Books that a 2nd-grade boy would enjoy reading.
September 17, 2014 11:26 AM   Subscribe

My wonderful partner has a 7-year-old, 2nd-grade son who is having a little trouble keeping up with his peers in the reading department. We're trying to give him some extra attention in that area so that he can catch up, and we'd like to try and foster in him a genuine interest in reading. What books (or comics, or anything) could we give him that he might like, and which would be appropriate for his reading level?

My partner, who I'm going to call Alex, has a 7-year-old son, who I'm going to call Joe. Joe is falling behind a little bit (relative to his peers and his school's standards) with his reading skills. He knows this, and is unhappy and frustrated about it which we think is definitely compounding the problem.

We want to support him in this area so that the problem doesn't grow. Alex feels like (and I agree) that while it's not such a big deal right now, it's important to get on top of it before it becomes a bigger deal and potentially affects Joe's whole education down the line. We also would like to develop in Joe a love of reading, both so that he will be motivated to practice and also because a love of reading is something that would be an asset to him throughout his life.

To that end we've been spending extra time reading to Joe and working with him on reading exercises to help bring him up to the standard that his school would like him to be at, and we're also trying to encourage him to read on his own. We're doing OK on the first part of that, but are finding the last part a little more challenging simply because there just isn't all that much that he can read yet, and so it's hard to find anything for him that he finds engaging. (Both Alex and I love reading ourselves, and we're trying to model that for Joe; however, he still needs some reading material of his own. I feel like I was already reading on my own on a regular basis by age 7, but I can't for the life of me remember what.)

Joe's reading skills aren't terrible for his age, they're just below the standard where they "should" be. (Ideally we'd let him learn at his own pace and catch up when he's ready, which he probably would do, but the screwed-up reality is that if he does badly in 2nd grade reading it could push him toward a track at school that could compound on itself and end up hamstringing his whole education.) He can sound out words and has a growing vocabulary of common "sight words" (i.e. non-phonetic words). He makes occasional mistakes, but not to the extent that it prevents him from understanding the material as a whole. His speed is a bit slower than "the standard" but he generally can read right along without stopping and struggling too much. His reading assignments generally involve words that are mainly one or two syllables long.

Joe likes science stuff, video games, nature documentaries, "fighting" cartoons (e.g. Pokemon, Young Justice, etc), "horror" movies (for a 7-year-old definition of horror), and going on adventures. He's definitely gotten to an age where he wants to be seen as older and more mature than he actually is. He'd probably enjoy comics, if we knew of any good ones that were at his reading level. His house has an iPad which he is sometimes allowed to use, and an e-reader which he would probably be allowed to use too if he wanted. Physical books are fine too, of course.

So, MetaFilter, what can you recommend? I'll try to poke my head in from time to time to answer any questions that you might have, and to help give an idea of which suggestions sound like they might or might not work for him. Thanks a lot for your advice, as always.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The to Writing & Language (41 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Captain Underpants!
posted by procrastination at 11:29 AM on September 17, 2014 [13 favorites]

A magazine subscription to something like National Geographic Kids or Ranger Rick? We were also just informed by a good friend and cartoonist, that there are specific collections of comics that are designed with young readers in mind. A trip to our local comic book shop and we were hooked up with all kinds of possibilities. DC Kids is the series from DC and Marvel Kids from Marvel were two favorites of our resident new reader.
posted by goggie at 11:34 AM on September 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

Has he found The Magic Treehouse series yet? If not, definitely get a bunch of those books -- recommend starting sequentially at first, but after a while the order doesn't matter so much.
posted by third rail at 11:34 AM on September 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah! Capt. Underpants!!!!
and try to take the pressure off of him.

