Middle School is typically when a child's bookshelf starts collecting dust. It's not that your teen has necessarily lost interest in reading, but he has definitely become interested in other things that take up his time. Between homework, sports and other media there isn’t much downtime. Besides, there’s already enough reading to do for school (and the reading for school may not be of the highest interest level). Free-time reading falls by the wayside in the preteen years, as does the concept of reading for pleasure. You know how in third or fourth grade, the teacher would let you pick your own book for your book reports? Well, kids lose that when they get to middle school, and their teachers’ choices can frustrate or bore them, instead of engage them.
What can parents do? Lead by example – to get children excited about reading, you have to show that you’re excited about reading, too. Then, let the kids read what they want to read, and let them feel they have a choice. There’s nothing more rewarding than taking a kid to a bookstore and letting her loose to choose what book she wants to take home. You have to make it seem like something they want to do, not something they have to do.
The good news is that there are authors using techniques to draw kids into the world of their books, and hold them there cover to cover. They have characters the reader relates to. The stories use imagination – whether it’s in portraying the way things are in the world we know, or creating an entirely different world.
Here's my list of the top five books to get your middle schooler out of the reading rut:
From the Mixed-Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konisburg (Simon & Schuster) This mystery has already pleased two generations of readers. It involves a brother and sister sneaking in and staying the night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art – so the mystery has a fun wish-fulfillment feel to it. (A similar mix of mystery and adventure for a new generation can be found in Blue Balliett’s books, see Chasing Vermeer and The Wright 3.)
Main Street by Ann M. Martin (Scholastic) is a wonderful new series from the author of The Baby-sitters Club, about two sisters who are orphaned and move to their grandmother’s small town. Series always have a huge appeal for middle-schoolers, because they get to really know the characters and grow with them. Ann Martin’s a master of that, from the very first page.
Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman (Hyperion) is a total crowd pleaser, about a boy whose family is in the “vending machine business” . . . which gets tricky when he falls for a girl whose dad is (yes) an FBI agent.
The Misfits by James Howe (Simon & Schuster) is a fantastic book about four friends who band together to stop name-calling at their school. It’s something most kids can identify with, and it’s a novel that actually presents an answer to the problem it raises.
The Day My Butt Went Psycho by Andy Griffiths (Scholastic). Yes, it’s a book about butts who rebel and try to take over the world. But for reluctant readers, that’s pure gold. Making readers laugh is just as important as teaching them lessons. And if you can do both – even better.