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.
Books with Appeal
Recommended Reads for Really Reluctant Readers
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Number of pages: 189
Grade level equivalent: 6.3
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
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
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
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.