Maybe help him read what is around you--in a very casual way.
Show him that you are reading all the time but in a way that isn't pressure on him. Read signs and instructions out loud while he is with you.
"OK, let's see what this sign tells us about the parking meter..."
"Hey, let's find the XXX laundry soap for your dad..."

and check out public libraries--many have early literacy and storytime computer/video stations that read along with the books. And there might be an 'early reader' area for him to browse by himself.

but please, please, please let him find the fun in reading and the fun in choosing one's own books. Even if it means that he is reading nothing but comic books when he is at home-- that is still reading.
posted by calgirl at 11:38 AM on September 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

The Yeti Files

My 7 year old read this recently and he loved it. It's mostly illustrations but also plenty of reading.
posted by lyssabee at 11:40 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

My recommendation is to help him choose audiobooks that he can listen to while he reads along with the text on the page. The nice thing about that is, it fosters reading independence while still providing him with support, AND you don't need to worry about reading levels being too high--you can just focus on whether the subject matter is interesting and appropriate.

Listening while sight reading helps readers develop their sight/sound skills for letters. I've used this with adults and they've all reported (corroborated by my observations) an improvement in reading speed and accuracy.

There are lots of kids' audiobooks that are read by talented narrators. Ask a children's librarian to recommend some. Some libraries have pre-packaged sets where you sign out the CD and book at the same time. For others, you might need to do it yourself.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:40 AM on September 17, 2014

A visit to the local library and a conversation with the children's book librarian is perfect - he can look through the books and decide which ones he wants.

I remember a teacher recommended a good way to judge the reading level of a book is for the kid to start reading and put up a finger every time he hits a word he doesn't know. If he knows all the words right off, it is an easy read. One or two fingers would be a stretch. Three fingers on a page means that it would be probably be frustrating, not fun and should wait.

Be sure that you are also reading out loud to him. There are lots of great books that he can listen to and really enjoy but not read. The Narnia Chronicles and Superman comic books were both favorite things to listen to at that stage.
posted by metahawk at 11:44 AM on September 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

My step-son (who is 7 as well) was falling behind in reading as well. Part of the problem was that he didn't get why reading is awesome. I started reading "The Hobbit" to him every night, explaining that it was a more grown up book (which made it all the more appealing to him). At first he was weirded out by the lack of pictures, but the story absolutely captivated him. I don't know if it was coincidence or what, but a huge marked improvement in his reading coincides with when I started reading The Hobbit to him. My husband is convinced it is my reading to him, despite the fact that I do all the reading and he just lays in bed. He saw how awesome reading was, the sort of awesome stories he could be reading on his own, and suddenly he had way more motivation to work on it. Within a couple months of my reading to him he actually caught up with his class and was measured to be at an acceptable reading level (instead of below).

We're half way through The Fellowship of the Ring (again, marketed to him as a grown up book, which makes it extra awesome for him). His reading continues to improve massively. Plus, good bonding time for us. Extra super bonus is that he doesn't dread bedtime and goes to bed without much complaint. Oh, and his vocabulary is growing because whenever I say a word he doesn't know he asks me what it means and he remembers!
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:45 AM on September 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

As for specific book recommendations: on his website, children's author Robert Munsch has free downloadable audio of himself reading each of his (wonderful) kids' books. You could burn these to disc or load them onto an mp3 player/iPod for your boy, and either buy or borrow these from the library! My favourites:

The Paper Bag Princess
Jonathan Cleaned Up--Then He Heard a Sound
Angela's Airplane

posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:46 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dude, The Mudpuddle has to be included in Robert Munsch best-of list. That is the best ever. I also love Thomas's Snowsuit and Mortimer.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:48 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Garfield? I can't stand it now, but it is a thing kids tend to find funny, and the gags are simple enough that little reading is required -- but the act of turning pages to get more out of a book is important here and will nudge the reading part along quite well. My 7yo stumbles over a lot of the words in Archie comics but still goes through them. I devoured Archie and ended up a comp lit major; I recommend going fearlessly into "trashy" stuff here. All reading counts as reading. Board games that require a bit of reading but not enough to be frustrating are good at this age, too.

They are a little hard to come by outside of the UK -- I ordered our sets off eBay -- but the Oxford Reading Tree series was/is treasured here, in a way my "Peter and Jane" books never were. They are basic levelled readers but the writing's a lot better than one usually expects with the levelled reader sort of thing.

