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Encouraging reading & writing

12 Great Books for Reluctant Readers in Grades 3–5

By Ginny Osewalt

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One of the greatest gifts you can give your grade-schooler is a love of reading. But how can you encourage a reluctant reader to pick up a book? These page-turners might be just what the doctor ordered.

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The Adventures of Captain Underpants
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“The Adventures of Captain Underpants,” by Dav Pilkey

George and Harold are two prank-loving kids. They’ve created a superhero comic character who flies around in his underwear and a cape, and now they’re going to bring him to life. The Adventures of Captain Underpants is the first book in the mega-bestselling Captain Underpants series. Filled with zany humor and—yes—some potty talk, each book has short chapters with hilarious pictures on every page. You’re not likely to find a more engaging set of books for reluctant young readers.

Dinosaurs Before Dark
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“Dinosaurs Before Dark: The Magic Treehouse Series,” by Mary Pope Osborne

Jack and Annie have discovered a magical treehouse filled with books that transport them through time and space. In Dinosaurs Before Dark, the first book in Magic Treehouse series, Jack and Annie magically travel back to the age of dinosaurs—but they need to find a way to get home. The books in the Magic Treehouse series contain a mix of facts and fantasy. Great story lines, large print and short chapters make these books a smart choice for the reluctant reader.

"Clementine," by Sara Pennypacker
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“Clementine,” by Sara Pennypacker

“I have had not so good of a week.” That’s how third grader Clementine begins her story. In this first book of the Clementine series, the main character finds her friend Margaret crying in the school bathroom because she got glue stuck in her long brown hair. Clementine offers to help Margaret cut her hair and ends up getting blamed for everything. Many kids can relate to Clementine, who tends to act impulsively and often feels misunderstood.

Laugh Out Loud Jokes for Kids
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“Laugh Out Loud Jokes for Kids,” by Rob Elliott

Q. How do you make a hot dog stand? A. Take away its chair. Reading jokes can help kids think about wordplay. And telling jokes is a great way for kids to connect with others. Laugh Out Loud Jokes for Kids contains lots of clean, age-appropriate humor. With only four or five jokes per page, the reading demands are low, but the payoff is high. Laugh Out Loud Jokes for Kids is great to take along for car rides or for lunchtime chuckles.

Here’s Hank-Bookmarks are People, Too!
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“Here’s Hank: Bookmarks Are People Too!” by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

Hank’s class is putting on a play. He botches the audition but ends up making the most of his nonspeaking role as a bookmark. Bookmarks Are People Too! is the first book in the funny, endearing Here’s Hank series cowritten by Henry Winkler, who in real life struggles with reading and math issues. The Here’s Hank books are also published in the Dyslexie font, which some people with dyslexia say is easier for them to read.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
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“Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 1,” by Jeff Kinney

Beware: This series elevates bad behavior and the art of deceit to new and hilarious heights. Like it or not, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has a huge impact on getting kids to read—and laugh out loud. The first book of the series tells the daily events of the unpopular and awkward Greg Heffley, who’s starting middle school. The books are formatted like a real diary with handwritten text on lined paper. There are also charming comic illustrations that appear throughout the text.

"Fish in a Tree," by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
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“Fish in a Tree,” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Sixth grader Ally Nickerson used to try to hide her dyslexia by being a troublemaker. But with help from her new teacher, she discovers that people can be smart in different ways. Filled with endearing and often flawed characters, this inspiring book can be a life changer. Fish in a Tree, at 288 pages, is not short. But audio and text-to-speech versions are available. It’s also a great book for you and your child to read together.

Geronimo Stilton-Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye
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“Geronimo Stilton: Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye,” by Geronimo Stilton

Geronimo Stilton is a globetrotting mouse who lives in New Mouse City on Mouse Island. In the first book of this popular series, Geronimo goes on a sailing trip to find buried treasure. The Geronimo Stilton books are action-packed and visually engaging. Some words and phrases appear in bright colors and interesting fonts that can help to grab the attention of reluctant readers.

Babymouse-Queen of the World
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“Babymouse: Queen of the World,” by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Queen of the World is the first in a series of Babymouse graphic novels. Graphic novels are a lot like comic books. They’ve become widely accepted as a powerful way to reach reluctant readers. And it’s a great format for following the adventures of Babymouse, a wildly imaginative young mouse. She thinks her life is boring but her daydreams aren’t. In one of them she tangles with a giant squid! The books in this series are fun and funny and emphasize the importance of staying true to yourself.

Sports Illustrated for Kids
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“Sports Illustrated for Kids Magazine,” by Time Inc.

Sports Illustrated for Kids is filled with interesting articles, interviews and eye-popping photos. Is your child not into sports? You can find magazines for just about any area of interest online or at your local library or bookstore. Magazines package short bits of information in glossy and appealing ways. Sports Illustrated for Kids and other magazines have the power to hook reluctant readers and keep them reading from cover to cover.

National Geographic’s 5000 Awesome Facts (About Everything!)
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“National Geographic Kids: 5,000 Awesome Facts (About Everything!),” by National Geographic Kids

Some spiders in Nepal have gross but effective camouflage—they look like bird poop! This and the 4,999 other facts in this truly awesome book will appeal to kids who are fascinated by animals, people and the world around them. National Geographic Kids 5,000 Awesome Facts (About Everything!) includes details about an incredible range of topics, from female fighter pilots to the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth (arachibutyrophobia). It’s entirely possible that a great nonfiction book can turn a reluctant reader into an eager reader. This may be one of them.

Dog on Trial
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“Dog on Trial,” by Sylvia McNicoll

It can be challenging to find appealing books if your fifth grader is reading at second-grade level. Dog on Trial is one of 18 HIP Junior novels that tap into topics of high interest to kids who are in grades three through five but who read at a lower level. In Dog on Trial, Owen only has three days to convince his father not to take his new dog Hero back to the animal shelter. There are a lot of amusing mishaps, but eventually Hero saves the day.

Learn more about how to choose books at your child’s reading level.

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Even kids who don’t want to read during summer vacation can be won over by the right book! The options here all have clever plots and great characters. See if one (or more) will spark your child’s interest.

10 Summer Learning Apps and Games for Tweens and Teens

Apps and games can be fun ways to help your middle-schooler or high-schooler keep learning over the summer. Here are 10 for you to consider.

About the Author

Portrait of Ginny Osewalt

Ginny Osewalt

Ginny Osewalt is dually certified in elementary and special education with 14 years of experience in general education, inclusion, resource room and self-contained settings.

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