Best YA Novels for Reluctant Readers

The Secret to Getting Reluctant Readers to Read

Two words: Engagement and Motivation. Once you find out what motivates a young person to do just about anything, you can match up a book to their interests. Once a reader engages in one book, it becomes a simple process of moving to similar books later on.

So, how do you find that first, oh-so-critical book? I start my quest with a quick personal interest inventory. I find out what the students likes, doesn’t like, how they spend their time, what they want to be when they grow up and much more. I have found dozens of these interest inventories through simple key word searches online.

Reading through the student’s answers uncovers a wealth of information about what kinds of books to suggest. Working with a young adult librarian, I try to narrow down the selection to three or so choices. Too much choice just leaves them unsure of what to read, which is why they are probably in the reluctant reader boat to begin with. I ensure that the first few books I recommend are fairly short in length and at a reading level that is appropriate for the student.

Hands down, the most popular book I have ever recommended is Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. For whatever reason, kids love this book!

Once the student has selected a book, I ask them to read the first chapter. If they still like it after the first chapter, I tell them to keep going. If they struggle with the book or just plain hate it after the first chapter, I tell them to put it back. I never ask a student to keep reading a book they dislike. I find doing so just furthers their frustration with reading.

If I have a student who is a particularly hard sell, I rarely begin by suggesting novels. I tend to recommend non-fiction that doesn’t require a cover to cover reading. A collection of Zits comic strips is always a good choice. I may start with Ripley’s Believe it Or Not, or a similar book with more pictures than text.

Many of today’s young people are visual learners and can be hooked with books that offer photos with text. My one caveat with a photo book is that they need to move on to more complex books over time. Some kids are more than happy to continue looking at photos again and again without challenging themselves with longer novels.

Some reluctant readers are slower than others to engage with text. If you are fortunate enough to have Kindles or some other kind of e-reader, this may motivate those students who just don’t want anything to do with a paper and ink book. As anyone who works with young people knows, technology appeals to just about every Millennial.

At the end of the day, it will be up to the student to discover the pleasure of reading for themselves. A few pushes in the right direction may be all a non-reader might need to open the door to a literature-rich life.

Recommended Reads for Really Reluctant Readers

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Number of pages: 189

Grade level equivalent: 6.3

Lexile: 1020

Published: 1987

Hatchet is a classic story of survival. Paulsen’s main character, Brian Robeson, finds himself alone in the middle of the Canadian woods with only a hatchet his mother had given him. He must find a way to survive both his fear and the elements.

Reluctant readers are drawn to this classic young adult novel for the fast-paced action and suspense. Boys in particular are drawn to this adventure story, but it is appropriate for girls as well. By the end of the story, readers are cheering Brian on with sincere hope that he will survive his ordeal.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! (Any edition)

Number of pages: Approximately 140

Grade level equivalent: 6.5

Lexile: 1140

Published: Annual editions

Ripley’s Believe It or Not is a compelling read for any student, but reluctant readers will pick it up again and again. With limited text and outrageous photos, readers will be sharing the “unbelievable” stories with just about anyone within ear shot.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not appeals to those readers that are turned off by novels or longer books. For those young adults who need to start slowly and work toward longer books, Ripley’s makes for a safe, attractive option for many reluctant readers.

The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook by Joshua Priven and David Borgenicht

Number of pages: 176

Grade level equivalent: 4.0-6.0

Lexile: 800-1200

Published: 1999

The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook offers advice on how to survive things such as an alligator attack or jumping from a moving car. Each scenario is only a few pages long and is often accompanied by illustrations or diagrams.

Reluctant readers love this book for the funny title, off-beat humor and outlandish content. It is an easy book to pick up for a few minutes, read a couple pages, and put down again—a reluctant reader’s dream. With its broken up format, it appeals to those who are daunted by longer books. The interesting pictures and diagrams hook young adults who are strong visual learners. Not to mention that readers might pick a handy tip or two about escaping a bear attack.

