Recommend books for a 10 year old girl who doesn't like reading.
September 7, 2016 6:06 AM   Subscribe

What books would you recommend for a 10 year old girl who is not "into" reading?

I live in a different country from my niece, who is 10. She appears to be doing alright in school with the exception of English / Language Arts, and her grandparents (who are her primary guardians, effectively, and whose first language is not English) admit she doesn't read as much as she should, and she says she doesn't like reading. When I visited her last month, we agreed that I would purchase a book for her and send it to her, and then we would talk about over email once a week. She seems pretty keen on this, so I'm seeking advice on which book to select. Her reading ability is probably a bit below where it should be (she's entering Grade 6 in a Canadian public school). She's quite sporty, if that helps, but don't think your recommendations have to be tailored to that. I don't think she has much interest in fantasy books about dragons and what not, but I think everything else is fair game.
posted by modernnomad to Education (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe try graphic novels? The kids at the school I work at go crazy over Raina Telgemeier's books.
posted by modesty.blaise at 6:10 AM on September 7, 2016 [9 favorites]

The Westing Game is a great mystery with a sporty 10 year old as the main character. Part of the fun is trying to unravel the mystery though it requires some US specific knowledge.
posted by travertina at 6:23 AM on September 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

Huh. Just logged in to say the Raina books. My reluctant reader littlest one loves them. Sisters is her fave. Weirdly even though we're not Americans she loves The Care and Keeping of You. It's a pre-puberty "all about your body" kind of a book. But she reads it lots. Loves the drawings of boobs and privates. I take any reading as a reading win. Tonight after years of tussles she went to bed with Mary Poppins. But we had the dark years of graphic novels and refusal to read inbetween. The 13 story treehouse series were also a big hit.

Kindles also broke down some barriers.
Oh, and cash. I've been negotiated in to paying ten bucks if she finishes Mary Poppins. She asked for more but I only offered ten to her big sister for reading A Suitable Boy. (It wasn't enough. She stopped 1/4 of the way through.)
posted by taff at 6:29 AM on September 7, 2016

Lumberjanes is an ongoing comic book series (the first dozen or so issues have been published in larger trade volumes, four of them so far I think?) and it is an absolute delight.

It features a bunch of female characters who are all quite different from each other, they go on exciting camping adventures and deal with monsters and mysteries in sometimes unconventional ways, the art is engaging and charming, and the world building is strong but not Tolkein-level nerdy. It's about that slightly older age group that can be really entrancing to preteen kids but mostly avoids boring romance nonsense.

Amazon says the reading level is grade 5, but it doesn't read in a patronizing way at all. As a sesquipidalian bibliophilic adult I have thoroughly enjoyed reading it and also discussing it with some of my friends' daughters who have loved it.

If she really enjoys it, you could pay for an ongoing subscription at a comic shop close to your niece and then she could come in to the store to pick up the newest edition. It's not cliffhangery though - the stories are mostly episodic, so you can treat the first collected volume (or first few) like a completed thing. Going to the comic shop, though, has some pretty persuasive powers to get someone interested in reading and thinking about stories in an ongoing way.
posted by Mizu at 6:33 AM on September 7, 2016 [9 favorites]

The Amulet series of graphic novels by Kazu Kibuishi is excellent. Features a young female protagonist. Currently up to volume 7, with 8 and 9 to come (story not yet finished). I was hooked within the first few pages of volume one. Excellent story telling, pacing, and character development in a fantasy vein. FYI: starts with a car crash and the death of a father, which sets the stage for the rest of the family's development over the course of the rest of the story.
posted by cubby at 6:49 AM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Phoebe and her unicorn is excellent

Also try audio books. My son isn't much of a reader but he loves audio books..
posted by Ftsqg at 7:14 AM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the suggestions so far. Anything in the non-graphic novel area? I'd like to inculcate the idea that reading regular books can be fun, without any extras like pictures or audio or iPad companion apps etc.
posted by modernnomad at 7:48 AM on September 7, 2016

Audiobooks and graphic novels (comics) build grammar, comprehension fluency and vocabulary which is what she needs most at this age if she's for some reason not keen on traditional chapter books.

I would keep trying the first books in popular series for her age in different genres. I had a kid who loved anything with an animal talking, another who would read anything with vampire hunting. Neither liked scifi in books, although they love sci-fi tv. You'll stumble on a series she goes nuts over at some point. Kindle are great for remote lending and buying of books if she can read e-books, but not all kids like them.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:51 AM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

My daughter was also not very interested in reading and the series that completely changed that for her was Warriors. She has been a big reader ever since. Seeing the reviews for the book, it seems that it created a fair amount of readers out of reluctant readers in this age group. I think finding a series works well too because they are driven to keep going from book to book.

