7 Books That Turn Tweens into Readers

Over the last ten years I have worked with hundreds of students and their families. As a reading teacher and tutor, many parents tell me their child does not like reading, and my response is always the same. “That’s because he/she hasn’t found the right book yet.”

Below is a list of my personal book recommendations that have turned my students in grades 6-8 into readers.

1. Divergent by Veronica Roth. This will forever and always be my number one book recommendation to students who are not fans of reading. This book sucks readers in and never lets them go. It is filled with action, plot twists, physical fights, guns, friendship, and not mushy-gushy teen love. The writing style is fantastic for tweens because it’s simple enough to flow easily, but complex enough to keep them engaged. The vocabulary isn’t too difficult and there is the perfect amount of dialogue. **There is some mature content that is inferred.

2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. To me, this will always be a staple of classic children’s literature. This is a great novel to help kids transition into YA books in terms of length, writing style, and vocabulary. Readers will get immersed in a fantasy world that they will wish existed. There are Quidditch matches, a mystery to solve, a three headed dog and magic waiting for readers to experience.

3. The Maze Runner by James Dashner. Whenever I summarize this book for my students, I call it the boy version of The Hunger Games. Readers follow the story of why a group of boys (and a girl) are all brought to the same place with no recollection of the past. The sentence structure is a great mix  that helps the story flow without exhausting readers. From the first page this novel will hook readers as they try to put the pieces of a puzzle together.

4. Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. Capturing the attitude and reality of a middle schooler is not an easy task, but Steven’s character is truly a reflection of a typical eighth grade boy. The characterization is flawless and will have readers laughing and crying as Steven deals with his eighth grade year, jazz band, and his little brother who is battling cancer. The dialogue between characters and inner voice of Steven will immediately connect with tween readers.

5. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Greek mythology that comes to life in modern day, complete with mythical creatures and just the right amount of sarcasm, makes this a favorite with my students. The exciting fantasy elements and engaging plot events allow readers to get lost in a world without getting overwhelmed by a too much complexity. The writing style is clear and the author does a great job of making the plot easy for readers to comprehend. I’ve literally ordered every book in the series for my classroom library because my students requested them.

6. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Even though this text is a little dated, the overall premise still captivates readers. This text is challenging, with advanced vocabulary and sentence structure, but there is so much detail with back stories that students are still able to comprehend the plot.  This book is perfect for students who like mysteries and are looking for a challenge.

7. Psion Beta by Jacob Gowans. Sammy is just like any other 14 year old boy. Except that he’s a fugitive. And he has powers. Readers follow Sammy’s journey as he is trained with the latest technology to fight, complete missions and engage in rigorous training. The writing style is spot on with a plot that is exciting and anything but predictable. This is the only series in my classroom library that had a waiting list because it really is just that good.

Also see My 10 Favorite YA Novels for more book suggestions.

 

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) who offers virtual reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here. 

Nikeriff Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

With Molly in preschool, I’ve really been trying to boost her home library with alphabet books. She can sing the alphabet, but we’re still working on letter recognition. So when I came across a Facebook post from a mom who wrote an alphabet book I had to reach out.

Nikeriff, by Natasha Barber and illustrated by Rayah James, is a heartwarming and lovable alphabet picture  book that takes readers on an adventure.

First, I have to address the name Nikeriff. Barber starts off the story with a note to readers explaining that her autistic son came up with the name. Right away I thought this was a fabulous personal touch and made me feel connected to the author as a mom.

Readers are introduced to the little monster, Nikeriff, who is having a difficult time remembering the letters in the alphabet. He asks his mom and dad for help and they give him the supplies he needs for a scavenger hunt. Nikeriff spends the rest of the story with his trusty teddy bear going through the woods and collecting different elements from nature (animals, insects, plants) and practicing the letters of the alphabet.

What grabbed my attention right away was the more complex sentence structure. Usually when I read alphabet books the sentences are simple and short, with the letter bolded and enlarged, usually in a brighter color font. This picture book includes more complex sentences, which makes the story feel less babyish. The letters are bolded and enlarged, but don’t really distract the reader from the rest of the text or pictures. Personally, I LOVED this writing style because it means the book can be used with older kids who may need support with alphabet work. Since I work with lots of special education students, this is super exciting for me because finding texts like this is quite challenging.

Similar to the sentence structure, I also found the animals and insects added to the sac to be super creative. I love that it included critters such as the “Underwing moth” and “Queen Butterfly”. While there were some traditional ones included, like ants, this hint of creativity not only helped the flow of the story, but it was incredibly engaging.

I was also a huge fan of the idea of a scavenger hunt, especially that it took place in the woods. Many kids are fascinated by animals, bugs and the outdoors, so the setting of this story can really engage readers who gravitate towards those topics. This also allows the book to be utilized in schools as a cross curricular text for science, specifically in preschool and kindergarten.

Finally, the illustrations were absolutely spot on! I truly enjoyed looking at each picture and felt that they matched the feel of the text. I love that they look like they were drawn with crayon, especially after the author’s note in the beginning. It just made me feel like i was reading a book imagined by a child, which leaves me feeling all warm and fuzzy.

