In a perfect world, all students would come back from summer vacation well-read and ready to work as they place a Snickers bar on your desk and have all of their supplies with them.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t live in that perfect world. In fact, that world and I are a billion light years away from one another. When my new students come in, there is usually a small handful of super-readers, but most of my other students “hate reading.” They have no trouble saying it to me, either.
I always have those students who say proudly, “You can’t make me read. I’ve never even finished a book!” They are certain that this is a badge of honor rather than a point of concern.
There are many strategies I use successfully to make sure that at the end of every nine weeks, ninety percent of my students have met their Accelerated Reading goal, but I have never had a student leave my classroom at the end of the year having not finished at least one middle school level chapter book. I think that is as close to Utopia as I will ever get, and parents can use these same strategies at home to keep their kids reading through the hot summer months.
Half of the battle is having interesting books readily accessible in my classroom or at home for them to read. You may be thinking, “We have a library. Why do I need books in my room? I spend enough money on everything else.”
It’s easy to forget that some students check out and lose books, and are unable to afford to pay the fines, so they cannot check anything else out. This is just one reason you need a fantastic classroom library. Another is that you get to create a portal to new worlds for them just steps away, and it is a portal you can monitor.
For the average reader:
The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
I recommend this book for girls who like a fast-paced read that is full of mystery and intrigue, although a few of my boy students have enjoyed it, too. Tess Kendrick is a teenage girl who is living her life on a farm, taking care of her sick grandfather. Her world is rocked when her sister, Ivy, a political fixer, shows up to put her grandfather in a nursing home, and takes Tess to Washington D.C. to live with her.
This book is a completely middle-school appropriate version of “Scandal,” and will keep them engrossed from start to finish.
Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
This is a great book for girls or boys that sheds some light on the realities of World War II. It follows a boy named Yanek who goes through ten different concentration camps during the war. I find my students are riveted by the everyday lives people led in the Polish ghettos, and they don’t want to stop reading about Yanek’s experiences.
This book walks the line of shedding light into one of the most horrifying aspects of World War II while remaining school appropriate and incredibly interesting.
Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Kate Alender
No one could predict the twists and turns of this book! Every student of mine who has read this book has only had it checked out for two to three days because it is riveting and they finish it fast! It is unlike any book I’ve ever read, following Delia, a young girl, who inherits her Great Aunt’s home, which was once used as a mental institution. Delia dies in the home, and becomes a ghost who ultimately saves her sister’s life.
This isn’t the book for everyone, but students who enjoy scary movies will like this story, which amazingly remains school appropriate for a middle school student.
For struggling readers:
The Knight at Dawn by Mary Pope Osborne
Jack and Annie go on an adventure to Medieval England in one of the many Magic Tree House books. Any of the books by Mary Pope Osborne spark the interest of my lower-level readers because they are checking out chapter books, and gaining success by completing them while simultaneously understanding them. As with all of their adventures, Jack and Annie start off by reading about their destination, and they magically end up there and help solve problems.
Not only are these school appropriate, they will give your students confidence to keep reading.
Galaxy Zack: Hello, Nebulon! By Jack Collin
Zack Nelson is a young boy whose father gets transferred from his job on Earth to the planet Nebulon.
This book details all of the scary parts of moving to a new place, including the terrors of attending a new school. All of that is compounded by Zack living on a new planet and wondering if he will be able to enjoy the same comforts of Earth.
Although this book is a low reading level, it is one that will appeal to visual learners with the beautiful graphics!
Big Nate: In a Class by Himself by Lincoln Pierce
If your students liked the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series, this is the next series they should read. This book details Nate starting off a new school year in the worst way possible. Everything that can go wrong does, including him accidentally insulting his teacher and making the wrong impression with his principal.
The graphics will draw uninterested readers in because it looks easy, but this book series will help them become confident readers ready for the next reading level.
Don’t discount these lower-level books. They are gateways to upper-level reading success. I always tell my students that I don’t care what level they are reading on as long as they are reading. I generally don’t keep anything below a 2.5 reading level in my room, but other than that I let them read freely. I wish you and your students a page-turning year!