My son was also not interested in reading (both loved being read to and picture books but it was the transition to reading chapter books on their own time). He did not become consumed like my daughter but did enjoy the series The Boxcar Children. This series is a little bit of a lower reading level and the books are shorter. Sometimes I think the length of a book can seem overwhelming to a slower reader, which he was, so that may be another answer. He did not become a big reader until finishing high school though and now he reads all the time (finishing college).
posted by maxg94 at 7:54 AM on September 7, 2016

Thanks for the suggestions so far. Anything in the non-graphic novel area? I'd like to inculcate the idea that reading regular books can be fun, without any extras like pictures or audio or iPad companion apps etc.

Honestly, I think graphic novels are a great place to start and will themselves be a gateway to 'regular books.' I know that some are biased against graphic novels, but graphic novels just as capable of depth, difficulty, and resonance as any novel. In fact, most of them are probably better than some of the popular Young Adult "regular books" - Persepolis is a thousand times better than Twilight.

You really shouldn't worry that she'll only read graphic novels from now on if that's where she starts. It will start a lifelong devotion to stories, and that's what matters.

Edit to add my own suggestions: The Princess Diaries, Uglies, and anything by Rainbow Rowell.
posted by Eyeveex at 7:55 AM on September 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

The books my girl (who is an enthusiastic reader, but picky) found (and continues to find) compulsively readable include the Harry Potter series, the Percy Jackson series, and the Land of Stories series.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:07 AM on September 7, 2016

Absolutely endorsing Lumberjanes, which is funny, sporty, adventurous and will improve her vocabulary.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 8:09 AM on September 7, 2016

You might throw a Nancy Drew book in there to see if she likes them. Those were my gateway books into becoming a voracious reader as a kid.
posted by cecic at 8:12 AM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Humour is an amazing tool. If you can show her that books can make her laugh, she'll be won over.

I usually recommend the Goth Girl series by Chris Riddell (about Ada Goth, only child of Lord Goth, the poet who is mad, bad and dangerous to gnomes), but that might not be a great fit for someone who's sporty and doesn't read already. Give it a look, see what you think.
posted by Hogshead at 8:15 AM on September 7, 2016

I have a learning disability that impacted my ability to learn to read as a child -- and yes, comic books were ultimately the answer. However, I also responded well to books with strong visual language. Roald Dahl was always good (The Witches was a favorite) and Joan Aiken (The Wolves books in particular). I liked reading scary books particularly. Something about the suspense aspect kept me hooked long after I would have given up on another book. If you do want to try out a comic with some literary substance, maybe try Jeff Smith's Bone? I've bought it for a number of children in my life and it has hooked them all, often the parents, too!
posted by palindromeisnotapalindrome at 8:18 AM on September 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm going to second The Westing Game. I think that your niece might really connect with the main character, Turtle. I loved ghost stories at her age, and Mary Downing Hahn's books were perfect. Try Wait Till Helen Comes. I also thought of some Zilpha Keatley Snyder books, maybe The Headless Cupid or The Egypt Game. All of these are a bit suspenseful, so you want to keep reading, and feature girls around her age who feel a little misunderstood, which I think most kids that age can relate to.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:25 AM on September 7, 2016

Honestly, I think graphic novels are a great place to start and will themselves be a gateway to 'regular books.' I know that some are biased against graphic novels, but graphic novels just as capable of depth, difficulty, and resonance as any novel.

Agreed. I think graphic novels are great too. It helps them visualize what's happening in the story, which (I think) is where a lot of kids lose interest at that age. You could start with one graphic novel and then send her something shorter with no pictures, then another graphic novel to keep her interest, and eventually phase them out altogether.

I have a very good friend who hated reading as a kid, and always chose the math and science route; however she loved Christopher Pike and the other popular author at the time (Stein? I can't remember!). It was the suspense that did it, I think.

The key is finding things she's interested in. You'll get great recommendations here :)

Good luck!
posted by onecircleaday at 8:29 AM on September 7, 2016

I agree that you're most likely to find a book she actually likes and will finish if you start with a graphic novel. My kids loved the Raina Telgemeier books, Amulet, Bone, Zita the Spacegirl, and the Maximum Ride manga series.

Reading the Maximum Ride mangas led to them reading the actual Maximum Ride books by James Patterson, which were a huge hit. The first book in that series, The Angel Experiment is written at a 4th grade level, but aimed at kids a bit older than your niece, so it could be a good choice if she wants something that seems cool and not at all babyish. (But it's possible her parents could think it's too mature for her.) The story is an exciting page-turner. You might try getting her hooked with the manga versions first, then get her to read the novels.

