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My Ten(ish) Best Reads for Reluctant Middle Schoolers

Through a variety of conversations, I had the pleasure of browsing some of the past articles of Michele at JustaLilLost and one in particular caught my eye. She’s written a great post, found here about books that you would recommend to someone who says that they don’t like reading.

It really got me thinking.

I work in a Middle School library, and while I love my job and the kids that I teach, I’m constantly trying to reach out to more students. I have many passionate readers, and I am so grateful for…

  • my Literacy Council kids, eager for the most recent releases and salivating over ARCs generously provided by authors and publishers. They keep me excited and spark discussions every day about books and literacy.
  • my series hunters, who refuse to read anything out of order and who know the upcoming release date for their favourite books. Their passion is inspiring.
  • my Manga monsters, who join me for launches and book-buying sessions, and who gently advise me on what is – and is not – appropriate. Their honesty and devotion humbles me.
  • my boys. I know, it’s a general statement, but I’m fortunate enough that 54-60% of my circulation is to boys, depending on the grade level. They challenge me to keep it fresh.

Having said all that, there is still a large segment of my school population that I haven’t managed to reach – and I’m ornery enough to make it my mission to want them in my Library as well. The most comment from my kids is, “I don’t like to read. I never have.”

This gets me going.

By the time my students reach me, they have been in school for anywhere from eight to ten years. Eight to ten YEARS. In that time, has no one tried to reach these kids? Or is it that everyone has offered the same kinds of books?

Each year, I set myself a challenge – I find my five toughest cases, and I make it my mission to find something that they will enjoy reading. Now, I should confess, I’m not a book snob. If the kid likes magazines, or non-fiction, manga or comics, then I’ll pursue that avenue until I find something they enjoy. To me, reading is reading is reading. I don’t care if it’s a cereal box, an Xbox game cheat manual or a Guinness Book of World Records – it’s all valid reading, especially if they want to go back to it again and again.

So, here it is… In no particular order, here’s “My Top Ten(ish) Things” to recommend to Middle School kids who say they don’t like reading. These are NOT necessarily the conventional choices; more likely, they are the items that I recommend that haven’t been mentioned before.

* The Olympian Graphic Novel series by George O’Connor – An unusual choice, I know. Most would have picked the Bone series by Jeff Smith, and they are correct; the Bone series are absolutely wonderful books. I find O’Connor’s series to be a little different, and it ties in the Greek mythology that draws in so many kids. The artistry is wonderful, and the stories are fast-paced and well written. Definite gems!

Chi's Sweet Home, volume 2

* Chi’s Sweet Home by Kanata Konami. These books just fly off the shelves. Chi is a tiny, orphaned kitten that is rescued by a family in the first installment. He’s mischievous, curious and hysterically funny, and I adore these books. Everyone laughs when they read

these books because the situations are so well drawn that they seem realistic. I find these books are perfect for the girl who doesn’t like to read and thinks that graphic novels aren’t for her. The fact that a female artist creates them can also be a great draw. Gateway drug indeed…

* The 100 Most… series by Anna Claybourne – These small non-fiction books address everything from the scariest things to the most disgusting things to everything in between– and kids LOVE them. There’s a topic for everyone’s interests, and they are short, colourful reads for everyone. You will be grossed out but you will also be drawn in – beware!

Here's the Deal: Don't Touch Me

* Biographies are always a great draw for reluctant readers, but there are always a couple that hook even the most anti-reading kid. I would have to recommend Call Me Russell by Canadian comic Russell Peters, and Here’s the Deal: Don’t Touch Me by Canadian-born comic Howie Mandel. Yes, they are both male comedians. Yes, both books may contain language that isn’t necessarily middle school “friendly” – but let me tell you, that’s likely part of the draw. Both books are engaging reads, and both deal with comics who have faced personal struggles in order to become the best at what they do. Many of my non-readers fit the same categories as these two men – difficulties at school, dealing with psychological or academic diagnosis such as ADHD, OCD or learning difficulties – and it is wonderful to see them light up at the thought that someone else had the same issues but made a success of their lives.

* The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Yes, everyone has these on their lists. Yes, everyone is talking about them. That’s kind of the point. When a book is this good, it’s worth talking about, and getting more kids to read. The upcoming movie release doesn’t hurt either; getting kids hooked on this series is like a starter in dystopian literature for bigger and better things – like Isaac Asimov!

* A cheap cop-out here – I have a tie: Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. This is a fabulous series about an unlikable (but highly admirable) teen villain who is a criminal mastermind. In the first book, Artemis Fowl, the anti-hero, and his bodyguard, Butler, kidnap Captain Holly Short, an elf who works for LEPrecon to ransom to the fairies for gold. Colfer himself calls the series “Die Hard with fairies”, and it’s a great description. With wit, male and female protagonists and a fast-paced storyline, both genders are easily hooked by the series.

Skulduggery Pleasant, Book 1

Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy For those who prefer their paranormal with a bit more grit and a lot more mythical background and martial arts styling, the Skulduggery series fits the bill. Again, a male and female protagonist – Skulduggery is a skeleton detective (work with me here) and Valkerie Cain is his (initially) 13 year old sidekick. What I love about these books is that the characters change. Good becomes evil, and evil becomes good(ish). Characters die (much to my chagrin), and others vanish. In a battle, people are hurt, and the characters struggle with personal decisions that have consequences. Within it all, there is humour, amazing battle scenes, magic, mysticism and pathos. Well worth reading.

* Rot & Ruin / Dust & Decay by Jonathan Mayberry. This is not for the faint of heart – or stomach. It’s been called “Walking Dead for teens” for a reason – and I love it. This was the series that had one of my students converted from a non-reader to a series hunter, and he hasn’t looked back since. I love the quirkiness of the characters, the vivid descriptions and even the violence. It’s gritty, it’s (somewhat) real, and it’s just FUN.

Free Thaddeus

* Free Thaddeus by John Gosselink. Kids LOVE this book. Part Diary of a Wimpy Kid, part And then it happened…, part Ferris Bueller… heck, it’s just a fun read. Thaddeus is in detention, and the book is a series of notes and case files that explain what he was up to and why he should be released from his detainment. I only recently discovered this very persuasive and very funny hit for the non-traditional reader.

* The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton A classic, and one that grabs kids every single time. As a Grade 7 teacher, I used this as a class novel – both read aloud and independent, and I never had a kid who disliked the novel. I also never had a kid who preferred the movie to the book, especially that horrid shortened version that was drifting around for so long.

Call Me Russell, another great autobiography for middle and high school students

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2 Responses »

  1. Aww thanks for the mention! 🙂

    Ah.. The Outsiders is a classic.. I think everyone read it in grade 7, no? I know our school did!

    I’m gonna have to check out Russell Peters’ book! He’s too funny.. (and local!)


    • Heh – “Call Me Russell” is a GREAT book!! Since Russell Peters grew up in Peel, I actually received a ‘caution’ from our Library Services to let us know that the book does not speak kindly about his school experiences (and with good reason – he had a horrible time at school) so we should consider if we want our students to read it!! It’s also a White Pine selection for this year’s non-fiction list. Honestly?? Telling kids they perhaps SHOULDN’T read a book is a bigger draw for my kids! 🙂


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