Books for reluctant readers

Reluctant reader – it’s a label that gets thrown around a lot for kids who would rather do anything else than pick up a book. And if you’re a book-loving parent of a reluctant reader, it can be heartbreaking to see your child miss out on the joys of a good book.

It’s important to recognise why somebody is a reluctant reader, and the reasons range from low reading confidence to a lack of interest. Luckily there are countless books out there that know how to appeal to kids and teens who have all but given up on reading. Here’s a selection to get you started.


STRUGGLING READERS


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Things can be very demoralising for readers who are struggling on the level of word recognition and comprehension. If a child’s reading age (i.e. the year level they feel comfortable reading) is lower than their actual age, the content of the books they won’t struggle with might feel too young for them. It can be a source of embarrassment and frustration for these readers to be handed a book that they think is for ‘little kids’.

Barrington Stoke is a publisher that specialises in providing quality and age-appropriate books for children and teens who are struggling with comprehension. They also publish books specifically for readers with dyslexia. Barrington Stoke focuses on possible barriers to reading such as length, vocabulary, page tint and font.


  • Wave by Paul Dowswell – Two brothers find a photo of their great grandfather from WWI, which leads them in a discovery of the story of the First Wave of the Somme. Teen interest level with a reading age of 8.

  • Five Hundred Miles by Kevin Brooks – After Cole and Ruben run afoul of some gangsters, they find themselves fleeing the police in a stolen car. Teen interest level with a reading age of 8.

  • Fox Friend by Michael Morpurgo – A young girl rescues an injured fox cub and struggles to keep him safe from the people who think he’s vermin. Interest level 8-12 with a reading age of 7.


READING STAMINA


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Sometimes comprehension and reading level aren’t as problematic as reading stamina. Let’s face it, even the most avid readers can sometimes be put off by a 500+ page epic. There’s a sense of achievement in finishing a book, and if your reluctant reader struggles to get all the way through, that can turn into a sense of failure.

Here are suggestions for brilliant reads that aren’t too long.


  • The Stones of Winter by Oskar Jensen – A thrilling tale of Norse gods, Viking princesses and assassins that is low on page count but high on excitement. 9+

  • Mrs Whitlam by Bruce Pascoe – Marnie is crazy about horses, but can’t afford one of her own… until she’s given the beautiful Clydesdale Mrs Whitlam and her life changes forever. 9+

  • As Red As Blood by Salla Simukka – Lumikki is wary of others, and she’s determined to keep to herself, but that all changes when she comes across a blood soaked pile of money and finds herself drawn into a criminal mystery. 13+

  • Deltora Quest by Emily Rodda – A young boy must collect seven magical jewels to defeat the dark lord in this fast-paced series. 8+


ILLUSTRATED READS & GRAPHIC NOVELS


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The popularity of Diary of a Wimpy Kid has seen a boom in the amount of highly illustrated books for readers 9-12, which is wonderful, because often kids who are struggling with unbroken text on a page will eagerly devour a narrative with a more visual component. Alongside these illustrated narratives, graphic novels are another way to hook readers with the power of images.

Here are some illustrated narratives and graphic novels to tempt young readers.


  • Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis – Timmy attempts world domination through his detective agency, Total Failure, Inc. 8+

  • The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger – A class of school kids follow the advice of a wisdom-dispensing origami Yoda. 9+

  • Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi – After the death of their father, siblings Emily and Navin find a mysterious other world in the basement of their home. 10+

  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs – A series of eerie photographs unlocks a peculiar secret. 12+

  • Coraline: The Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by P. Craig Russell – A young girl is drawn into a mirror version of her own world when she moves into a new home. 11+


SERIES FICTION


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Reading a book can take some investment: you get to know the characters, you stick with them through their adventure and then it’s all over. You go your separate ways, and you have to start again with another character the next time you pick up a book. This is why series fiction works so well as a way to appeal to reluctant readers. It fosters a sense of familiarity with characters and setup that can help overcome some of the stumbling blocks of reading. If a reader already knows they have a connection with a character, they’ll eagerly pick up the next books in the series.

