Please, no more Berenstain Bears.
November 18, 2010 8:22 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend short books (15-35 min from start to finish) for middle schoolers who read at the 3rd through 5th grade level.

The kids I tutor get rewards for taking book quizzes, so they only ever want to read books that they can finish in under an hour. Their reading skills are lagging far behind what they should be – that means they read a lot of Arthur and similar books that are typically intended for 5-6 year-old children.

Since they read two different books every week (one book every weekday during the summer!), the community center is running out of new material – we'll go through the bins almost every session, and the kids will just complain that they have read every single short book at their respective skill level.

Can you recommend some newer books for them? Bonus points if they are written for older children with poor reading skills (i.e. so-called hi-lo books), but most importantly, they need to be short.

All topics are okay, but the kids I tutor tend to avoid blatantly educational books, science, and history, unless it's about their particular ethnic group. Poetry seems to be universally disliked. Everyone involved prefers books that are funny. Thanks!
posted by halogen to Education (10 answers total)
Best answer: Captain Underpants.

BTW, this would be a great question to ask your local children's-department librarians.
posted by scratch at 8:25 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think series books are fabulous for relunctant readers.
Funny books that are closer to Berenstein Bear's reading level:
The Adventures of Bailey School Kids
Amelia Bedelia

Also the Magic Treehouse series is a solid one. However, it might be too "teachy" for jaded middle schoolers :)

Wayside School
and the newer My Weird School are funny series as well. I'm not sure if they might be a bit advanced (more like grades 4/5).
posted by Librarygeek at 8:45 PM on November 18, 2010

Best answer: Magic Treehouse series
Time Warp Trio series (this and the one above may be too "historical")
Marvin Redpost series (these are hilarious)
Henry and Mudge series
Frog and Toad series
Sarah Plain and Tall
Freckle Juice
The Stinky Cheese Man
posted by easy, lucky, free at 9:36 PM on November 18, 2010

Best answer: Comics/graphic novels for the younger set are being published like crazy lately. I find that they're great for reluctant readers. Having great art to accompany the text makes it feel less intimidating and more entertaining, but kids still have to do a ton of decoding and many are quite sophisticated.

Here are some that are super-popular at my library and and really seem to work for kids. They are quick reads, but fun enough that the kids in question might not even mind if they take a bit longer than an hour.

James Kochalka's Johnny Boo books are weird and wonderful, with some of the grossness of Captain Underpants but a lot more surreal. I bought all 4 for the collection and they're never on the shelf, always checked out.

The Twisted Journeys series (basically the classic Choose Your Own Adventure in comic book form). Also never checked in.

The Amelia Rules! series. Hilarious, great for both guys and girls, never checked in.

The Legend of Zelda manga-style series. Might not work b/c of the backward layout, but very, very popular. If you have Pokemon fans, check out that manga series also. Not high quality literature, but kids like it.

For many, many other great suggestions and reviews, check out the Good Comics for Kids blog at School Library Journal.
posted by Knicke at 9:44 PM on November 18, 2010

Since they read two different books every week (one book every weekday during the summer!), the community center is running out of new material – we'll go through the bins almost every session, and the kids will just complain that they have read every single short book at their respective skill level.

It seems to me that it would make sense to let kids "check out" fairly short chapter books (so, like the Superfudge books, or, say, Animorphs, which I'd highly recommend. There are a bagillion of them, and they're dark and action-packed) repeatedly over the course of the week. It's ok if they can't finish them in one sitting--just have plenty of book marks on hand.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:20 PM on November 18, 2010

Best answer: Stink - series about some girl's brother but his stories are good.

Horrible Harry.
posted by tilde at 4:57 AM on November 19, 2010

Best answer: Books that get less circulation, I think, because they come from a small publisher:

14 Cows for America

Cascade Mountain Railroad Series

Christmas in the Trenches - I know you said they avoid history, but this is awesome and comes with a CD.

Little Rabbit Series
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:34 AM on November 19, 2010

Best answer: Encyclopedia Brown. For those who are unfamiliar, the books are broken up into several bite sized mysteries and the answers are given in the back of the book. The individual mysteries stand alone well so it would be very easy to read three or four instead of the whole book.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:46 AM on November 19, 2010

Best answer: Can you help develop a new part to the program which will give quizzes on CHAPTERS of books, rather than whole books? I think once the kids have gotten to the point that they've read all the short books, the logical progression is to move on to longer chapter books. It's actually a reading skill - concentrating on the material long enough to remember it from one chapter to the next, and predicting what might the characters might do next.

And just so I am not one of those people who doesn't really answer your question, but gives you a new perspective on the question itself, I offer this short book series: Junie B. Jones.
posted by CathyG at 8:31 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Great suggestions so far!

PhoBWanKenobi, the center has plenty of shorter and longer chapter books available, and checking books out is not a problem. The kids, however, reveive points toward college tuition fees and get to pick a prize (usually a toy) every time they finish a book, so they have no incentive to choose books that take longer than one session to finish.

The quiz system won't be changing in the near future, since the center shelled out what is to them a huge amount of money for the Accelerated Reader software.
posted by halogen at 11:08 AM on November 19, 2010

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