Anything else by James Patterson (well, with his name on it; apparently he doesn't actually do all the writing) is going to be pretty entertaining and easy to read. My 10 year old loves his Middle School, I Funny and Treasure Hunters books and recently read one called Jacky Ha-Ha that he enjoyed even though it was about a girl. Those books are all aimed at kids about your niece's age.

My 10 year old has also really enjoyed the I Survived books. They're fiction about actual historical events. They're not too long or difficult to read, and they're exciting.

Everything by Andy Griffiths has been a huge hit with my kids - The 13-Story Treehouse and sequels, What Body Part is That?, Killer Koalas from Outer Space.

My kids also loved the previously-mentioned Warriors books and my son really liked The Lemonade War. (There are several sequels, which he didn't think were quite as good, but they were good enough that he read them all.)
posted by Redstart at 9:08 AM on September 7, 2016

The Ballpark Mysteries is a series of mystery books set at various American stadiums. If she's not into baseball specifically, the same author has a series about kids who play lots of different sports, starting with The Gold Medal Mess. It may be too easy for her -- the recommended age is 6 to 9 -- but I don't think it will be insultingly easy.

Actually, that brings up a question -- how far below sixth grade level is she reading? It might be worth seeing if her grandparents can get her actual reading level from her teachers, since that will have an effect on what books you get for her. The school may even have a concrete letter or number they assign to each child's reading level within a certain system. For example, I've got The Gold Medal Mess in front of me, and it says "F&P Text Level N" on the back. This is often more helpful than age ranges. If you can find out her level in whatever system her school uses, you can then check the reading level of specific books on a site like Perma-Bound. If that's too complicated, even getting a rough grade level from the school would be helpful. (But if you can't get it, don't worry! You'll figure out pretty quickly whether the books you're getting her are the right level for her, and you can adjust as you go along.)

As another suggestion, I've also noticed that sometimes kids who don't like reading can get motivated by encyclopedia-style books on non-fiction topics they like, so you might look for a kid's encyclopedia of sports (or whatever else interests her). This kind of thing has the advantage of being browsable -- if she's intimidated by the idea of reading a whole book back to front, she can just flip through it and get drawn into whichever pages catch her attention.

You might also consider an encyclopedia about a fictional world that she already likes from movies or TV -- say, an encyclopedia of the Star Wars universe. I know you want to inculcate the idea that reading is inherently fun, so you probably aren't enthused about a book that relies on her fondness for a film or TV series (or, for that matter, a line of toys that are in turn based on a movie series!) But I'd say this is a case where the perfect is the enemy of the good. A child whose love of reading is sparked by a movie tie-in may very well end up reading Jane Austen for pleasure; a child who never develops that love won't. Ditto for graphic novels.

Another option is a book that's not a graphic novel per se, but is heavily illustrated. As Redstart suggested, the 13 Story Treehouse is great, silly fun, as is The Diary of A Wimpy Kid.

Along those lines, in addition to your book purchases for her, you might consider a subscription to a kid's magazine like National Geographic Kids. This involves getting something regularly in the mail, which all kids love. Plus, magazines are often heavily illustrated, and therefore less intimidating for non-readers -- but they feel much more grownup than picture books. This would probably be a supplement to your book purchases, rather than a replacement, of course.

Disclaimer: I am a children's author but I am far from an expert on child literacy. Also, I should disclose I share a publisher with The Ballpark Mysteries and The Gold Medal Mess. I don't think that makes me biased but I did want to mention it.
posted by yankeefog at 9:17 AM on September 7, 2016

Faith Erin Hicks is an excellent comic book writer and is Canadian. From her comic strip The Adventures of Superhero Girl to her graphic novels Friends with Boys (about a homeschooled girl's first day in high school), Nothing Can Possible Go Wrong (about cheerleaders and robot club high schoolers teaming together), and her newest The Nameless City.

Growing up, I really loved the Baby-Sitters' Club books. You can go old school and get the text only, or previously mentioned Raina Telgemeier has been turning them into graphic novels, too.

I think from your description, at 10 she might not be ready yet for stuff like the excellent Harper Hall Trilogy by Anne McCaffrey that was her YA branch off of her Dragonriders of Pern series. But in a year or two, I think she might love them.

The Creeps series by Chris Schweizer are great as they are science-y and fun with pudding monsters and killer frogs. I got these for my 8 year old nephew. (The 3rd should be coming out this month, I believe.)