Here’s some series fiction to keep young readers going.


  • Skulduggery Pleasant – A young girl teams up with a wise-cracking skeleton detective to learn magic and solve crimes. Hilarious and action-packed. 12+

  • Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan – After finding out he’s the son of an ancient Greek god, Percy sets out with his new friends to undertake a series of quests. 9+

  • Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan – Will must learn the stealth and combat skills of a Ranger in order to help protect the kingdom. 9+

  • The Ella Diaries by Meredith Costain – Ella deals with BFFs and worst enemies in the pages of her trusty diary. 7+


GENRE


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If a reader’s reluctance comes from a lack of connection with the reading material, converting them into a life-long bibliophile can sometimes be a matter of finding the right genre.

Here’s a selection of our recommended reads from across a variety of genres: horror, fantasy and action.


Suggestions for horror fans:

  • The Enemy by Charlie Higson – A group of kids try to survive the zombie apocalypse. 12+

  • Raven’s Gate by Anthony Horowitz – After he’s sent to foster care, Matt is haunted by a sinister cult. 12+

  • Max Helsing by Curtis Jobling – A young monster hunter is cursed by an evil warlock. 10+

  • Ghost Works by James Lee – Two short and spooky stories in one book. 8+


Suggestions for fantasy fans:

  • Spirit Animals: Wild Born by Brandon Mull – Four children learn to control their human-animal bonds so they can put a stop to evil forces. 8+

  • Bad Unicorn by Platte F. Clark – A young boy discovers he’s being hunted by a killer unicorn in this hilarious take on fantasy tropes. 10+

  • Eon by Alison Goodman – After Eon is chosen to control the awesome might of a dragon, she struggles to keep her secrets. 12+


Suggestions for action fans:

  • Front Lines by Michael Grant – An alternate history that reimagines what WWII would have been like if girls were allowed to enlist. 12+

  • The Maze Runner – Thomas wakes in a mysterious maze with no memory of how he got there, but knows that if he can’t escape it’ll mean certain death. 11+

  • Boy X by Dan Smith – Ash wakes up on a tropical island and learns that he must journey through the jungle to save his mother from a deadly virus. 11+


NON-FICTION


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Fiction isn’t for everyone. Some readers just don’t connect with made-up characters and imagined scenarios. They want the facts, nothing but the facts, and reading some quality non-fiction is a great way to build up reading confidence.

Here’s three of our favourite picks in non-fiction.


  • Wild Animals of the North by Dieter Braun – This gorgeously illustrated book teaches children about wolves, bears, pumas and more. 5+

  • I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai – Malala’s remarkable autobiography explores her fight for freedom of education. 11+

  • The History Book – A concise look at history from the dawn of humankind to the present day. 11+


AUTHOR ENGAGEMENT


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Sometimes a book can seem like an alien object that appears on the shelf fully-formed. If you can bring kids along to an event such as a signing or a school visit and help them engage with the author or illustrator of a book, that can change a reluctant reader into an enthusiastic one. So get to know your local Australian authors, and reach out to them! Most are more than happy to write back to young fans. Groups like #LoveOZYA are a excellent way to find out who your local authors are. And make sure you regularly check our events page to see our upcoming book launches and author talks.

Signed copies are also a way to entice kids into reading. We frequently have authors stopping by our stores to sign books, so keep an eye out to nab your special copy of books like our Readings Children’s Book Prize winner, Run, Pip, Run by J.C. Jones, which comes with a signed bookplate while stocks last.


If you’re still struggling to find the right fit for your reluctant reader, you’re welcome to drop by any of our shops and ask to speak to one of our kids' book specialists about what you’re looking for. Or you can email us for recommendations at findmeabook@readings.com.au.