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A Literature Resource for Struggling or Reluctant Readers
A guide to the books that can hook, delight and be accessed by adolescent readers

Hit the links below for a brief description of types of readers, a selection of books with reviews, resources, and usage ideas. The Inside the Book links can let you peek at the cover and a few pages at

1. Reluctant Readers
2. Struggling Readers
3. Freak the Mighty
4. Stone Fox
5. Bud, Not Buddy
6. Skeleton Man
7. The Whipping Boy
8. Pacific Crossing
9. Holes
10. Cages
11. Hatchet
12. Because of Winn Dixie

1. Reluctant Readers

This category of readers includes students who can decode text but are often "non-readers" who  seldom read independently. These readers need high quality literature with relevant themes - After getting to know some interests you can better match. The books featured on this sight are only a few that have hooked non-readers. Male adolescents present a particular challenge - books that speak to the key issues faced by guys such as dealing with conflict, and coming of age can be key. Authors such as Walter Dean Myers (Scorpions, Slam!) and Gary Paulsen (Hatchet, The River).

2. Struggling Readers

These readers may legitimately lack some reading skills or have a disability that has slowed their progress. Often their self concept already includes themselves as a failed reader. They may have had an experience heavy on isolated drills and few whole story completions. A good book can restore their definition of reading. Care should be taken to find quality books that are decodable yet still contain mature themes - this can be a challenge. Some short chapter books such as Stone Fox or Sarah, Plain and Tall are often dismissed as 3-4 grade books. Yet an older reader is able to bring much more to these texts in terms of analysis and reader  response. Short chapters can be a positive characteristic allowing a weaker reader to still complete a "chunk". Don't forget that a reader who really is motivated to read a book can often overcome a seemingly tough text. Activating background knowledge, discussing key vocabulary, and identifying a purpose for reading a chapter (ie. confirm a prediction) can also do wonders.

Here Begins the BOOKS!

The Books

This is just a short list of a few winners in my own humble opinion - They are not in any particular order.
 Remember, if you plan to read aloud, make sure you like the book!  Got a restless bunch? Choose a book with saucy dialog, quick plot, and cliffhangers at the end of chapters. (Read-aloud list)

3. Freak the Mighty

This book is filled with mature themes - the nature of disability, friendship, violence, and courage. It is written with great voice. Well-suited for a read-aloud or reluctant readers who may be drawn in to the realism. Definitely a book to discuss, due to some heavy issues.

Extended review.

4. Stone Fox

Stone Fox has high readability and brief chapters, but manages to be moving and lend itself to discussion among older readers who may identify with Little Willy's financial and family hardships. The ending finish line scene is powerfully memorable, even cinematic. A good choice for a first chapter book/ short novel. Stronger readers can explore further information on sled dog racing. Perseverance. loyalty, stereotypes can all be examined.

Chapter questions and vocab

5. Bud, Not Buddy - Christopher Paul Curtis

This an all-time personal favorite. Set in the Depression, young Bud goes off in search of family. It is both serious and hilarious and is written with tremendous voice. This book begs to be read-aloud, and due to its high motivational pull (humor and plot) can be a good independent read as well.

Extended review.

6. Skeleton Man - Joseph Bruchac

This 100 page book rocks! Bruchac, known for his Native American literature has written a gripping thriller of young Molly, whose parents disappear. Serious thrills and action with a very strong female heroine. Bruchac weaves a Native American legend throughout the story. A good choice for reluctant readers or struggling readers (with some support for vocabulary). The book does include abduction, captivity and surveillance so make sure to match with readers who can handle or have discussions as a class.

7. The Whipping Boy

This "small" book packs a punch as an entertaining story full of wit and dynamic characters who change. Chapters are short and manageable, although weaker readers may need some scaffolding for dialect and rich vocabulary. Themes of fairness, character improvement, loyalty and literacy are all here.

Extended review

8. Pacific Crossing - Gary Soto

Gary Soto is a master at describing the Chicano experience. This story of Lincoln Mendoza's exchange trip to Japan to study martial arts is fun and culturally rich. Fans of Lincoln can read the first book, "Taking Sides". Many students can relate to Soto's bicultural characters, whether they are Latino or not. This books description of Japan rings true and a glossary helps with both Spanish and Japanese terms. Get to know other Gary Soto books.
Soto site:
Other books featuring Latino characters or culture:
The Circuit - Francisco Jimenez
Parrot In The Oven: Mi Vida -
Esperanza Rising - Pamela Munoz Ryan

9. Holes - Louis Sachar

This is a no brainer. Read this aloud and even the most hardened book-hater will soften and try to pick up their own copy. A wonderfully woven plot with memorable characters- complete with a jail break, buried treasure, love story, irreverent humor and redemption.

Extended review.

10. Cages - Peg Kehret

Peg Kehret seems to always write gripping fast moving plots (Don't Tell Anyone, The Hide Out) that often have the protagonists caring for animals. In Cages, Meg makes a mistake, and has to pay for it with community service in an animal shelter, all the while trying to keep a secret. An alcoholic stepfather and school issues also come into play. Satisfying and substantial in its message of honesty and redemption. Great for social choice discussions of "What should Meg do?"

11. Hatchet - Gary Paulsen


Survival! A city boy crash-lands a plane in the Canadian wilderness. This is captivating stuff- for guys especially. Hatchet lovers can continue on with Brian's Winter, Brian's Return and the River. This can be read aloud - A key is to really have the readers/listeners put themselves in Brian's position, a simulation of some sort would be excellent. Sentence length is short, but some students reading on their own  may get lost in Brian's many thoughts and flashbacks. Frequent discussion and checks for understanding can help. Paulsen is a master at describing nature in a way that puts you right there. A good book for examining a protagonist's development.

12. Because of Winn Dixie - Kate DiCamillo

This touching story of family and friends is highly readable with simple sentence structure and brief chapters. It doesn't sacrifice humor and warmth with its conciseness. Themes of looking past outside appearances, missing a parent, and dealing with moving are relevant to readers. (The dog doesn't die!)

Great Read-alouds (in addition to those listed above)


Last Updated 5/05/04
Copyright Nathan Traller © All educational uses permitted
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