More Books for Reluctant Readers: Teens

When young readers are ready to graduate from the children's area, it is so great for them to have the sophistication of their own area in the Younger and Older Teens area.

Here are some suggestions from these areas:

Younger Teens

I have shown many, many teens or pre-teens who are not enthusiastic about finding a book The Janie series by Caroline Cooney.  A high school girl is drinking a carton of milk in the school cafeteria.  She has a milk allergy but she is thirsty; it's the perfect choice to go with her cookies.  She sees a picture of a missing girl on a milk carton, and it triggers a sense of herself as a child.  She has always thought it odd that her parents have no pictures of her before she was five years old.  Could she be a stolen child?  Thus begins a four-part series also including  The Face on the Milk Carton, Whatever Happened to Janie,  The Voice on the Radio, and What Janie Found.   Readers almost never turn this one down. The very prolific Caroline Cooney can always be counted on to thrill.

Another perfect book for teens not eager to read is Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan.  A group of high school students really hate their high school teacher whom they believe to be mean and unfair. They hatch a plot to kidnap him and frighten him with a death threat.  The plot backfires when their plans go way too far.  It was fun to slip this to an unhappy student who had been dragged into the library by his grandmother who wanted him to select one of the great classics.  I don't know if he enjoyed the classic, but this one put a smile on his face.  One wonders how this most realistic portrayal of teacher revenge has survived attempts to ban it.  But if adult lovers of murder mysteries can have their vicarious thrills, why not teens?  Duncan has written a number of books that are dark and scary good.

Alex Rider by Anthony Horowitz is a thrilling spy series for the young adult group.  Alex is a fourteen year-old recruited by the British secret service after learning of the assassination of his uncle.  I learned of the excitement about this character from a boy whose eyes were practically bulging as he proclaimed that is so-o-o exciting. These books are frequently missing from the shelves and need re-ordering.  We also take that as a sign that they are popular.  There are nine books in this series, four graphic novels, a movie based on the first book in the series, Stormbreaker, and a video game.

As one mom said, "You just can't get enough princess books".  So try the the Princess Diaries books by Meg Cabot:  Princess in Pink, Princess in WaitingPrincess in Love.  It's fortunate that there are so many, because certain girls swallow them whole.  The same group may also love The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares.  Four girls all want the same perfect pair of jeans from a thrift shop.  Magically, the jeans adapt to each girl's very different figure. They decide to share them and the jeans follow them on many a journey, both in the geographical sense and in life experience.  

Older Teens

The librarian at the Orangewood Children's Home has told us that her kids can't get enough of the Chicken Soup for the Teen Soul series, and all the Chicken Soup books. They are a safe choice for approaching a big book as each inspirational story is only a few pages long.

She also recommended the page-turning Gone series by Michael Grant.  Every person over the age of fifteen disappears from the California town of Perdido Beach (does that suggest the word perdition?).  These books -- with short, catchy tiles such as Gone, Hunger, Lies, Plague, Fear, and Light -- feature disappearing adults, and what could be more inviting in the science fiction genre?

Two more intriguing books in the genre of futuristic thinking are Life as we Knew It by Susan Pfeffer and Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin.  Life As We Knew It begins with a giant meteor descending toward the moon.  Folks sit out in their lawn chairs ready to observe the predicted fun from a little bump.  But when the moon is knocked out of the sky, things are never to be the same. The drama continues in this Last Survivors series with The Dead and The Gone.  Elsewhere is an imaginative tale of an afterlife for Lizzie Marie Hall who died after a bicycle accident and finds herself on long journey by boat to Elsewhere, a land where the dead live in limbo while waiting for rebirth after growing one year younger each year. The old are thrilled to be reclaiming their youth, and Liz is just angry at never having experienced her first prom or first kiss. Elsewhere is spiritual contemplation and philosophy for teens at its best.

When it's time for a teen who is put off by long, wordy books to read a classic, start them with One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by the venerable Alekandr Solzhenitsyn.  This book tells the story of one prisoner's day in a prison camp in Siberia.  Simple and profound, this book will give them a glimpse into a history of the oppressed and a reason never to complain again about unreasonable parents, embarrassing cars, or too much homework. Manly young men or gutsy girls might like the sad, clean writing of Steinbeck's Red Pony, Of Mice and Men, or The Pearl.

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