Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gateway Drugs

So as part of my day-job, I teach a remedial reading class to 11th graders.  Many English teachers would be disgusted with such a task, but I like it for a lot of reasons.  I get to play matchmaker with teens and books.  The class I teach is all about pairing students with high-interest books at their level.  The program comes with loads of great books, but students also find themselves attracted to all those other books on my shelves.

I thought I'd share with you some of the books I've recommended and that have been successful with my reluctant readers.  Now, this is by no means a comprehensive list and I'm not a librarian.   The ALA has a complete list of YA for reluctant readers which is much better than my silly anecdotes.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I pitched the book to my class and then started a sign-up sheet for who wanted to read it first.  A few tried but it was too hard for them.  But one student was determined.  He was hooked by the concept and every day he'd check in with me to make sure he was understanding it.  "So, she goes in her sister's place?"  "So, Peeta is the boy with the bread?"  "So, Haymitch is drunk?"  I would nod, and smile and my heart would swell with pride that he's understanding a book above his level and at the same time I'd get to relive the amazing story with him.

anything by Sharon Draper
I had three girls who read Romiette and Julio, Tears of a Tiger, and Forged by Fire.  Whoever read a book first would then ask the other one "so, where are you?" and the other girl would yell at her not to spoil it.  One of these girls hated reading, hated me, hated the class.  she'd never even read a picture book (or so she said) but she loved sharon Draper's books.  She wanted to write her a letter.  So we wrote Sharon an email and she wrote back!  This student smiled for the first time all year when I handed her the printed out email from Sharon.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Draper got those three girls hooked and they wanted more.  I figured out they liked the edginess and readability of Draper's books, so I told them about 13 Reasons Why.  Of course I prefaced it with a worried face and said, "hmm, I don't know, it has some language, and some sex, maybe I should ask your parents first..." that really got them clamoring.  To girls fought over who would read it first, so they alternated days and each had a post-it note to save their place.  They'd get mad when the other one had read farther than them.  The book is short, the chapters are short, and the emotions are raw.  Perfect for reluctant readers.

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
I had a student who read at grade-level but said she just didn't like to read.  Twilight was the only book she'd ever finished.  I handed her City of Bones and she gobbled up the series.  She wanted more.  She said she wanted darker.  I handed her Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr.  She made a face when I told her it was about faeries.  "Trust me," I said.  She came back the next day and handed me the book.  "What you don't like it?"  I asked.  "No.  I finished it.  Is there another one?"  Yes, yes there is.  I knew then that she was hooked (insert evil laugh here).  She's read half the books on my shelves.

Wake by Lisa McMann
The lyrical style and time-jumps can be tricky for some readers, but the short sections are much less an intimidating than a 30 page chapter.

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkes
The Draper girls are seniors this year and no longer my students.  But sometimes they stop by and ask "got anything good?"  (I really do feel like a drug dealer)  They devoured Perfect Chemistry.

When I first started trying to push books on teens, I'd just try to get them to read my favorite books.  but that's not how it works.  I have to figure out what THEY like and find something easy enough.  Not all YA is accessible for emerging readers.  Many of the books I LOVE are too subtle, require the reader to make too many inferences, and are just plain too long to keep the attention of a reluctant reader.  But that's ok, I love the challenge of finding something for them.

What about you junkies?  Which books have you seen start an addiction?


  1. Yay good for you! It must be so exciting for you when kids decide they 'do' like reading. At least, like reading some things. My husband and my brother in law have in recent years discovered the joys of reading (although we have different tastes) and I get a little bit excited when that happens! I wonder what's up with that, why it makes me happy when a book nerd is born..?

  2. What a great thing you're doing for those kids! And I LOVE how you said, "Hmmm, I don't's got bad language and sex and..." I can just see them trying to snatch it out of your hands. Whisper anything with a hint of "forbidden" and kids are all over it :)

  3. WOW, you brought tears to my eyes with that part about the email back from Sharon Draper and the girl smiling all day. What you are doing is so awesome. Now if I could find someone to do that for my son and math, lol....

  4. Aww, that's so great! I love when kids start reading like that!
    Here, in Chile, kids don't read too much, and it's sad that the Huger Games version in Spanish is so expensive. ($35 USD.)
    But at least you're making kids read there! WTG! :D

  5. I feel like that about teaching composition - it's great to be a position where you can see the difference!

    I don't know that I've ever personally inspired any addictions, but I have to say that Gordon Korman's stuff (I prefer his early comedy, but he has a good following in all his genres) is very reader friendly.

    Also, I'm participating in Tera Lynn Childs' cover reveal tomorrow, so if you're not already doing the same thing, pop by and check it out!