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. 

Ultimate List of Books with Movies for Grades 4-8

One of my favorite teaching techniques is to incorporate videos to help students with reading skills. The visual component gives readers support with reading comprehension, analyzing theme and characterization, comparing/contrasting, and more.

Reading and watching film versions of books is not just a classroom activity. It can be done as a family activity at home as well. Parents and children can take turns reading a story aloud every day, every night, during snack time, etc. Once the book is finished make it a family movie night with some popcorn to enjoy viewing the story.

Below is the ultimate list of books with films for grades 4-6 that I have used with my students over the last 10 years.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. This is a great text for grades 4-6 and is a classic piece of children’s literature. The film version (Mr. Toad) was created by Disney in 1949 and is in a set with The Adventures of Ichabod.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. Personally, I LOVE this series. It’s great for grades 4-8 (and beyond) and the movies really bring to light the message of the story.

Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan. This text is typically used in 6th grade during mythology units, but it’s a great fantasy series for students in grades 4-8.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit. I really love using this text in 6th grade to help teach students about figurative language. This quick story is jam packed with rich language, and centers around important themes. I would suggest this book for grades 4-6. The film version, I will admit, is not my favorite. It’s way more of a love story than the text shows, and it’s a little much. However, I love showing students the pond scene because it highlights the main ideas and quotes that are important in the book.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline Le’Engle. I fell in love with this book in sixth grade and still use my personal copy from middle school when I read this with my students. Due to the complex vocabulary, I would suggest reading this book with students in grades 6-8. Disney actually created two movie versions of this text, a made for TV movie and the latest with a star studded cast. I have only used the TV movie with students.

The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain. There are a few different versions of this text. The one I linked is one of my favorites because of the illustrations. This is also another classic piece of children’s literature and many textbooks have included the short story version in their books. I recommend this one for grades 4-6. The film is a 20 minute version from Disney feature Mickey Mouse (click here for the Youtube link).

Mulan. This text also comes in a variety of forms. It can be found as a ballad (as seen in the link) and there is a short story version that I can’t seem to find online. The film version is by Disney, so there is some fun and humor added. This is a great piece to use with students in grades 4-7, especially since it’s a cross curricular piece with social studies.

The Giver by Lois Lowry. To me, this will always be the original YA dystopian text. This work is best for grades 6-8 (there are mentions of some mature thoughts known as “stirrings”). I found the film version to be very engaging, and while it is a little different than the text, it’s been modernized to attract present day students.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Similar to The Giver, this YA dystopian book made a statement when it came out. In my opinion, it sparked the YA dystopian movement over the last 10 years. This trilogy is best for grades 6-8. The movies are pretty true to the text and can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. This book has turned struggling and non-readers into readers without fail over the last 10 years. It’s the perfect middle school (grades 6-8) novel. It’s action packed, a little violent, honest, and creative. I will admit that I have never seen the film versions because I don’t want to ruin the movie I’ve created in my head with this amazing text.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I’ve spent most of my teaching career with 6th grade students who are starting middle school for the first time. This is such a perfect book for students in grades 4-6. It’s realistic, charming and heart warming. The movie does a great job making the story come to life.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. If you’re looking for a novel to suck in middle school boys, this one is perfect. I recommend it for grades 7-8 because it is a little violent. The movie also has a great cast.

Holes by Louis Sachar. Even though I’m not a huge fan of this book personally for some reason, students love it. This book for grades 4-6 and it’s filled with humor that will make your kids chuckle. The Disney movie, that’s not an animated film, does a great job capturing the story.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. Another classic children’s story that is one of my personal faves. This fantasy story is packed with imagination and rich symbolism. It’s great for students in grades 4-6. There are a few film versions for this piece. My personal favorite is the cartoon version from 1979 (click here for the Youtube link) and Disney did create a non-animated version.

Matilda by Roald Dahl. I have always been a Roald Dahl fan and this is one of my favorites because I always wanted to be like Matilda (I know, I’m a nerd). This novel is great for grades 4-6. The movie is also spectacular and is perfect for the whole family to enjoy.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. One of my favorite aspects of this book is the character development, which makes the text humorous and enjoyable. It’s ideal for grades 4-6. The film version with Johnny Depp is a little dark, so I prefer to use the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory version.

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. In all honesty, I love the clay animation look of this film version to help distinguish the different phases of the plot. It’s super fun and engaging for young readers in grades 4-6.

Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl. This is my personal fave Roald Dahl novel. My first grade teacher read it aloud and I’ve re-read it countless times since then. The film version is equally as captivating as the text and is great fore grades 4-6.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This American classic  is a very popular in 8th grade English. The text complexity, language and themes are more mature, so I recommend this for 8th grade and up. The film version is also a classic and is shot without color.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. For fans of vampires and romance this series is perfect. This is one of those guilty pleasure books that even adults still enjoy. I recommend this for grades 6-8. The film versions closely mirror the books.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien. I was first introduced to the movie version of this text when we visited my aunt down the shore growing up. It wasn’t until I saw the book sitting in a classroom that I realized the movie was based on a book. This is a mysterious and action filled story for grades 4-6.