Crack of Noon: A Zits Treasury by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman

Number of pages: 245

Grade level equivalent: NR

Lexile: NR

Published: 2006

Jeremy, the star of the Zits comic strip, is the quintessential teenager. Young adults are able to easily identify with Jeremy and his day to day aggravations. Jeremy has a tough time relating to his parents, can’t seem to get the hang of school and is baffled by his girlfriend. What high school student hasn’t faced at least one of those circumstances?

Reluctant readers who want nothing to do with traditional text can usually be drawn into comic strips, and Zits is likely as any to engage teenagers. Though the comic strips are short, the level of sophisticated humor and symbolism make them a credible read for those who worry that they shouldn’t count for “real” reading.

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Comments 13 comments

CarolineChicago profile image

CarolineChicago 6 years ago from Chicago, IL

Great list and advice! My boys were both good but reluctant young readers until I relaxed and let them read Calvin & Hobbes books for a bit. Now in 4th & 5th grade, they are finally reading for pleasure as well as books for class.

kookoo88 profile image

kookoo88 6 years ago from Cripple Creek

Those are really good recommendations. My son likes Diary of a Whimpy Kid. Those are pretty easy for him to read. :)

KateMcGregor profile image

KateMcGregor 6 years ago from Cheyenne, Wyoming Author

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a great suggestion for this list. I need to mention how books with movie tie-ins can also motivate reluctant readers.

prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 6 years ago from Canada

Wonderful list! I used to have Ripley's and Guiness World Book of Records in my classroom, and they wouldn't put them down! My class was full of non-readers, but here they were reading these books.

I love your idea about not making them read past the first chapter. I think that would have been a good idea for me to try because maybe sometimes I pushed books on them too much.

Great hub!

ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Now we all need the recommendations for reluctant readers, thank you for these!

Ripplemaker's Merry Hubnuggets Announcement: Ho ho ho...The Book, Literature, Writing Nominees have been announced just recently! Congratulations! This hub is found in this category! To all who would like to support this hub, come follow this link and cast your vote!

KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

KoffeeKlatch Gals 6 years ago from Sunny Florida

Hatchet is a wonderful book. Another one just a little bit higher is A Lottery Rose. My students loved it and were able to pass Accelerated Readers Test with flying colors (and this is an accomplishment for them).

You have a great list and information. Voted up and useful. And Congratulations.

Rosie2010 profile image

Rosie2010 6 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Hiya Kate, this is very useful. A great way to get someone get started in reading. The books you suggested are all easy to read fun books with just little over a hundred pages.. not intimidating big books. Great job!

Congratulations for being nominated as a Hubnugget Nominee! I wish you the best.

My hub "Walking can be hazardous to your health" is a nominee in the health category. Please read my hub and if you like it, I'd appreciate your vote.

Thank you in advance,


KateMcGregor profile image

KateMcGregor 6 years ago from Cheyenne, Wyoming Author

Great suggestions on some books to add to the list. I am compiling them for my next hub. I will be sure to let everyone know who made these spot-on suggestions.

The longer the list grows, the more likely we are to reach those really stubborn readers who need good books.

Congrats Rosie on being nominated, too. Consider it read!

Alternative Prime profile image

Alternative Prime 6 years ago from > California

Some Great Selections,

A book like "Ripley's Believe it or Not" I think is a perfect example of how to peak a "Reluctant Reader's" interest.

A short attention span which may be the result of any number of factors, is one reason why some children & young adults find it difficult to stay engaged and focus on what they might perceive as a boring subject.

Ripley's, as you mentioned is not only interesting to read but the intriguing illustrations are designed to capture the attention & imagination.

Great Hub

fetty profile image

fetty 6 years ago from South Jersey

I appreciate the caring and the time you take getting to know your reluctant reader before your engage them in reading. Great hub! Congrats. on your hub nomination.

KateMcGregor profile image

KateMcGregor 6 years ago from Cheyenne, Wyoming Author

fetty, thank you for the compliment. I appreciate the time you took to read my hub!

Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 6 years ago from North Carolina

voted this hub Awesome. I love learning ways to motivate unmotivated teen readers. Thanks. :)

random reader 4 years ago

thank you for the list and ideas. they all help

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