Reluctant Readers Speak Up

So what will make a kid who’d rather be playing videogames, drawing, or skateboarding snuggle up with a book?

Lots of action!

Ben, age 11, says, “In a cool action scene I get all hyped up.” He loves the gore and nonstop action in Royce Buckingham’s books Goblins and Demonkeepers. Orion, age 11, also seeks out “exciting” books with “lots of action.”

Ben also likes exciting chapter endings; sometimes he stops reading because he wants to wait to find out what happens next. Sophie, age 10, agrees. One of the books she could not stop reading was The Ghost on the Stairs by Chris Eboch.

Alexis, age 9, will read the back cover to see if “there’s a lot of adventure or something.”


Middle grade readers love to laugh—and they like to be in on the joke with the author.

Orion loves Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? by Eleanor Updale. He says, “It’s fun to watch the characters bumble and fumble around.” Orion also enjoys books that address the reader directly as Brandon Sanderson does in Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians. “The beginnings of the chapters are really fun,” Orion says.

Ben loves the humor in Witches by Roald Dahl. It’s the only book he’s read three times. He says that The Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull also combines humor with action.

Girls love humor too! Alexis says that the My Weird School series by Dan Gutman is “really funny,” making them her favorite books.

Not every kid loves fantasy.

With the popularity of fantasy series, kids who prefer to read realistic fiction often struggle to find interesting books. Sophie doesn’t like fantasy unless it’s grounded in this world like Shani Petroff’s Bedeviled series. She says, “I like books about friendship problems and popularity problems.”

Stories that include modern technology also hook Sophie. She loves peeking in on a character’s text messages, IMs, or emails because “they’re fun to read, and because they have a different perspective and it’s different from just talking.” Her favorites that include technology are: The Fashion Disaster That Changed My Life by Lauren Myracle and Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French.

Does size matter?

Ben prefers “skinny” books because if there are boring parts, they won’t take too long. He suspects that big books contain more boring parts. Ben says, “I don’t like to take a ton of time on a book. With big books, you have to stop and remember what’s happening.”

Some reluctant readers will tackle long stories if they’ve seen movies based on the book. After watching the Harry Potter movies, Alexis decided to read the series herself. “When I saw the movie I could tell there was a lot that was left out and I wanted to see the difference,” she says.

Why do kids stop reading a book?

Orion says, “Nothing exciting is happening.”

“If I’m reading through and feel like it isn’t the kind of book I can read, I’ll just stop,” Ben says.

Sophie will put down a book “if it’s not going anywhere or if it just doesn’t connect with me.”

Alexis stops reading if “books are too hard or too easy.”

That’s what the kids have to say. What are your favorite titles to give a reluctant reader?

Sydney Salter is spending as much time as she can reading and drinking iced tea on her front porch this summer. Her middle-grade novel Jungle Crossing will be coming out in paperback from Harcourt Children’s Books soon.

Sydney Salter
  1. Having given many books to a reluctant middle school reader, I will add only two: The Five Ancestors by Jeff Stone (for boys) and Green Angel by Alice Hoffman (for girls). Next to a good book is the time and a quiet place to read, preferably every day. My book, Let Them Have Books: A Formula for Universal Reading Proficiency, tells far, far more.

  2. What great insight to the life of a middle grader. We must listen to our readers. Thanks for sharing!

  3. These are great! But, do you really want to know what will make a kid who’d rather be playing videogames, drawing, or skateboarding snuggle up with a book? Having a mom or dad, uncle or aunt, babysitter or cousin, an older sibling, or… unfailingly… a grandma or grandpa, sit down and read it to them! If you have a struggling reader, read to them, slightly above there level! Take the time to do that this summer!

  4. Great responses! I start the new year by doing a Reading Interest Survey so I can provide books that 6th graders actually want to read. This is the age that reading takes the back seat (unless the student likes to read) to socializing. I have found the more “choices” available the quicker the books fly off the shelves. One great book that was mentioned on last years survey was “Skeleton Creek”. It has cool video segments that lit my 6th graders’ reading rockets! They begged me to read this book every day. They purchased the book during Book Fair, had their names on the list to check it out in the library, and would try to sneak my book to check out the next password. They had the whole school reading this book. The second book “Ghost in the Machine” caused the same reading explosion. Needless to say I highly recommend both!

  5. Fourth graders that I’ve taught can’t get enough of the Wimpy Kid series.

  6. Great post! It makes me want to interview some kids and find out their reading habits, too. This is great advice for authors, librarians, teachers, parents, AND editors.
    Jacqueline Jules

  7. Whoops! Not leaving paris, the title is The Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes