Helping tweens become lifelong readers and transition into higher level reading requirements.
By Colleen Olive, Youth Services Librarian
December 28, 2020
I'm just not a reader...
These discouraging words have been expressed by countless tweens as they transition into their middle school years where higher reading requirements are expected. Unfortunately, this can be the beginning of the end of a love of reading for many kiddos. How does a child who loved to read in their earlier years come to the conclusion that they are, “just not a reader” like their siblings or friends, and how can we help them to develop into not only a reader, but a lifelong, avid reader?
The transition from short chapter books such as the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne to longer, more in-depth books like the Warriors series by Erin Hunter can be overwhelming for many middle school students. The idea of walking out of the library with a new, big, bright and shiny copy of the latest fantasy novel is exciting and impressive, but the reality of actually finishing that book can be somewhat bleak. Opening the cover of that new chapter book to discover 250 words on a page staring back at them versus the 100 words that they have been accustomed to can be a bit overwhelming to say the least. The content of larger chapter books often have a higher level of vocabulary, making comprehension and reading success next to impossible. Here is where defeat steps in and seeds of doubt and negative self-talk are planted into a tweens mind, “I’m just not a reader”.
So now what? We can’t let them give up on reading yet! It all boils down to finding the right book that a youngster can not only finish but also to enjoy, because after all, reading should be fun! Let’s take a look at some alternative options of writing formats that can help ease the transition from simple chapter books to more age appropriate materials for middle school (5th-8th grade) kids that will be challenging but also give them the sense of accomplishment that finishing a book can bring.
Books written in verse and graphic novels can be the bait that hooks an apprehensive reader! Books written in verse are a narrative in which the story is told through the avenue of poetry rather than written in ordinary form. Graphic novels tell a story through the use of text and comic-strip type format and can include both fiction and nonfiction works. Both of these formats can be less intimidating and are fun to read, and inadvertently, an adolescent will be developing reading skills that are needed to transition to a higher level of reading.
Sharon Creech is a wonderful writer that brings to the table several great choices of books written in verse. Hat That Cat and Love That Dog will appeal to resistant readers. Planet Middle School, Words with Wings, and Garvey's Choice by Nikki Grimes deal with several life issues that 10 to 13 year olds typically face.
Up til now,
the math of my life
has been pretty simple:
What more could I ask for, right?
my outside has been changing
and my inside keeps telling me
more is on the way.
I'm not sure
- Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes
This short passage packs a big punch for a middle schoolers ever changing lives and emotions, that’s why books written in verse can be an appealing choice for struggling readers that don’t necessarily want to be insulted by books with content below their developmental and emotional levels.
Now, on to busting the myth that graphic novels don't count as real reading. In an article written for Parents.com, Sarah Lindenfeld Hall explains how children should be encouraged to read graphic novels. She says, "The books (graphic novels) also require a different level of reading comprehension than a traditional novel as kids decipher a story with not just words, but also the plot captured in images."
Graphic novels are just downright fun and can become a satisfying go-to for readers of all levels. Some of my favorite graphic novel picks for middle level readers include: Best Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy's Great Idea by Raina Telgemeier, Twins by Varian Johnson, and any of the Hazardous Tales by Nathan Hale.
These titles and many more graphic novels and books written in verse can be found in our library catalog. Narrow your keyword search by using the terms "graphic novel" and "novels in verse" and encourage that resistant reader to explore these alternative writing styles and help them get back on the path to the wonderful world of reading.
Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar
Nine-year-old Betita and her parents fled Mexico after her uncle was killed by the cartels, and settled in Los Angeles seeking political asylum and safety in what her father calls Aztlan, the land of the cranes; but now they have been swept up by the government's Immigration Customs Enforcement, her father deported back to Mexico, and Betita and her mother confined in a family detention camp--Betita finds heart in her imagination and the picture poems her father taught her, but each day threatens to further tear her family apart.
Garvey's Choice by Nikki Grimes
Garvey's father has always wanted Garvey to be athletic, but Garvey is interested in astronomy, science fiction, reading--anything but sports. Feeling like a failure, he comforts himself with food. Garvey is kind, funny, smart, a loyal friend, and he is also overweight, teased by bullies, and lonely. When his only friend encourages him to join the school chorus, Garvey's life changes. The chorus finds a new soloist in Garvey, and through chorus, Garvey finds a way to accept himself, and a way to finally reach his distant father--by speaking the language of music instead of the language of sports.
Lion Island: Cuba's Warrior of Words by Margarita Engle
A biographical novel about Antonio Chuffat, a Chinese-African-Cuban messenger boy in 1870s Cuba who became a translator and documented the freedom struggle of indentured Chinese laborers in his country.
Addie on the Inside by James Howe
Outspoken thirteen-year-old Addie Carle learns about love, loss, and staying true to herself as she navigates seventh grade, enjoys a visit from her grandmother, fights with her boyfriend, and endures gossip and meanness from her former best friend.
The Canyon's Edge by Dusti Bowling
A year after the death of her mother in a restaurant shooting, Nora is left struggling to stay alive when a climbing trip with her father goes terribly wrong.
Unbound: A Novel in Verse by Ann E. Burg
The day nine-year-old Grace is called to work in the kitchen in the Big House, everyone warns her to to keep her head down and her thoughts to herself, but the more she sees of the oppressive Master and his hateful wife, the more she questions things until one day her thoughts escape--and to avoid being separated she and her family flee into the Dismal Swamp, to join the other escaped slaves who live there.
The Invasion by K. A. Applegate & Michael Grant; Illustrated by Chris Grine
Sometimes weird things happen to people. Ask Jake. He could tell you about the night he and his friends saw a strange light in the sky that seemed to be heading right for them. That was the night five normal kids learned that humanity is under a silent attack -- and were given the power to fight back. Now Jake, Rachel, Cassie, Tobias, and Marco can transform into some of the most dangerous creatures on Earth. And they must use that power to outsmart an evil greater than anything the world has ever seen. . .
The Lightning Thief: The Graphic Novel by Rick Riordan
After learning that he is the son of a mortal woman and Poseidon, god of the sea, twelve-year-old Percy is sent to a summer camp for demigods like himself, and joins his new friends on a quest to prevent a war between the gods.
Tom's Midnight Garden: A Graphic Adaptation of the Philippa Pearce Classic by Edith
A beautiful adaptation of the classic novel. Renowned graphic novel artist, Edith, has created an enchanting version of the classic Tom's Midnight Garden. This is a new and special way to read and share one of the best-loved and most enduring children's stories of all time. A story with a special place in the hearts of grandparents, parents, and children everywhere, this wonderful graphic novel adaptation is faithful, accessible, and stunningly illustrated.
Thea Stilton 3-in-1 by Thea Stilton
Follow the adventures of the Thea sisters as they grab their surfboards and head to Windy Island's new surf center.