We Recommend: Books for Teenager Learning to Read

It's We Recommend, in which we use our superpowers to find readers the perfect book. Got a kid who needs a recommendation?
Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age,
reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant)
information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good
suggestions are in the comments.
– See more at: http://www.thediamondinthewindow.com/the-diamond-in-the-window/we-recommend/#sthash.USBMo618.dpuf
It's We Recommend, in which we use our superpowers to find readers the perfect book. Got a kid who needs a recommendation?
Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age,
reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant)
information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good
suggestions are in the comments.
– See more at: http://www.thediamondinthewindow.com/the-diamond-in-the-window/we-recommend/#sthash.USBMo618.dpuf
It's We Recommend, in which we use our superpowers to find readers the perfect book. Got a kid who needs a recommendation?
Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age,
reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant)
information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good
suggestions are in the comments.
– See more at: http://www.thediamondinthewindow.com/the-diamond-in-the-window/we-recommend/#sthash.USBMo618.dpuf
It's We Recommend, in which we use our superpowers to find readers the perfect book. Got a kid who needs a recommendation?
Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age,
reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant)
information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good
suggestions are in the comments.
– See more at: http://www.thediamondinthewindow.com/the-diamond-in-the-window/we-recommend/#sthash.USBMo618.dpuf

It's We Recommend, in which we use our superpowers to find readers the perfect book. Got a kid who needs a recommendation?
Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age,
reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant)
information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good
suggestions are in the comments.
– See more at: http://www.thediamondinthewindow.com/the-diamond-in-the-window/we-recommend/#sthash.USBMo618.dpuf
It's We Recommend, in which we use our superpowers to find readers the perfect book. Got a kid who needs a recommendation?
Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age,
reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant)
information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good
suggestions are in the comments.
– See more at: http://www.thediamondinthewindow.com/the-diamond-in-the-window/we-recommend/#sthash.USBMo618.dpuf
It's We Recommend, in which we use our superpowers to find readers the perfect book. Got a kid who needs a recommendation?
Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age,
reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant)
information, and we'll give it a shot. And really? All the good
suggestions are in the comments.
– See more at: http://www.thediamondinthewindow.com/the-diamond-in-the-window/we-recommend/#sthash.USBMo618.dpuf

It's We Recommend, in which we try to help people find books that will bring them great joy. The secret? Look in the comments, that's where all the best suggestions hide. Do YOU want a recommendation? Just email us a thediamondinthewind (at) gmail (dot) com and tell us everything about your reader (or yourself). We'll do our best to find the perfect book.

So this is a tough one. But it's essential. Because reading should be a pleasure—it is pleasure, through and through, and when it's treated like medicine that's what it tastes like. Read on, and let's see what we can do.

is not a request for recommendations for literature per se. I have a teenaged son who still cannot read — although he loves
listening to books on tape and having me read to him. The problem is
that all the resources I can find to teach reading are geared toward
young kids. Having little kid stuff shoved in his face, reminding him he
can't read while knowing little kids are learning this stuff, means
that he refuses to work with these materials, and continues to not read.
So I continue to search for resources to help him learn the basics of
reading — GEARED to TEENS. Nothing with little kid stories, or
pictures, or voices (software) is acceptable. Anyone have any
suggestions?

Here's the thing: he wants to read. He loves books. I feel it is our duty to see what we can do. And of course he doesn't want to read little kid stuff learning-to-read stuff. Some little kids don't even like it.

Back in the olden days, before I had children, I used to be a literacy tutor at the public library. I was terrible at it. I mean, I wanted to do it and I went to a training and everything, in fact to several trainings, and then I used to take two subways (at age 25 I didn't understand how to say stuff like "Could I work at a library closer to my house?") and go see someone, and she was embarrassed, and I was embarrassed, and I was not entirely competent, and…I wish I had been better at it.

A lot of people were, and an enduring memory of that hazy time of my 20s is going to the celebration in the Botanical Gardens and seeing all the people for whom it really worked: they spoke of their struggles with learning to read, and the incredible relief when they broke through. And then for some reason I slipped away before it was done and walked home by myself through the Botanical Garden at night, something I bet I will never get to do again, and rabbits and other weird animals were out. I really wished I could have helped someone.

So: here is my chance. Here is our chance. There were books in the program for adults learning to read. Not only to avoid embarrassment, but because they would be interested. Books about lives like theirs, about adults, about pain and difficulty and struggle.