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. This book is perfect for kids who love dogs! It’s all about the bond between a boy and his dog and is ideal for grades 4-6. The movie version is equally adorable and can be shared with the whole family.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Anna Brashares. This book is perfect for teen girls, so I recommend it for students in 8th grade and above. It dives into the lives of four friends and the personal experiences they have while wearing a par of thrift store jeans. The film also has a star-studded cast and is highly enjoyable for teens.

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. An absolute classic piece of children’s literature and cinema. The story and the film are great for all members of the family, especially those who love music and theater.

**Many of these books can be shared with younger readers as well as the age groups listed. If you’re worried about content, feel free to check out Common Sense Media .

For more information about online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12 click here.

 

 

What’s So Special About YA?

When we often think of children’s literature we immediately think of classics like The Secret Garden, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, etc. Yet, as many educators and parents know, a children’s section of a library does not just mean picture books.

When a child feels they have outgrown the “baby” books, but they are too young for the adult section, they are ready to enter the young adult (YA) section of a library.

But, what exactly is YA? What makes it so special? This genre is much more than just an in-between one for readers who are usually in middle and high school.

YA tends to focus on main characters who are between the ages of 12-18. Why? Because this is the main demographic of readers. Tween/teen readers want to read about characters who are around their age, so it makes sense that main characters in YA are on the younger side.

YA also tends to focus on plot points that deal with family, friendship, love, authority, leadership and growing up. While the YA genre can be broken down into subcategories such as sci-fi and fantasy, it’s important to realize that these same ideas are present regardless of the sub genre. Tween/teen readers are going through a lot at this stage of life. They are constantly dealing with bullying, social media, dating, family issues, puberty, and more. It’s not wonder they turn to YA novels to seek answers they may not even know they are looking for. While they probably won’t read a self help book, they may look at how Percy Jackson dealt with learning the truth about his family in The Lightning Thief, and see him as a role model.

YA novels are extremely powerful tools to help readers cope with reality.

Truthfully, any reader will tell you they read to escape reality, even if it’s just to relax at night before bed. The same happens to adolescent readers. If you were to Google popular YA novels, quite a few of them are sci-fi or fantasy based. Why? These types allow readers to completely forget about their reality. For just a little bit they can be a participant in The Hunger Games and watch Katniss kick some major butt.

There is also a sense of maturity in reading YA. Oftentimes the content can be more suggestive, gritty, and real. Gone are the G rated books, and readers can step into worlds where they mention sex, drugs, alcohol, smoking, violence, etc. This is where parents usually get nervous about YA. In truth, when I have read YA books aloud to my students I have omitted words, sentences, or whole sections of a chapter. We need to remember that these books are meant to draw in readers from ages 12-18, so of course there’s going to be some things not meant for sixth grade students.

However, with the aid of technology, it’s easy for a parent to check to see if a book is appropriate for a tween. My personal go to checker is CommonSenseMedia.org, which can be used as a guide for parents, educators and advocates.

Personally, I also find that YA is raw on an emotional level. Characters take us on an emotional journey with them as they make decisions and live through experiences. One of my favorite YA novels is Dreamland by Sarah Dessen. I read it in middle school and have returned to it a few times since then. We see the main character, Caitlin, go through the shock of dealing with her runaway sister, and how that emotional trauma led her down a dangerous path of drugs and a physically abusive relationship. Caitlin expresses why she stays with Rogerson and isolates herself from her friends and family, which is truly an emotional journey filled with anger, sadness, and love.

As an adult reader, I am still drawn to YA because of these factors. The writing is incredible, and the characters are truly real people to readers.

Blood Book Review

My favorite genre is 10000% YA. I’m fortunate where I get to share my love of these amazing texts with my students. During our class discussions we often compare works to Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Hunger Games, and Divergent. I’m always on a quest for the next series to completely suck me into a different world, and I just found one!

Blood by Kirsten Krueger, is a fantasy young adult novel about people with special powers (Affinities). Readers follow a group of new students who are learning about their unique abilities and how it impacts the world around them.

I had the privilege of meeting this author at my writing workshop meeting a few weeks ago. We attended the same high school and grew up in the same town (such a small world). In speaking with her, we learned that her writing is based on Harry Potter fan fiction. After reading this novel, I can totally see it!!

My number one favorite aspect about this piece are the characters. Hands down they are the most entertaining and engaging characters I have come across since City of Bones. The dialogue is filled with sarcasm, sass, and brutal honesty that captures the true attitude of a high school student. I actually caught myself loling for a solid 30 seconds during the scene with the students in the van when Adara freaks out over Kiki and Seth’s mushy gushiness.

