Hybrid novels–part text, part graphics–have convinced many reluctant readers that library shelves hold books that speak to them. But when these children and teens are ready to take a leap into titles with a bit more text,where do we–and they–go?
The books listed here will provide guidance. They feature clear narratives that quickly draw readers into the action and are supported by snappy dialogue that helps move the stories along. Add to that appealing protagonists, attractive covers, and layouts that feature generous print size and plenty of white space, and bingo, you have something to hand to the hard-to-please. A few series titles and sequels are included to keep them reading once they’re hooked.
Tony Abbott draws on figures from Greek and Norse mythology in the action-packed Underworlds #1: The Battle Begins (101 pp.). When fourth grader Owen Brown’s best friend, Dana, disappears in a puff of smoke, the boy sets out to rescue her, and finds himself in a battle with the immortal gods. Readers not yet ready for Rick Riordan’s books will gravitate to this series, which continues in volumes two and three as the characters take on the Egyptian and Babylonian pantheons (all Scholastic, 2012; Gr 3-6).
Tad is starting a blog, and he has a lot to say–especially about navigating seventh grade. Unfortunately, things have a tendency to go terribly wrong for the 12-year-old in Tim Carvell’s Planet Tad (HarperCollins, 2012: Gr. 5-8; 239 pp.)–his secret admirer was a case of notes put in the wrong locker and his summer job as a human hot dog turns out to be short-lived when dehydration set in. Humor permeates this laugh-out-loud episodic story illustrated by amusing artwork and emoticons. Introduce this book to the Internet inclined with a trailer.
It wasn’t until Lindsey and Bree played Bloody Mary with an antique mirror that their wish actually came true–with horrifying results–in Annette Cascone and Gina Cascone’s The Witching Game (Starscape, 2012; Gr. 4-7; 182 pp.). The story crackles with tension created by short chapters with cliffhanger endings and a fast-moving plot. (The generous print size is a plus.) Send fans to the other titles in the “Deadtime Stories” series.
In Cecil Castellucci’s First Day On Earth (Scholastic, 2011: Gr. 7-8; 150 pp.) troubled loner Mal is convinced that he was abducted by aliens. At a support group for people who believe they have encountered extraterrestrials, he meets Hooper. Hooper claims to be an alien and asks Mal to drive him into the desert where he will be rescued by a spacecraft. Spare prose lays bare Mal’s feelings of isolation in this moving, and ultimately hopeful, first-person story. The intriguing plot line, accessible language, and short chapters will draw readers in.
In Tom Greenwald’s Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit (Roaring Brook, 2012: Gr. 4-7; 264 pp.), the book-adverse middle schooler has to earn extra credit if he is to avoid a reading camp. So, what does he do? He auditions for the school play and models for his art teacher. However, nothing is ever simple for this boy who always seems to take the most difficult route. In guidebook format, he shares the disasters and occasional triumphs of his challenge. Short chapters punctuated by tips from Charlie Joe make this an entertaining title. J.P. Coovert’s black-and-white spot art completes the package in this sequel to Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading (2011).
Sports and international espionage combine to create a thriller with non-stop action and suspense. When Jake accompanies his soccer coach dad on a trip to Russia and people begin to die under suspicious circumstances, the boy begins to wonder whose side his father is on. The use of some soccer terminology won’t deter the less sporty from being swept along with Jake’s adventures in Nick Hale’s Sudden Death (Egmont, 2012: Gr. 5-8; 231 pp.), the first title in the “Striker” series.
Best friends Lydia and Julie go on a cross-country trip with Julie’s dads to visit family members and see the sights in The Rocky Road Trip of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang. (Amulet, 2012: Gr. 3-6; 204 pp.). The complexities of family relationships challenge these smart, funny, unexpectedly wise middle school students, who share their observations with readers in a journal illustrated with appealing full-color art. Rocky Road is the fourth title in Amy Ignatow’s “The Popularity Papers” series.
Fifth-grader Cally’s mother died a year ago, but she has begun to see the woman and a gray dog everywhere in A Dog Called Homeless (HarperCollins, 2012; Gr. 3-6; 198 pp.). To her distress, the girl is unable to convince her father that her mother’s ghost is real. When he and her brother refuse to confront their own grief or hers, Cally stops talking. Through her friendship with Sam, who is blind and deaf, the girl comes to some closure about her loss. Short chapters and an accessible first-person narration make this debut novel by Sarah Lean an enticing selection. An excerpt is available online.
Zander, a student at the Da Vinci School for gifted students and a member of the Cruisers, narrates the story of his friend LaShonda who lives with her autistic brother in a group home. The girl is faced with a painful dilemma: if she accepts the scholarship she’s been offered for costume design, she’ll have to live apart from her sibling. Walter Dean Myers’s conversational writing style, his cast of likeable characters, and his protagonist’s quandary, will attract readers to A Star Is Born (Scholastic, 2012; Gr. 5-8; 160 pp.), the third title in Myers’s “Cruisers” series.
In James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts’s Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (2011), school and family problems get the better of Rafe Khatchadorian. Now in a new environment in Middle School: Get Me Out Of Here (Little, Brown, 2012; Gr. 4-7; 288 pp.), Rafe is committed to turning things around. Humorous cartoon drawings by Linda Park, strong characterizations, and a colloquial style combine to create a hard-to-resist story about a determined boy, who sets out to “get a life.” Patterson and Rafe introduce his story in a YouTube video.
May, an eleven-year-old living on the Nebraska prairie in the 1800s, is sent out as hired labor to help save her family from financial disaster. But when the homesick employer leaves for Ohio, and the woman’s husband follows her, the girl finds herself alone confronted with dwindling food supplies, voracious predators, and a blizzard. Caroline Starr Rose’s masterful, poetic novel, May B (Random, 2012; Gr. 3-6; 240 pp.), will immediately launch readers into the center of its suspenseful narrative.
After Esme’s boyfriend Kevin disappears following the death of his parents in an airplane crash, she and Kevin’s friend Luca go to Panama to search for him in Jeff Ross’s Dawn Patrol (Orca, 2012: Gr. 5-8; 146 pp.). When Luca is nearly killed while surfing, the two realize that the situation is more complicated—and dangerous—than they realized. Non-stop action and a minimum of description make for a compelling read.
For nonfiction titles for reluctant readers, see Paula Willey’s Amazing But True Tales | Nonfiction for Reluctant Readers. For a list of hybrid novels, see Sue Giffard’s “Middle-Grade Tell Alls: Wimpy Kid Read-alikes.”
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