“Why doesn’t my teen like to read?” And what you can do about it.

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Eric Peterson

In nine years at Aspen, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this question from parents at conferences. So many of you come in and wonder why their kid doesn’t like to read, especially when you love to read! I was lucky enough to attend the Writing and Reading Project  winter workshop last month at Columbia University (thanks, Annual Fund!). Along with some of the most prominent educational minds in the country, we discussed  strategies to create high engagement for reading among middle and high school students.

Many of us in education notice what parents notice. When students get to middle school they stop reading. The conference reiterated what I had long suspected: teens need pick books that they enjoy in order to foster a love of reading. This choice allows teens to choose a genre that they like. Really, really like and are passionate about. Whether it’s historical fiction, dystopian, or graphic novels (yes, they are books and yes, your child should be reading them), let them pick. You, however, aren’t a librarian and don’t have time to pick out books for your children, so what can you do?  Well, you are in luck. Here are a number of resources to find books your kids will love:

Lexile.com- A lexile is one measure that teachers use to evaluate a student’s reading level. Visit the site with your teen, and since you probably don’t know your kid’s lexile, enter their grade level, their ability with grade level texts and interests, and voila -- Lexile will suggest dozens of books for your teen. I like this site because it’s non-commercial, so it’s not just giving book suggestions that have been sponsored.

Goodreads.com- A great way to find reviews by people who love books. I suggest creating a  “bookshelf”  with your kid so that they can remember what they read before, what they are currently reading, and, most importantly, books they want to read next.

Scholastic.com -An old standby, you can also search by lexile, age and interest. The drawback to this site is that it is limited in its scope, so if you have an older teen or advanced reader, it might not have books that are challenging for them to read.

So what are some good genres and books for teens? Here are some places to start and some suggested titles.

Dystopian: I would start here, especially for boys. Dystopia is the opposite of utopia; It’s like our world, but something has gone terribly wrong. Popular examples are The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner, and teens eat this up. Why? Because in their minds they are living in dystopian society; parents and teachers are “Big Brother” and they are trying to break free. Suggested titles: The Uglies (easier), Scythe series (more difficult), Red Rising (most difficult).

War Stories/ Historical Fiction/ Historical romance novels: Teens tend to be very interested in World War II, especially The Holocaust. There are some excellent fiction titles out there about this period in world history. Recommended reading: Bud Not Buddy (easier), Ruth Ruta Sepetys novels (more difficult), All the Light We Cannot See (Most difficult).

Graphic Novels: These really help create high interest, especially for reluctant readers. Amulet (easier), Olympians (more difficult), Anya’s Ghost (most difficult)

Some other suggestions:

Fantasy: Fablehaven (easier), Rain Wild Chronicles (more difficult), Lightbringer (most difficult).

Sports: Kwame Alexander novels (easier), Mike Lupica novels (more difficult), Michael Lewis novels (most difficult)

Strong Girls: Laurie Halse Anderson novels (easier), Renee Watson novels (more difficult), Rainbow Rowell novels (most difficult).

Action/ Adventure: Roald Dahl novels (easier), Tomorrow, When the War Began (more difficult), John Krakauer novels (most difficult).

While I haven’t read all of the books on the list, I am familiar with most of them and I am happy to help if you need a suggestion beyond these. Remember, regardless of what tomorrow’s jobs are, reading is not going away. The more we can encourage our middle school students to sharpen that skill, the more they will be prepared for life in the 21st century.



About the Author

Eric Peterson, 8th Grade Instructor, Language Arts, Student Leadership & Entrepreneurship Coach

Eric has been a part of Aspen Academy since 2011 and has taught both drama and middle school language arts. He has also served as our Advancement Manager. Eric holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and Theater from Juniata College as well as a Masters of Fine Arts Degree from the University of Texas. He helped to create the Shark Tank Program for our 8th graders and was instrumental in developing the Bears Student Enterprises Media Cohort.