Levelled-reader-wise there're a lot of terrible paperbacks out now with a level number on them that are based on some sort of licensed character. They are always appallingly written and cheaply illustrated, but the ones I picked up here and there to align with a favourite licensed character were read, which was worth all of the terribleness.
posted by kmennie at 11:48 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Graphic novel series: Lunch Lady by Jarrett J. Krosoczka.

Book series: Stick Dog by Tom Watson.

Seconding the suggestion to take him to the library and let the children's librarian recommend some books for him.
posted by mogget at 11:48 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Comics-wise, how about Jeff Smith of Bone's delightful Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil, in which a homeless kid becomes Captain Marvel and fights a bunch of monsters with his sister and his friend the talking cat? I think that's a pitch most second-graders could get behind.
posted by snarkout at 11:49 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books were huge with my daughter & her classmates at that age as well.
posted by mogget at 11:52 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

ALA's Association for Library Service to Children has a set of graphic novels for children lists and this is the list for the K-2 set (pdf). Of those, I can recommend the Kochalka book and there are a few that are part of series that are sometimes good to draw in reluctant readers.
posted by jessamyn at 11:53 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

DK publishing's big, beautiful encyclopedia-type books are great for indifferent readers; they have very short "captions" of information with each picture, and because they're so beautiful they're compulsively readable. They have them about science, nature, technology ... and also kids' pop culture. Kids can browse the pictures and read a little here and there, rather than committing to READ a whole book. They tend to start reading the captions regardless of their intent. :)

Here's a Lego Ninjago one; Nature encyclopedia; Star Wars Clone Wars character encyclopedia; etc.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:55 AM on September 17, 2014

Walter the Farting Dog.

What 7 year old wouldn't love reading about farts?
posted by zizzle at 12:10 PM on September 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

I had a hard time reading. My mother made a deal with me. I could stay up 30 minutes later than my current bedtime as long as I spent it reading. Not too long later I was under the covers reading the entire night away.

Hopefully this answers the spirit of the question, because honestly, I think you should let the books be driven by the kid. Set up an allowance system and let him buy books. Whatever he likes, and don't bust balls if he doesn't actually read them. I have a house full of unread books. Just enforce the 30 minute rule. He's not reading the light goes out. Don't even make a big deal about it. "Oh, I see you wanted to put the light out at the regular time tonight."

I never got fast with reading, but I have a deep comprehension and a great appreciation for the written word.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:32 PM on September 17, 2014

Also, don't discount your public library children's rooms. Our chlildren's librarians are an amazing resource. I'm always asking them questions on appropriate books or books in this vein for this age, etc, and they come up with some of the best stuff.

It might be worth getting that library card and spending a couple hours on a weekend just chilling in a room full of books.
posted by zizzle at 12:41 PM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Let me join the chorus of folks saying-go ahead and read more advanced books to him too. Building his vocabulary is an important part of reading and that will definitely help.

As to book recommendations, my grandson (that age) loves Captain Underpants. Anything silly captivates them at that age.

Finally, remember that school basically just started. Maybe he didn't read as much over the summer as some of his peers? He'll catch up. Just make sure he sees you and other adults reading too. This will help encourage him.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:04 PM on September 17, 2014

A lot of the books people are suggesting (like Captain Underpants) are too going to be too difficult for a 2nd grader who's a little behind his peers. The Captain Underpants books vary in difficulty, but the easiest ones are 3rd grade level.

I suggest Killer Koalas from Outer Space by Andy Griffiths. It's a collection of silly stories and cartoons. They're all very short and the amount of text per page is pretty small. Some parts may be too difficult, but he should be able to read a lot of it, and you can help him with the hard words. If he wants to be seen as older than he is, he may want nothing to do with books like Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie series (which would probably be good choices as far as reading level), but he'll love this one.
posted by Redstart at 1:19 PM on September 17, 2014

Be wary of many of the people blithely telling you to give him comics. I love comics. Comics are great. But the major superhero comics have been aimed squarely at middle to older adolescents for decades now and will often (if not usually) be well above his reading level, chockablock with content for which he may not be ready, and full of dense dialogue and arcane plot complications that will bore him silly.