Part of me thinks that the key for this boy might be comic books. They've worked for so many adolescents—so many images, so much story, so few words (read My Dyslexia by Phillip Schultz, the poet [and a teacher whose classes I went to long ago] for his story on learning to read as an adolescent). Maybe X-Men? Maybe Batman? Maybe something even more grownup, like The Sandman? Graphic novels and comic books offer important crutches, I think.

But then, too, there are these:

Adult_literacybooks.jpeg.size.xxlarge.letterbox
These are a series of books by an organization called Good Reads, which aims to offer compelling books to adults learning to read. They have large fonts, simple words, gripping stories (one is The Stalker, which I already want to read). They are for adults—would he be OK going a little older?

Or do you, my most excellent readers, have a better idea? I am truly out of my depth here, but I am very moved by the plight of this kid, and I wish there were more I could offer. I know a whole lot of you are librarians; some are teachers, some are reading specialists: got anything? Leave it in the comments.

13 thoughts on “We Recommend: Books for Teenager Learning to Read

  1. I look forward to hearing what your readers have to say with this one. I have a twelve year old son that can read only barely — and despises it. He, too, has dyslexia, and the older he gets, the more diffiucult it is to find something for him to read that he can manage. He recently told me that he wasn’t going to read another book again.

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  2. The Orca Soundings imprint might be good for this– short teen novels about edgy/high-interest subjects, written at a grade 2-to-4 reading level: http://www.orcabook.com/client/client_pages/Orca_Soundings_Info.cfm .
    If he can’t read at all, even these might be too much to start with, but they’re something to aim for.
    Another idea: TumbleBookCloud, a website/subscription service that offers online books for teens, including “read-alongs” where you see the text and hear it read aloud at the same time. (there’s a version called TumbleBooks for younger kids, but TumbleBookCloud is marketed to teens.) I’ve recommended it to adult ESL students who want to work on their English reading, and I think it might work for this purpose as well. It’s kind of expensive, but many libraries have subscriptions– you might want to check and see if your local library offers it. Here’s the website to check it out: http://www.tumblebookcloud.com

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  3. I second Els’ mention of Orca. And graphic novels and comics might also be helpful–many are very light on text, with the text nicely encapsulated, and so are friendly for the struggling reader.

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  4. I’m prefacing this with the statement that I have no idea whether this will work:
    I would recommend getting the large print editions of any teenage book he is interested in–the library has a good number of large print books. (The large font allows a finger to point to words individually.) Then sit with him and read the hard words and let him read the easy words and slowly increase the difficulty of words he gets to try to read.
    It sounds like the parent who wrote this request is already willing to dedicate a ton of time to this endeavor, so that is why I recommend this.
    Hope it helps.

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  5. My dyslexic son loves Tin Tin and all those DK publishing non-fiction books where there are lots of pictures with a SHORT explanatory paragraph next to each one. Usually he pores over it first, then I read it to him, then he pores over it some more, in the privacy of his bedroom. But I think the reading, being read to, then re-reading, gives him time and space to practice the dreaded decoding in his own way. Watching him struggle reminds me what a crazy and difficult language English is to learn to read and write. Honestly, learning to read Spanish is so much easier.

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  6. Go to http://www.abookandahug.com/reader-assessment and ask him the 10 multiple-choice questions on the What Reading Superhero Are You quiz. Then y’all can narrow down what types of books he’s most interested in. If he’s an Answerman, then story will always take a backseat to fact-based books, for instance.
    Look into the Bluford High series from Townsend Press, if he’d like gritty, urban stories (a drive-by shooting, dealing with difficult home situations). TP also has nice edited versions of many classics, short nonfiction, etc. and is very careful in editing (see http://www.townsendpress.com/editing-process)
    The covers are teen-friendly & each book is easy to slip into your backpack.
    Niftiest thing about Townsend Press paperbacks is that they are $1 (one dollar) each, plus shipping!
    I also recommend the Orca Soundings books (I got tons for our HS library).