I highly recommend this book for kids ages 0-8, but it can be used with older students working on basic reading skills.

To purchase the book click here 

To follow Nikeriff on Facebook click here

How to Save Money on Books

I go through books like water. It’s a good problem to have at times, but it can be a very expensive habit.

When I got my iPad back in 2012, I started reading ebooks through iBooks. Then I made the transition to a Kindle and have continued my ebook ways. Don’t get me wrong, I still love physical books and going to bookstores, but sometimes I don’t have the patience to wait to go to a store.

Over the years I’ve come up with ways not to pay full price for books, expect for ones that are must haves.

1. School Libraries. One of the benefits of being a teacher is working in a building with a library. I’ve always worked with media specialists in the buildings I’ve worked in, so I tend to spend a lot of time surrounded by books. This was not only convenient but kept me up to date on the latest YA materials.

2. Public libraries. I volunteer once a month at my local library, so it helps me keep to a library routine (which can be hard when you’re working and mommying). I’m also friends with the children’s librarian and she keeps me in the loop on new releases. Plus, if a book I want is in another library in the network, she can borrow the book from the other library. Libraries have now also started loaning ebooks. I have to admit that I have yet to try this feature. AND libraries will often have book sales or even free books to make way for new ones. I happened to pick up two Dear America’s the last time I was at the library for free.

3. Thrift stores. My sister is very into thrifting and it’s amazing what you treasures you can find. Books usually start at around $1.00 depending on the book. You can walk out with a bag of books for the price of a new hardcover.

4. Garage sales. Similar to thrifting, garage sale hopping is also a great way to find cheap books. They may be a little bit older if it’s a family cleaning out their teenager’s bookshelves, but there are generally some classics you can find.

5. Kindle Unlimited. This has been a lifesaver for me, especially when doing book reviews. For $10 a month I have access to thousands of texts and they are always adding new books. Not gonna lie, I absolutely love that I can read Harry Potter whenever I want with my subscription. I’ve also used KU during tutoring sessions a few times, so it has definitely paid off for me.

Family Dinner Book Review

My favorite emails are from Goodreads when they tell me I’m a giveaway winner. I just so happened to get one of those glorious emails earlier this week. The last book review I did for a Goodreads giveaway win was with The Fever King.

Family Dinner, by Cory Q Tan, is a picture book about a dad who will do whatever it takes to bring home carrots to his family for dinner.

When the book first started, I thought it was realistic fiction. There’s a husband and wife and the wife is nagging the husband to go out and by carrots for dinner. She wants to make potato carrot soup, but they have no carrots. I loved the dialogue in the beginning because it really does capture the realities of being married (with nagging).

As we all know, sometimes things don’t turn out the way we expect/hope. We all have those days when things go from bad to worse, which is exactly what the dad deals with. His go-to grocery store is closed, the next one is out of carrots, then he ventures into the country.

This is where I got surprised as a reader. All of a sudden the story took a fantasy turn. There are big talking worms, a wolf with a toothache, a giant fish and more. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about this shift, but as the story continued I could see that it was effective.

The dad made it a point to help every animal/insect he came into contact with. Even though the wolf could have eaten him, the dad still helped the wolf pull out his tooth. This shows readers the importance of kindness and helping others.

However, my favorite part was at the end of the story. The dad was gone an awfully long time trying to get the carrots for his family, and it was clear the family was concerned when the dad finally got home. The mom didn’t care about the carrots, but instead told readers all the family needs is the dad.

This was a really cute little story that would work for early elementary students.

Skating Shoes Book Review

As readers, we all have books we re-read. We could just love the characters, the story, or it’s associated with memories. I was fortunate to be very close to my maternal grandparents growing up and one summer they took us girls to Cape Cod for a week. I can still remember walking around a book store and finding three books that immediately became my favorites: Ballet Shoes, Theater Shoes, and Dancing Shoes. On the drive home I was transported into those English, theatrical worlds.

A few years later, a friend of mine mentioned her favorite of those books was Skating Shoes.  I would look for it in Barnes and Nobles (it’s weird remembering a time before Kindle and Prime) but I was never able to find it. Then, in March, I saw that Random House re-released Skating Shoes and I HAD to get my hands on it.

Skating Shoes by Noel Streatfeild is a charming novel about two friends, Lalla and Harriet, who experience the world of ice skating together.

The novel was originally published in 1951, and it definitely has a more classic feel to the writing. The story takes place in England, and kids are introduced to some English words and expressions. It was nice to take a break from more modern texts with technology and enjoy a simpler time.

Streatfeild has a way of developing such realistic characters. Lalla and Harriet could not be more different from one another. Lalla has grown up being told she is going to be a famous skater with her wealthy aunt, and Harriet comes from a poor, loving family. Both girls have sass, spunk, and determination that show young girls it’s okay to be unique. Readers can relate to pieces of the characters, and will smile at some of the cheeky dialogue. I especially like the conversations with Harriet’s younger brother Edward.

Personally, I would consider this a girly book, and would recommend it for kids in grades 3-6. The vocabulary is not complex, but the text is quite long (281 pages). It’s a fun read that shows the importance of friendship, family and determination.