter
Bluford High series (YA) by Anne Schraff and Paul Langan
Finding books for YA reluctant readers is tough, and especially hard if you’re working with teens who are reading below grade level. The Bluford High series was recommended by several teen librarians and teachers in Mississippi, with more than one teacher saying, “I wish there were more books like this series. I have so few options.”
Other recommendations: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
A Wrinkle in Time (the graphic novel) adapted by Hope Larson
Graphic novels are a great way to get kids to read—and how cool is it that you can read a classic like A Wrinkle in Time in this format?? This graphic novel adaptation is not only very true to the original, it’s a fast, eye-pleasing rendition that truly brings a new dimension to the story (as a graphic novel should).
Other recommendations: Babymouse series by Jennifer L. Holm; Smile and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
Eon/Eona by Alison Goodman
Fantasy isn’t always the easiest sell to reluctant readers, with generally elaborate world-building narrative. But once you’re a bit into the story, Eon and Eona author Alison Goodman keeps the pace moving briskly, with a tale of dragon magic and Asian mythology. A teacher recommended this as a classroom read, and found crafts and other beyond-the-book activities to make the story come to life.
Other recommendations: Little Tiger and The Year of the Dragon series by D.B. Patterson
Guys Read collections (various authors)
As an adult, I’ll bet you can list at least half a dozen of your favorite authors. Often, reluctant readers can’t, either because there aren’t many books at home, or they just haven’t discovered a favorite yet. The Guys Read collections come in all different themes: thrillers, science fiction, funny stories and even non-fiction tales. These collections are a great way to try out different authors, and perhaps discover a favorite.
The Graveyard Book (audiobook) by Neil Gaiman
Have a struggling reader? Try audiobooks! Hearing the narrator read the story and following along in print can work magic when it comes to improving phonics and intonation in younger readers, and improve kids’ reading skills as they get older. The best part about The Graveyard Book audio version? Author Neil Gaiman narrates the book himself.
Club CSI series by David Lewman
Mysteries are a great way to hook reluctant readers, especially snappy chapter book ones like the Club CSI series. With fewer pages and a fast plot, these books are perfect for younger middle-grade readers.
Other recommendations: The Codebusters Club series by Penny Warner, The 39 Clues series (various authors).
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Have a book that was turned into a movie? Ask your reader to find similarities and differences, and if the book was better than the movie. Ender’s Game was mentioned by more than one teacher as a reluctant reader favorite (the book, not the movie), even though it’s a title heavy on narrative. These book-to-movie adaptations are a great way to show that the best movies were better books first.
Other book-to-movie adaptions: The Maze Runner, Ramona and Beezus, Percy Jackson, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Hunger Games, etc. etc.
Find a database of adaptations at Mid-Continent Public Library’s resource: http://www.mymcpl.org/books-movies-music/based-book
Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick
Ready to challenge your reluctant reader a little? Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick is a fast-paced book with heart and substance. What I like most about this book is how it fits perfectly between MG and YA, a hard gap to fill.
Other recommendations: Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead.
Want more books to hook reluctant readers? Check out these sources:
F.T. (Fleur) Bradley is the author of the Double Vision trilogy (Harper Children’s), a series of fun spy mysteries for middle-grade readers that School Library Journal calls “a must-read for mystery fans, including reluctant readers.” She lives in Colorado Springs with her husband, two daughters and entirely too many cats. For information on school visits and teacher guides, go to www.ftbradley.com.