Books that hook "I hate reading" students

If you teach reading, then you know that it's not a given that all kids will read.  Even if you offer choice, some kids will resist.  As 2018 kicks off, I am 4 1/2 years into teaching a high school reading class designed to improve the reading of kids labeled struggling.  I've learned over the years that my class will have a huge variety of readers - from those who can but won't read to those who struggle because they lack practice or strategies to those whose lives are the biggest obstacle to their success.

This year has been exceptional in the matching kids to book department. It's not unusual that I have success with a lot of kids, but this year I've had far more success than usual, thanks to some phenomenal authors and books.  Out of all my classes, every single student (for real, EVERY. SINGLE. STUDENT.) has found at least one book that has opened the door to reading for them.

The list below are the books that have had the most success with the hardest to reach readers.  I narrowed it down to the top three that are getting my students reading right now.  If you don't have them, you NEED these books:

3.  Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt: I started the year reading Orbiting Jupiter aloud, but I am the worst "get books done in a timely manner" read-aloud teacher on the planet.  Pretty soon, I had students sneaking to the whiteboard ledge and stealthily snatching the book while they thought I wasn't watching.  I just undercover smiled.  Orbiting Jupiter tells the story of a family who takes in Joseph, an 8th grade boy in foster care.  Joseph's heartbreaking story is really one of misunderstandings and love.  Students are drawn to him and all the negative situations - from a group home, to the school bus, to the locker room - where assumptions drive others' behaviors and Joseph is truly a victim.  It's a universal problem for children and teenagers to be misunderstood, to have actions interpreted by adults and others in ways entirely different from how they were intended.

The book is small and big all at the same time.  My students who read this book couldn't stop thinking about it when it was over.  I ran into Anthony in the library one day, a month after he had finished it.  He was asking our media specialist if they had another copy; he needed to read it again.  Talk about a book hangover.  Thank you, Gary Schmidt.

2.  Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds: To be honest, my students first picked up Long Way Down because of Jason Reynolds. He visited our middle schools last year, so my 9th graders know him.  But Long Way Down has also drawn many resistant "I DO NOT READ" kids in.  First, it's poetry, and all that white space on the page is an invitation in - breathing room between the words.  But as I confer with kids, they want to talk craft (teacher died-and-gone-to-heaven moment).  "Look at this page, Ms. Hagen! He just put those two words there!" And the questions - "What is that smoke about?  And are these people dead?"  And, of course, when the book ends...  But I can't talk about that because you might not have read it yet.

When I heard Jason Reynolds speak at NCTE in November, he talked about the problem our society has with allowing people (and kids in particular) to express big emotions - fear, anger, sadness.  We often try to get people to stop feeling these, or to contain their feelings.  This is something my students know well. They totally relate to Will and his desire for revenge.  They totally relate to the pain of loss.  And this book, lets them talk about feelings and choices and living in a society that is filled with fear.  Keep writing, Jason Reynolds.  Please.

1.  Dear Martin by Nic Stone:  Dear Martin began as a book that let kids see themselves in the pages, much like Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give.  But quickly I saw that it was something more. Dear Martin crossed the lines of race and gender in our classroom.  Justyce McAllister became every kid in our room who has ever been accused of anything they didn't do.  He became a symbol of what it's like to be wrongly accused after you've done everything in your power to make good choices.  And this, it turns out, is a universal message that all kids can relate to.  And so can adults. Teachers, too, are reading and talking about this book. It is hitting everyone.

My students also savor the message of hope embedded in Dear Martin.  White students, slammed with the injustice of racial profiling in Chapter 1, have said they finally get it and see the need for change.  Girls have explored stereotypes and fears through SJ, and like SJ, think it's wrong. And, student after student has seen that if Justyce McAllister can be strong in the face of his situation, they can be too.  On his final exam in December, Daniel said that Dear Martin was the best book he'd ever read because it showed him "that even through all the hate and racial profiling, you can do anything you put your mind to." All the love to Nic Stone, for real.

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Don't ever let anyone tell you that there are just some kids who don't like reading.  No.  There are just some kids that haven't found the right book for this particular time in their life.  I am so grateful that publishers are finally seeing some of the holes in YA lit and are publishing more books that represent real kids. The depth of diverse books is still way too thin - I can't yet create book stacks that speak to all kids' experiences.  But I am hopeful that if publishers see what real kids want and love, we'll see a bigger variety and all our kids will feel included.

Add to my list, readers! What other books are your resistant, reluctant readers devouring that I need in my classroom library?

Happy Sunday, Everyone!


  1. Love this. I am struggling this year because I'm the opposite--I've never had so many kids NOT reading at this point in the year. I'm going to start First Chapter Fridays, and will begin with these three books.

    1. Hey Wendy! Thank you for reading - I hope these help! I think reading aloud the first couple of chapters of Orbiting Jupiter and talking about the style of Long Way Down during book talks helped entice readers to pick those up. Dear Martin needed NO introduction. Nic Stone's Chapter 1 snared everyone who picked it up!

    2. Great post about great books! So true....non-readers just haven't been given the right books for them.

    3. Thank you so much for reading, Veronica!!


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