Adara is an incredibly hard young lady (although she’d probably yell at me for calling her a lady) that many students can relate to. She has a very heavy guard up, which makes sense based on her history, and her mouth is razor sharp. While the point of view is third person, it doesn’t always stay on the main character, which I liked. The shifts in POV don’t distract the reader from the action, but rather is used to explore more personal feelings and experiences of other characters at just the right points in the plot.

As in Divergent,  Blood also alludes to some political commentary. The Affinities pose a threat to the US government and the presidential candidates are in favor of imprisoning these individuals. Usually writers focus on corrupt governments in YA novels like this, but Blood didn’t go in that direction. Instead, it looks like it will be a key piece of the plot in book #2 like a domino effect.

Personally, the plot felt a little drawn out to me during my reading. However, as the story went on, I realized it was so detailed to provide readers with a clear image of the dynamics between the characters and background information for the next book. The last two chapters did make everything come together, but also left me with some questions.

I would recommend this book for high school readers because of content and language used. Just as a heads up, it has 502 pages. It reminds me of a grown up version of Harry Potter, mixed with a little bit of City of Bones and Divergent.

For more information on the author click here.

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.

Effective Read Alouds in the Virtual Classroom

For over a year and a half I have been an virtual English teacher with EdOptions Academy. There is definitely some transition from being in a brick and mortar school to working with kids digitally, but the rewards are still the same.

One of my favorite activities to do with my students when I taught in a brick and mortar was my daily read aloud. I would choose a high interest text for my students, read it aloud to them every day and then have a quick class discussion about the reading. I was ecstatic when EdOptions Academy started using Zoom to conduct live weekly lessons because I would be allowed to continue my read alouds in the virtual setting.

For the last six months I have held weekly read alouds for my students in secondary English. It was slow going in the beginning, but I now have students waiting for me in our weekly meetings.

Below are some ways that I have created a successful virtual read aloud for students in grades 6-12.

Picking the right book. EdOptions Academy has a set curriculum, so I wanted to choose a novel based on assignments students are required to complete. For fall semester I did three separate read alouds (The Hunger Games, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Giver). While I loved reading these novels with my students, it was a lot to manage with 250 students. For spring semester, I am reading Divergent because it has similar themes to the texts from last semester and it’s an AMAZING book.

Student participation. Zoom allows students to participate via video chat or instant message using a chat box. I never gave students direct instructions on how to share their ideas during our sessions because I didn’t know what they would be comfortable using. My goal is always to have students be comfortable during our time together. Students started utilizing the chat box while I was reading to ask questions or express their thoughts. I monitor the chat box periodically while I read each chapter, and go through it at the end of each chunk to address any questions or ideas students have.

This is has been the most powerful aspect of my read aloud. Students are able to socialize with other students in the chat box while discussing the text. I notice that students make a TON of text-to-text connections (my favorite are the Harry Potter connections) and really love to discuss characterization. Students even came up with a hashtag ,#pusheric, when discussing the youngest Dauntless leader and it was one of my favorite discussions I’ve ever had. Having the freedom to type their ideas at any point during our hour together encourages students to participate when they feel comfortable and not worry about getting in trouble for interrupting.

Talk about being readers. Just as in a brick and mortar environment, it’s important to discuss reading habits in and out of the classroom. During my read alouds, I often find myself saying things such as, “As readers, we can infer…”. Using language like this helps create a stronger community feeling that we are all readers, regardless if we struggle or not. We also spend time talking about other texts the students are currently reading. Some are reading the Divergent series and others are enjoying Percy Jackson. By engaging in conversations like this with my students on a consistent basis we are not only bonding in the virtual classroom, but sharing books and characters we love.

Recorded sessions. I am required to record all of my live lessons with my students, which has turned out to be an incredible concept. Since my read aloud changes every week depending on meetings and office hours, some of my students are unable to attend the live session. I send the recorded link to my students each week so they can watch it at their convenience and still feel included. I also keep a Word document of all my recording links so I can share them with other teachers, parents, and schools. Students have told me they have “watched” me in the car traveling to tournaments and at night with their families. I love that parents get just as excited for the next chapter as my students.

All are welcome. During the fall semester, I was talking to another English teacher who was on a different team. She expressed her concern for a student because he was struggling in her class. I told the teacher the student should come to my read aloud to help practice reading skills in addition to the amazing work that she was already doing with him. The student participated in my read alouds and made significant progress in his English class. His success story is one of my favorites because it shows the power of collaboration in the virtual environment. I will never turn a student away from a read aloud because he or she is not “mine”. Any student is welcome to attend my read alouds and engage in amazing conversations with us.

The virtual learning environment is still a very new concept, but it is possible to create a community of readers from the comforts of home or on the road. My students now wait for me to start our meetings and I have a steady core group of readers. My read aloud is easily the highlight of my week and I love that I get to share it with my students from all over the US.