I tried to get around this with my little dude by buying a stack of vintage Blue Ribbon Digests and other old school Batman, Superhero, Justice League, etc. adventures. They were aimed at younger kids, had less troubling content, and were easier to read. But they never quite grabbed him like I had hoped. Maybe they were dated. Maybe the simple fact that they looked old made them uncool.

In any case, this thread may yield some terrific age-appropriate comics recommendations. But IRL, when your nostalgic adult co-workers, friends, families, etc. suggest super hero comics, you can generally shrug those off. Not what you're looking for.

NOTE: we did have a fair amount of success with some of the super hero storybooks featuring the Avengers that we could pull up on his Kindle tablet using the Freetime app. That is a pretty sweet deal.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:24 PM on September 17, 2014

If he is behind things like Captain Underpants might be a little advanced. My son is probably at his skill level but frustrates trying to sound out. I think he is below his peers in many areas but he keeping up with reading because there is such a focus on it in the house. We read both chapter books to him at night (Harry Potter, Roald Dahl) , and the little kid books (Dr Suess, Frog and toad). When I read the little kid books I put my finger at each and every word. He recognizes so many words I feel like he has confidence and feels like he can read pretty well.

I have been trying to resist advancing his reading ability and push book enjoyment. Even no reading graphic novels. I really want him to enjoy books so when reading gets even trickier for him he doesn't feel like books are the enemy.

He also really enjoys the things that are encyclopedic (Pokemon encyclopedia, Minecraft encyclopedia, superhero encyclopedia).
posted by beccaj at 1:27 PM on September 17, 2014

Not a reading recommendation as such, but do you have subtitles on TV when he's watching? Every little bit of exposure helps.
posted by Trifling at 1:45 PM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

For science books, I like the Basher series. Short entries, amusing and colorful illustrations, and a good size for kids to hold and read themselves, with you helping on the more complicated words.
posted by mogget at 1:58 PM on September 17, 2014

Be wary of many of the people blithely telling you to give him comics. I love comics. Comics are great. But the major superhero comics have been aimed squarely at middle to older adolescents for decades now and will often (if not usually) be well above his reading level, chockablock with content for which he may not be ready, and full of dense dialogue and arcane plot complications that will bore him silly.

Yes, do avoid major superhero titles. OH OH OH you know what is superhero related but SUPER GREAT though and very amenable to a mix of you reading them aloud and then also him poring over them to himself are the Tiny Titans collections. Highly recommended.
posted by redfoxtail at 1:59 PM on September 17, 2014

He might like the Flat Stanley series.
posted by belladonna at 2:14 PM on September 17, 2014

Graphic Novel series:

Lightning Thief graphic novels

These are all really, really popular with my students.

Other series:
Franny K Stein
Little Bill (these are easier)
"Let's Read and Find Out" Science books - there are a million of them and they are all pretty great, the vocab is very manageable.
posted by mai at 2:15 PM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Not a reading recommendation as such, but do you have subtitles on TV when he's watching? Every little bit of exposure helps."

Yes, this is actually a thing that has been studied that does work!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:23 PM on September 17, 2014

There are a megaton of children books with classic superheroes. An entire I Can Read Series, in fact.

My son routinely selects three or four of these books from our library every two weeks. There are also Transformers ones, etc.
posted by zizzle at 2:27 PM on September 17, 2014

Varjack Paw! I've read these books with two kids who didn't really like reading much. They're a lot of fun to read aloud, and are very well written and plotted. I don't mind reading them as an adult, and the kids I've shared them with have wanted to finish the books off themselves, rather than wait for me to finish reading it to them in small doses.
posted by Grrlscout at 2:52 PM on September 17, 2014

Snoopy. Calvin and Hobbes.
posted by kjs4 at 4:17 PM on September 17, 2014

My favorite book of all time, Harold and the Purple Crayon.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:19 PM on September 17, 2014

Elephant and Piggie books are very fun and some of the first books kids can really read themselves after they get the concept but before they're good at it. It's hard to tell from your description if that would be too easy or if it's just right. Does your school use any kind of reading level assessment? For instance, here's a NYPL reading list at Guided Reading Level E, here's one at Level L (via SPL). Scholastic often lets you sort books based on the level, or look up a book to find out what it's rated. The more you can get books for Joe that are on his just right level, the better he'll find the experience.
posted by Margalo Epps at 4:44 PM on September 17, 2014

He might seem disintersted because books directed at people that age can be facile. It's not so much recognizing words that drives kids away from reading as it is a lack of a plot that generates interest in finding out what the story tells.

