It is a truth universally acknowledged that trying to get a high school student to read during the summer is tantamount to attempting to herd a stampede of housecats through a doggy door. Motivating high schoolers to achieve impossible feats, however, is the daily task of teachers, which is why I have compiled a ‘go-to’ list over the years of books that will capture the interest of even the most resistant readers and a method of introducing those books that will entice the unwilling reader.
When I first started my struggle of attempting to inspire a love of literature in high school students, my school librarian gave me the following advice, “Give any reluctant reader A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer. I’ve never had a kid read that book and not come back for another recommendation.” This advice has, in my experience, proven itself to be golden, and I have hooked many a student to begrudgingly pick up another book after I’ve suggested this one. Something about this simple, true life story grabs student’s attention and keeps them reading until the last page. So your first step in tricking any child to read is simple: choose a book like this that will catch them right off the bat.
This leads me to step two in my recommendation process: specialization. After I have the trust of an unwilling reader I’ll ask them what they’re interested in before suggesting a second book. Here are a few of my go-to recommendations based on genre.
- Sports- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie or The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
- Love/ Relationships- The Selection by Kiera Cass or My Darling, My Hamburger by Paul Zindel
- High School Realistic: Skink No Surrender by Carl Hiassen or The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
- Suspense/ Mystery: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart or The Living by Matt de la Pena
- Fantasy/ Futuristic/ Sci-Fi: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, Unwind by Neal Shusterman, or City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
After making a recommendation from the list above, I follow-up with students as they’re reading. “What do you like/ dislike about this book? Why?” Often, the hardest part of getting a kid to read is getting them into the plot, beyond the first few chapters. So when I ask them those questions, if they’re struggling at the beginning I always hype up the plot, “So you haven’t got to THAT part yet? Let me know when you get to THAT part. It blew my mind.” Generally, students will feed off of my excitement and trudge back through the book to find out what “THAT part” is, and they almost always find a “THAT part” to share with me.
At this point, I have them excited to read, to share this experience with me, or maybe (if I’m really lucky) I’ll rope a friend of theirs into reading the same book, and then we all share in the love of the book. This, if done correctly, will only motivate a student to pick up another book, another shared experience, in the future to enjoy. Does this process always work? No, but even if a child doesn’t fall in love with reading at the end of the process, they had to read two books over the summer to figure it out! Huge win for parents, teachers, and tricksters everywhere!