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Finding That Just Right Book


With the declining daylight hours and cooler weather hitting the Mid-Atlantic, it is a lot easier for me to get my kids to sit down with a book in the afternoons and evenings. What hasn't been so easy is finding the books that will suck them in and keep them engaged beyond the obligatory 20- to 30- minute reading time each day.

I've searched library stacks and online education sites for recommendations, which have sometimes worked out well. My daughter, a 5th grader, has found a few that kept her up reading past bedtime, or left her sitting in the car to finish just one more chapter of a book she started at the beginning of a long ride. It's been harder to find that kind of hook for my son, a 3rd grader. Or I should say, it's harder to find books he likes that don't feature Spiderman or Batman or Pokemon. I'm all for kids reading comic books and graphic novels, but would like them to balance out their book list with meatier tomes.

So I was glad to come across the annual Teachers' Choices list from the International Reading Association that offers book ideas for the primary, intermediate, and advanced reading levels. There's a good variety of fiction and nonfiction, picture and chapter books, as well as a diversity of subjects, characters, and eras.

I wish there was a bit more detail about which ages/grade levels are most appropriate for each book, but I realize there is so much variation among students that it is difficult to generalize on such a list.

I know there are other book lists out there, for children, youths, and adults. Feel free to share your favorite sources, as well as tips for finding those books that will send the kids under the covers with a flashlight way past bedtime.

Update: Here are a few additional lists, thanks to suggestions from readers. (You can read their full descriptions in COMMENTS to this item.)

American Library Association list of Young Adult titles

The Center for Teaching and Learning's recommendations for K-8 and high school reading.

International Reading Association's Children's Choices and Young Adults' Choices.


There are two other Choices lists that might help. Children's Choices and Young Adult Choices are books selected by thousands of kids who particpate as judges annually. You can find these lists by using 'Choices' as a search term at www.reading.org.

The American Library Association maintains a large selection of lists and awards for Young Adult titles at ala.org/yalsa. And, of course, the New York Times has a Books section under Arts at nytimes.com that has reviews, lists and all sorts of goodies for all reading levels. Happy Reading!

Nancie Atwell's school, the Center for Teaching and Learning, publishes on its website (http://www.c-t-l.org) lists of hundreds of books that K-8 students there recommend. The lists are compiled from students' answers to the question "What 10 to 12 books do you love so much that you think they might convince a _____-grade girl/boy who’s a lot like you, except that she/he doesn’t read much, that books are great?" Since each student reads an average of 50 books of their own choice each year, their range of recommendations is large, as well as very useful. New books are added at the end of each school year, and those that have ceased to be popular recommendations are dropped.
The lists ("Kids Recommend" link on the home page) are divided by grade and reader gender, as Atwell explains in a detailed and informative introduction, which also explains the importance of individual student choice in reading. Another link ("High School Readers") has lists of books recommended by CTL alumni who are in high school. Anyone interested in how schools can develop skilled readers who love books should also read Nancie Atwell's short, practical book for teachers and parents entitled "The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers" (Scholastic, 2007).

Thank you so much for attaching recommended lists. I've been needing these. We teach just right books but don't always realize, just right also changes. Students who become stronger readers are not always challenged within the red dot or green dot we've stuck them in. Looking forward to learning more from "The Reading Zone" as well.

Could the fact that Young Adult Literacy lists include almost no actual history books have anything to do with our students' monumental ignorance of history?

All the sources mentioned are great, but don't forget to talk to your librarians! School librarians and public librarians are uniquely suited to help match kids with those "just right" books. As a school librarian, matching kids with books that help hook them into reading is one of my favorite parts of my job, and I'm (like every other librarian I know) thrilled to help when asked these types of questions!

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