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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Diving Into YA: Three Ways to Help Tweens Find the Perfect Book

by Monica Fuglei YA Fiction for Every Tween

My children are both required to read every night for about a half hour. My daughter shifts quietly back to her room, book in hand, nose in book, barely looking up to navigate. My son, however, is a different story. He would do anything to avoid reading until last week, when he looked up from a copy of “Magic Treehouse” and said, “These have riddles and remind me of The Riddler from Batman.”

Suddenly, with that investment — that text-to-self connection — he was begging us to stop our day and read with him. If statistics prove true, though, my kids will suffer a falling-off in reading interest during their tween and teen years, and by adulthood there will only be a 50 percent chance that they read any books for pleasure. Because reading for pleasure and overall academic success are correlative, fostering a strong relationship between tweens and books increases the likelihood that they’ll continue to enjoy reading into adulthood — and reap its many benefits. 

3 ways to help tweens find books they’ll love

Teachers and parents have variety of strategies they can use to engage their middle-school-age students or children in reading. Here are three ways to get started.

1. Use book-to-film and adventure connections

Sometimes establishing personal connections to texts are the most important ways to get young adults to buy in to reading. While many lament the book-to-movie transition, movies can be a great way to get reluctant readers to pick up a text. “The Hunger Games,” “Harry Potter,” or the upcoming movie “Divergent” might provide an excellent opportunity to encourage reading.

Outside of film, recommending books that revolve around tweens’ hobbies and interests can be another way to make reading attractive. The book “Peak” by Roland Smith, for example, is excellent for those attracted to adventure, travel, or mountain climbing. Seeing young adult protagonists like themselves engaged in adventures they would like to have can feed a student’s reading engagement.

2. Books with diverse heroes

The vast majority of heroes in young adult fiction are white. Exposing middle school readers more more diverse characters allows all students to see themselves reflected in books. XOJane provides an excellent list of literature with African-American, Asian and multiracial protagonists such as Rainbow Rowell’s “Eleanor and Park” or “Akata Witch” by Nnedi Okorafor. XOJane also points to two sites that work to highlight many kinds of diversity in YA fiction: Disability in Kidlit and Diversity in YA

3. Books for reluctant readers

Common Sense Media provides a list of books for reluctant readers that addresses ages seven to 13 and gives teacher and parents a place to start with children who express their dislike of, or boredom with, reading. The mystery in “Half-Moon Investigations” or the time-traveling adventure of “Infinity Ring: A Mutiny in Time, Book One” help students realize that reading can be fun.

YA resources: Where to find age guidelines, content review and discussion points for young adult fiction

Both educators and parents can have a hard time keeping up with the reading lists of their students or children; in addition to the list above, Common Sense Media is a great all-around reading resource. Suggested age guidelines, along with frank discussions of book content from Common Sense Media editors and user reviews, gives parents and educators a means of understanding the topics a student or child will encounter in a text as well as providing talking points for discussing the book with them. 

Where can tweens find books based on their reading history?

After the struggle to get students one good book or book series to get hooked on, it can be daunting wondering where to go next.  Fear not, though — there are a variety of excellent resources that help students pick a next book. Literature Map, What Should I Read Next?, and Your Next Read all use algorithms based on reader suggestions and experience as well as topical association to help students choose their next reading adventure. 

Using these tools, teachers or parents can harness the excitement for their previous book and translate that into momentum to tackle the next book they might encounter. Additionally, engaging students in websites like Goodreads or Stage of Life can show them that their peers are reading — and allow them to discuss what they are reading and why, which can really help ignite a passion for reading that does not fade over time.


Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

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