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  7. Look into the paperbacks from Townsend Press http://www.townsendpress.com/our-books/tp-library-amp-bluford-series/, which include the gritty urban fiction Bluford High series and lots of carefully abridged fiction (http://www.townsendpress.com/editing-process), nonfiction selections, and short stories.
    The covers are teen-friendly, and each book is $1 (one dollar) plus shipping!
    Also, visit the book review site for kids & teens http://www.abookandahug.com and go through the What Reading Superhero Are You quiz http://www.abookandahug.com/reader-assessment – 10 multiple choice questions will help readers determine what types of books they’d like best. For an Answerman, fact-based books will always be better than any story, for instance.
    And I also recommend the Orca books – I had many at our HS library.

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  8. I’ve been thinking and thinking about this question, which seems to be about curriculum materials (and maybe even teaching phonics/decoding) as well as stuff to read. I did a little googling and found this article: http://www.adlit.org/article/18951/
    which has some links that might be useful, though they seem more geared to policy-makers than parents and teachers on the ground.
    Also found these teacher resources for adult learners– I think they’re from the UK. This link is to the “dyslexia support” category, which might have some exercises/worksheets that could be useful:
    http://www.skillsworkshop.org/category/general/dyslexia-support
    There are also various companies that offer curricula and materials for adult literacy– I don’t know about their prices or quality, but here’s one: http://www.readinghorizons.com/adult-literacy/approach
    And there’s this article too: http://www.ajarn.com/blogs/geoff-richards/phonics-for-teenagers-and-adults/
    hope this is helpful & not too overwhelming. You might also want to check at the library (though you may have already)–many libraries have sections for adult literacy and ESL, and those might be more acceptable to your son than materials designed for little kids.

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  9. I just wanted to chime in and ask does this boy have dyslexia? Because if he does, that is a whole different thing than if he doesn’t. I teach college students who are not at college level in reading. They can read the words, but don’t understand what they are reading. I am sure some have reading disabilities, but unless they opt in to having accommodations I don’t know about it. I also used to teach kindergarten and first grade, so I know the emergent reading process very well. I don’t really know what to suggest because there is not enough information in the letter. I will check back to see if there is more info tomorrow. 🙂

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  10. Interesting question…. I’ve read varying opinions on if dyslexia really exists as a “brain thing” or if it’s simply a difficulty learning to read, for whatever reason. In other words, I don’t know or even know if there is a difference between dyslexia and having trouble learning to read. But regardless, what’s the difference in terms of what we’d do to help him learn to read? AND, this boy would never submit to testing, nor would I want to do that to him without really compelling reasons, which I’ve never come across.
    But, for what it’s worth, he has trouble with phonemic awareness (with vowels). And, I’ve tried helping him learn to sound out words, but he gets bogged down and jumbled around with words more than 3-4 letters. He definitely understand what he reads (when we have read simple stories in phonics books).
    I don’t know if that gives you the information you are asking for, but I’m interested in all ideas. Thank you

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  11. Thanks to everyone for your ideas.
    I now realize was being premature in my request for ideas. I came across a Jack London story I KNEW my son would enjoy. It was being read aloud (online) while the words were highlighted. I was sure he’d like it and maybe it would move him along in learning to read. He said it’s okay, but it’s still reading, which he now hates. So not really enjoyable. So, for now anyway, it’s not about finding enjoyable material to learn to read. It’s about sneaking the mechanics of reading in, without exciting the huge emotional load that trying and struggling to read seems to illicit.
    There is still the mechanics of reading (sounding out words). I THINK this will improve with practice as it already SLOWLY is. But it doesn’t seem to be the main problem right now.
    The emotional block against reading seem the most important hurdle to overcome — I resonate with Elizabeth Aquino above. He does not want to do any regular phonics/reading instruction. Or rather he wants me to force him to do it, but gets very anxious and upset each time we do it, so I don’t actually think “forcing” him to do this is a good tactic.
    I’m pretty sure at this stage if I brought home anything with the purpose of getting him to read, he’d find it stressful and unpleasant. Maybe when he realizes he CAN learn to read. At this point, I don’t think he’s convinced of this.
    I’m in the habit of reading everything out loud, like print on the TV, or other print I know he’s looking at. I help him read and write short messages from friends. I read him anything he asks me to. This works subtly on the mechanics issue. Getting practice in reading, without the emotional load that “trying to learn to read” excites. It doesn’t seem like enough however. He is increasingly ashamed about not being able to read, but continues to be reticent to take bold steps to learn.
    It’s an interesting question of what to do, or indeed what not to do. I realize though, it’s not really the subject of this website and I thank all of you for your contributions.

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