"We also would like to develop in Joe a love of reading, both so that he will be motivated to practice and also because a love of reading is something that would be an asset to him throughout his life."

Put books in Joe's room and pretend you don't notice when Joe is using their flashlight or the light coming from the hallway through bedroom door or the nite-lite to read after bedtime. Notice an hour after bedtime.
posted by vapidave at 5:10 PM on September 17, 2014

Andy Griffiths, mentioned above, has a whole bunch of books which are very popular with readers around 7-10. Especially boys. I kind of shudder because it's the kind of humour that doesn't personally appeal (bum and fart jokes etc) but hey if it gets them reading! I, after all, am not the intended audience.

You say Joe likes horror - maybe the RL Stine Goosebumps books? Again, wildly popular.

Finally, many of the Choose Your Own Adventure books were written at a pretty basic level, have pictures and obviously engage the reader by getting them involved in the story. Good incentive to read!
posted by Athanassiel at 8:07 PM on September 17, 2014

If he has internet time, Reading Eggs website was really good for younger kids, so block off other websites, then sign up to Reading Eggspress for a free months trial, then just let him play on the website as much as he wants.

Seconding Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
posted by Elysum at 10:32 PM on September 17, 2014

My kid was reading Bone at that age.

My son taught himself to read by just staring at Bone comics for a year. No one taught him. He was unschooled and resisted all attempts to teach him. But at five years old, he could just suddenly read.

My daughter on the other developed a deep love of story by listening to audio books from a very young age. She found primary school reading texts abhorrent insults to the craft of narrative and tried settling down with Harry Potter and Limony Snicket. But the chapter books were too much so she languished in limbo for years without really knowing how to read. All the while she was acquiring a deep knowledge of literature.

At about age 10 she suddenly started reading, again all on her own. The only help we ever offered our kids was to answer their questions. When they asked "How do you say this word?" we would tell them instead of making them sound it out. We found that it was better not to interrupt their flow with a "teachable moment." It was sometimes hard not to worry, but we were always confident that they would learn how to read.

Both kids are doing great in school and read with no trouble at all.

It's hard when schools are pressuring kids to develop reading skills all at the same time Kids are ready to learn how to read at different ages. And learning how to read is much easier when you are intrinsically motivated, passionate and not riddled with anxiety. The best thing you can do for him - I say speaking from experience - is keep just reading to him, with him and sitting next to him. If you have books in your house, and you all read, he will probably learn how to as well. But try to get everyone relaxed about it so he can see that reading is fun and not a big deal.

And really, there are some great suggestions in this thread...enjoy them!
posted by salishsea at 1:39 AM on September 18, 2014

I second The Diary of Wimpy Kid series. That series got our son really into independent reading over this summer. He went from reading few pages very slowly reading a whole book over two nights.
posted by zeikka at 4:31 AM on September 18, 2014

Beverly Cleary books, specifically Beezus and Ramona and The Mouse and the Motorcycle, were great favorites at that age.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:04 PM on September 18, 2014

Response by poster: I just wanted to come back in and say that your recommendations were wonderful, and thanks in part to your help Joe has pulled his grades up from Ds and Fs (he was struggling in some other subjects too) to straight As. By the end of last semester he was As and Bs in everything, and he's rocking As across the board now. He often reads to his mom or me at bedtime rather than the other way around, and his confidence and self-esteem at school are just way, way up.

Oh, and he loved The Hobbit. We finished it about a month ago!
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:36 PM on January 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

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