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Books for Reluctant Middle-School Readers

By Luisa LaFleur, The Children’s Book Review
Published: October 19, 2012

Encouraging little kids to read can be easy—snuggle up at bedtime with a good picture book, take trips to the library or visit your local bookstore. But what happens when little bookworms turn into book-averse pre-teens and adolescents?

One of the more daunting tasks of parenthood is asking children to do what they may not like doing but what they have to do. Although my children are still young enough to enjoy snuggling at bedtime with a good book, I wondered what might happen in a few years when they have required reading assignments that they may not want to do. It made me remember how I got my youngest one to take prescribed medication that he hated—I had him pick out the flavor (bubble gum, strawberry, watermelon) at the pharmacy when we went to fill the prescription. Although he still protested about taking his medicine, he at least took comfort in the fact that he had chosen the flavor and that it wasn’t nearly as bad as the non-flavored version. And thus, the reason for this post. Sometimes, it’s more important to engage children in the process rather than force them to act.

Following are some books that pre-teens will surely enjoy because of their irreverent characters, intriguing situations or simply contradictory messages. They are sure to entice even the most reluctant pre-teens.

Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading

by Tommy Greenwald

Reading level: Middle school readers

Paperback: 220 pages

Publisher: Square Fish (An imprint of Macmillan)

What to expect: Funny situational lessons about friendship and the importance of reading; allusions to adolescent romance; some teenage angst.

Charlie Joe Jackson is a very funny, very smart middle-schooler. He just doesn’t like to read and he makes it his mission in life to not read anything ever. Which can be a problem when you’re in middle school and have assignments to read and book reports to write. Charlie Joe has become an expert at avoiding reading—by bribing his friends, he can get them to tell him what the books are about and then he fudges his way through his reports. But it all comes to a crashing halt when his go-to reading buddy gets jealous of Charlie Joe’s relationship with the most popular girl in school. And Charlie Joe eventually has to make up for failing to read all those assigned books over the course of the school year.

Written in an engaging, non-judgemental style, Tommy Greenwald has perfectly captured the voice of youth and mischief. I enjoyed reading about Charlie Joe’s escapades and the helpful “tips” that are scattered throughout the book. Sure to engage even the most reluctant reader with its contradictory messages and sarcastic wit, Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading was a pleasure.

Friends with Boys

by Faith Erin Hicks

Reading level: 13 and older

Paperback: 200 pages

Publisher: First Second (an imprint of Roaring Books Press)

What to expect: Graphic novel that tackles questions of conformity and non-conformity; some instances of gore and some questionable language; testing friendships

Friends with Boys is a graphic novel that has made its way into print after having been serialized online, where it has been very successful. We are introduced to Maggie on her first day of high school and very quickly we learn that she is not an ordinary teenage girl. Not only has she been home-schooled until then but she’s also got a ghost for a friend that seems to need some help from her. The premise is at once realistic and fantastical—a teenage girl has to learn to maneuver social interactions with her peers while keeping her ghost-friend at bay. The illustrations are wonderful and do a great job of filling in information that the dialogue leaves unsaid. Just one warning—there are a few instances of questionable language. In context the language is fitting and descriptive of the character’s behavior but the fact remains that the language may not be to everyone’s liking.

Brendan Buckley’s Sixth Grade Experiment

by Sundee T. Frazier

Reading level: Ages 9-12

Hardcover: 288 pages

Publisher: Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers

What to expect: Transition to middle school; science experiments gone wrong and right; testing parental boundaries; questions regarding adoption of a sibling; inter-generational relationships

Brendan Buckely is a funny, inquisitive middle-schooler facing a number of challenges: he’s making new friends in the sixth grade while trying to hold on to his old friends; he’s butting heads with his dad more often than not; and he’s wondering how his family dynamic will change when he gets a new adopted sibling. Not minor things by any measure. But Brendan’s wit, charm and intelligence will see him through.


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Luisa LaFleur reviews bilingual books for The Children’s Book Review to help parents choose the best books for their budding linguists. She was born in Argentina, attended school in NYC and speaks three foreign languages–Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. Formerly an editor in NYC, Luisa is currently a stay-at-home mom to two little ones.

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