The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo by Drew Weing is coming out next week (available as an on-going webcomic here, too, so you can read along with her, if you'd like)
posted by jillithd at 9:21 AM on September 7, 2016

I heard back from my friend - the author I was thinking of in my previous post is R.L. Stine.
posted by onecircleaday at 9:52 AM on September 7, 2016

Is her grandparents' 1st language also hers? Is she fluent? What about books in that language?
posted by brujita at 10:22 AM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

When You Reach Me
The Calder Game
Regarding the Fountain
Cleopatra's Daughter
The Keepers Trilogy

If there is a movie or TV series that she likes, see if there are companion books or novelizations of them. Think about non fiction books that meet her interests as well. If she is interested in any upcoming movies, most of the YA ones are being adapted from books, so you could read the book before seeing the movie and discuss both.
posted by soelo at 10:25 AM on September 7, 2016

Babymouse, suggested for ages 7+, was the major gateway to better appreciation of graphic novels/comic books here.

A lot of stuff I grew up on does not seem to appeal. Nancy Drew is hopelessly old-fashioned, to the point where even though she thought she'd like them, my daughter was so put off that even the newer editions were not of interest. Enid Blyton is totally out of the question. Tintin and Asterix are acceptable. Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary were also discarded. Rupert and Noddy just squeaked by.

Obviously all kids are different, and all adults have different cherished childhood favourites, but, just a heads-up to be aware that going to the bookstore and crying "OMG! I LOVED this as a kid!" and buying it with the expectation that it will be similarly treasured can result in some crashing disappointment. I was just shattered that I could not sell Teddy Robinson. How could anybody not like Teddy Robinson? And yet. But Dork Diaries was much adored. And now I am stuck waiting twenty years or so for my grandchild to look at my daughter and sniff "Dork Diaries? What are those from, the 1700s?"

If she has any interest in fashion, "The Seventeen Magazine Guide to Fashion and Style" was endlessly consulted with great interest here.
posted by kmennie at 11:15 AM on September 7, 2016

To be honest, I would suggest starting with adult books, not kids' books. I'm not saying you should hand her a copy of Cujo (I read it when I was 10, but then my parents owned a bookstore and weren't monitoring what books I nabbed out of the overstock) but some literary brain-candy like The DaVinci Code would be fine, I think. There are a few scenes of violence in the novel (like the murder described in the beginning, and a couple gun fights) but my somewhat ironical side is thinking that it's nothing worse than she would see described in the news, and secondly, if her English skills are not super proficient, then the language won't have as much of an impact. I don't think there's very many, if any, swear words in the novel either.

In any case, there are plenty of novels that don't have violence and/or swearing that are written for adults, but the subject matter of which is something a kid can understand. If she's not a big reader because kids' books are boring, then being granted the privilege of being chaperoned through grown-up books might twig her interest.

Ooh, I thought of a few others: the Eco-thriller "Science in the Capital" trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. They're set in DC and are about climate change prompting extreme weather patterns and how the government is dealing with it. Not particularly challenging reads, and relevant in terms of today's climate issues.

I also really liked Orson Scott Card's re-telling of Sleeping Beauty, "Enchantment". It's set in current-day America and Russia, there are a few swear words sprinkled in but nothing outrageous.

I'll also recommend Bernard Cornwell's trilogy about King Arthur, starting with "The Winter King". It's obviously a well-known myth, and maybe you could start with T.H. White's "The Sword in the Stone" as a launchpad, but it's a really well-done story told from the point of view of a warrior of Saxon heritage who was adopted by Merlin as a boy.

Anyway, the upshot is to not limit yourself to kids' books when considering what might inspire a 10-year-old to read. You don't have to dump her straight into a swamp of adult themes, but it may very well provide a more interesting exploration for her than books that are aimed at young children.
posted by Autumnheart at 3:35 PM on September 7, 2016

What about a magazine subscription for her? I'm guessing if English isn't her grandparents primary language she may not be surrounded by interesting reading material in English, and the shorter format for magazine articles may be more manageable for her to read on her own. What magazine you choose would heavily depend on her/your/grandparents preferences, but there are some 'less drivelly' preteen/teen girl magazines, and some science/nature geared ones that might be of interest (OWL magazine is a great example, and aimed at 8-13 year olds). She could probably manage some of the simpler 'adult' magazines especially if they are related to a special interest of hers (ie a dog fanciers magazine if shes super into dogs).
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 5:38 PM on September 7, 2016

One more thought, have a look at the high interest/low vocabulary collections that are published. Orca Books has a good collection.
posted by modesty.blaise at 8:00 PM on September 7, 2016

I would start by giving her the movie "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events", along with a copy of the first book in the series. By the time she finishes *all* the Lemony Snicket books, she will be a reader.

There are even some fun websites to enhance the experience.
posted by MexicanYenta at 5:13 AM on September 8, 2016

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