My mother teaches English as a Second Language to sixth, seventh, and eighth graders at a public middle school. Although for the most part these kids are intelligent and have been successful in school in the past, most are learning English for the first time after moving to the USA from every continent. She has had students from China, Korea, Europe, Russia, Mexico, and even rural Africa. A few are a bit more advanced, having taken English classes in their native country. But they are all in her class because they cannot read English at a middle school level.
Since reading more helps one become a better reader, it’s important that they have reading material available to them, not just for academic subjects but for fun. However, being in the public school system, my mom is limited by the school library, which is, in her words, “pathetic.” Beyond other issues, it only has books at a middle school reading level. She’s been given the chance to spend some money (certainly not enough) on lower reading level books to support her students, but she needs some help finding the perfect books to spend the money on.
She’s hoping to find some books that will help her students feel confident about their reading, even though it’s below their peers’ level. The books will give them the experience they need to gain vocabulary and reading competence. The books need to be no higher than a third-grade reading level, but the subject matter must be appropriate for a middle school student: interesting, entertaining, and certainly not something with a babyish-cover that would embarrass them in the middle of an ever-judgmental middle school crowd.
I have not read most of these books, since my son is below the early reader age and early chapter book age. In addition to those below (which are mostly early chapter books), early readers that do not say “I can read!” and First steps to reading!” on them might be useful for the lowest level kids. Any suggestions that you may have, or comments on these books that you have read, would be appreciated!
I found the interest levels and reading levels (which refer to grade levels) from the Scholastic Teacher Book Wizard tool, a nice resource for discovering books before you buy them. Many of the books I’ve listed say “interest level grades 3 to 5;” I’d be interested to know whether they might also appeal to grades 6 to 8. Please comment if you know!
My Mom’s Ideas
These are books that she is a little bit familiar with. She’d like to consider them for the middle school library.
Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne (#1: Dinosaurs Before Dark). Interest level: 3-5; RL: 2.2; books between 100-130 pages. Children travel into history. My mother already uses some of these books to tie into the history units. It sounds like the students, even in middle school, don’t mind reading these and still enjoy them.
Zack Files series by Dan Greenberg (#1: My Great-Grandpa’s in the Litter Box). Interest level: 3-5; RL: 3.1-3.5; books 64 pages. A normal boy (about 10 years old) has a knack for getting in weird situations.
Cam Jansen series by David Adler (#1: Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Stolen Diamonds). Interest level: 3-5; RL: 3.5; books 64 pages. Mysteries solved by genius girl with a photographic memory. (According to Scholastic, some of these books are reading level 2.0 but it also mentioned those as interest level K-2. One may need to be careful not to get the “younger kid” ones.)
More Ideas from Me
The Arrival by Shaun Tan. Interest level: 5-12. RL: n/a. A wordless illustrated book about the immigrant experience, this is one the middle school library certainly should have. Because it is wordless, it is great for the non-readers or low English competency students. But the story is a universal one, and one my mother’s newly arrived immigrants will surely relate to. They can practice their English by explaining the story in their own words, or writing their own story, or… the possibilities are endless! When I first read it, I shared my thoughts on this site, and I liked it but didn’t think it would do much to encourage literacy. I obviously disagree at this point. I think of it years after I read it. I definitely need to reread it myself.
Jake Maddox Sports books by Jake Maddox (Sample book: Quarterback Sneak). Interest level: 3-7; RL: 3.2; books 72 pages. Each focuses on a different sports star: football, soccer, basketball, etc. Appeals to the elementary reader and the middle school reader, and from my glimpse of the books, they look like something kids wouldn’t mind carrying around in middle school. They look “cool.”
The Magic School Bus Science chapter books by Eva Moore (#1: The Truth about Bats). Interest level: 3-5; RL: 3.5; books about 100 pages. During each science adventure, the class learns about some part of science (bats, dinosaurs, etc.). Bonus points for fitting in to science curriculum. The illustrations of the students and teacher make this seem like a younger kid’s book, but like the Magic Tree house, it may be okay.
My America series by Patricia Hermes (Sample book: Our Strange New Land: Elizabeth’s Jamestown Diary). Interest level: 3-5; RL: 3.1-4.1, depending on the book; 112 pages. The My America books tell the realistic stories of children (ages 9 or 10) in the USA at various times in history, from Jamestown to the Great Depression. Again, bonus points for relating to the curriculum. This is similar to the Dear America series, which is intended for middle school, but the latter series has a 5 or 6 Reading Level.
Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner (#1: The Boxcar Children). Interest level: 3-5, RL 3.2; 150 pages). Four orphaned children live in an abandoned boxcar before being adopted by their grandfather. Series follows their adventures and the mysteries they encounter.
Babymouse (#1: Queen of the World) by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. Graphic novel. Interest: middle school; RL: 2 or 3. A middle-school aged mouse wants to fit in. I am not sure of the school’s perspective on graphic novels. Given the overall lack of proper reading material in the library, they may veto the concept of graphic novels in general.
Books that May Be Too Young
The following books look like interesting early chapter books, but they just may be too juvenile for a middle school student, for one reason or another.
Marvin Redpost (#1: Kidnapped at Birth) series by Louis Sachar. Interest level: 3-5; RL: 1.8; 80 pages. Nine-year-old Marvin is often in a humorous quest to prove himself. Sounds a little juvenile, but Sachar, in my past experience, is also funny! It may be enjoyable for middle school students.
Geronimo Stilton series (#1: Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye). Interest level: ages 9-12 or grades 3-5; RL: 2.3-2.7; books 128 pages. A mouse tells stories to his nephew Benjamin. My mom said talking animals stories are usually not winners with her students (they consider them too juvenile), although Amazon reviewers said they really liked these, even as adults.
Martin Bridge series by Jessica Scott Kerrin (Sample book: Martin Bridge on the Lookout!) Interest level: 3-5; RL: 3.2; books 128-144 pages. Real situations a child (8-year-old) can relate to. Protagonist may be too young for the students to want to read about.
Ideas from You
Now it’s your turn. Please share your suggestions! I’ll add any you have to this post.
- Sweet Valley Twins/Sweet Valley High. Suggested by Jason.
- Nancy Drew. Suggested by Jason.
- Hardy Boys. Suggested by Jason.
- The Chronicles of Narnia. Suggested by Jason.
- Capitain Underpants series. Suggested by Sara.
- Encylopedia Brown. Suggested by Sara.
- The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. Suggested by Sara.
- Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. Suggested by Sara.
- Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary. Suggested by Sara.
- Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. Suggested by Sara.
- Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Suggested by Sara.
- Out of the Dust (a novel in poem form) by Karen Hesse. Suggested by Sara.
- Holes by Louis Sachar. Suggested by Sara.
- Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. Suggested by Sara.
- When You Reach Me by Melissa Stead. Suggested by Sara.
- The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron. Suggested by Sara.
- The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. Suggested by Sara.
- Gary Paulsen’s books. Suggested by Sara.
- Love That Dog/Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech. Suggested by Erin.
- Alexander McCall Smith’s Akimbo series. Suggested by Erin.
- Roddy Doyle’s The Giggler Treatment. Suggested by Kristen Knox.
- Mr. Putter and Tabby books by Cynthia Rylant. Suggested by Kristen Knox.
- Big Nate books by Lincoln Pierce. Suggested by Kristen Knox.
- Scott Corbett’s books (#1: The Lemonade Trick). Suggested by Kristen Knox.
- Cornelia Funke’s Ghosthunters series. Suggested by Kristen Knox.
- Jon Scieszka’s Time Warp Trip. Suggested by Kristen Knox.
- All-of-a-Kind-Family series by Sidney Taylor. Suggested by Kristen Knox.
- The Cabin Faced West by Jean Fritz. Suggested by Jason.
- The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds. Suggested by Jason.
- Five Little Peppers and How they Grew by Margaret Sidney. Suggested by Jason.
- Junie B Jones. Suggested by Chrisbookarama.
- Betsy-Tacy. Suggested by Chrisbookarama.
- Amelia Bedelia. Suggested by Chrisbookarama.
- Geronimo Stilton. Suggested by Chrisbookarama.
- Judy Moody. Suggested by Chrisbookarama.
- Clementine. Suggested by Chrisbookarama.
- Ramona & Beezus. Suggested by Chrisbookarama.
- Bone series (graphic novels). Suggested by Chrisbookarama.
- Dear Dumb Diary. Suggested by Chrisbookarama.
- Frank K Stein (by Benton). Suggested by Chrisbookarama.
- Just Grace & Still Just Grace. Suggested by Chrisbookarama.
Are any of these books you could suggest to a 11- to 14-year-old? Something they can read in a school setting without feeling “embarrassed” that it’s a baby book? Which books have I missed that your kids liked? I especially want to hear if your kid is an older reader of early chapter books.