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:

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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.

We Recommend: Help a Kid Out, Now with TWO Levels!

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.

We've talked about dyslexia, and about reading with audio books. Because for some people reading the words on the page is tough, but they're ready for complex, compelling stories. The thing is, kids like this are reading on two levels—one for audio books, and another on the page. How do you find books for a kid that appeal to their understanding, while working with their decoding challenges?

So here you go: the following question was posed to me by a friend we were riding in a car, so I don't have it written out, I am just going to try to get it down more or less as I heard it:

My son is 10 years old and loves to listen to big, great stories on audio books—Percy Jackson, Gregor Overlander—but he's dyslexic so dealing with the words on the page is much tougher. That's where he likes great stories, but with visual cues. Things like Bone and Diary of a Wimpy Kid (though that one is maybe a little too easy for him now). What audiobooks can I get him, and what can I get him in paper form? He likes all kinds of stories, lots of excitement and thrills, though Septimus Heap, for instance, was not a hit. Also? No interest at all in The Hunger Games. [Editor's note: he's a really great kid.]

I wish I knew what to give him. I think Gregor Overlander is perfect, and of course now that it's in my mind I can't think of anything else. Ooh! Except I just did!

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Chestnut and Diana both LOVED this book, they had that sort of avid, invested relationship that you envy when you're toiling along with your own not-so-loved book. OK, audio book down.

But the reading book? The one that's maybe part graphic novel, complex story, compelling everything?

How about this crazy thing?

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I saw Scott Westerfield speak most wonderfully at a KidLitCon in Seattle two years ago, and he was particularly riveting about the relationship of story and image. I would think, too, of his later series, though I think it would be too tough on paper. But this? This is a manga version of Uglies, and it looks pretty awesome, and I trust him as a writer, though I have not read this.

But that's just me. I know you guys can do the double deal on this one, right? Help a kid out.

The Truth About Me and Books

OK, so I read Wolf Hall, and then I read The Marriage Plot, and then I read My Dyslexia. So maybe my reader's block is over.

Here is what you should know, or maybe, here is what I am going to tell you (a very different thing), in no particular order:

1) Wolf Hall is kind of awesome, but suffers from the whole problem of history, which is that it resists the tidy narrative arc that comforts a person.

2) While it is true that it struggled with its narrative arc, it is also intensely moving at times, regularly breaking apart the frozen sea within me, which I appreciated.

3) I love me a narrative arc.

4) So. Speaking of narrative arc. The Marriage Plot. If I were a better person, I would be able to cast anything I had ever heard about Jeffrey Eugenides and his opinions on anything. But I am not a better person.

5) I have a tendency to fight with every book I read, as though we are having a back and forth, and it can hear me. But the thing is, it can't hear me, and I am probably wasting precious mental energy, not to mention disturbing myself for no reason. The Marriage Plot did this to me. I am conflicted about it still. He is of course, a good writer, but I am starting to think that this may be an impediment. Also? I think if you're going to call something The Marriage Plot, you shouldn't be a chicken about following through on your marriage plot.

6) I am also starting to think that le mot juste and an appreciation for (please forgive me for the phrase I am about to allow here) lapidary prose may be leading to a showing off trend among contemporary writers that is bumming me out. How well something is written is never the point, I think. It ends up feeling like everything is exquisitely prepared, but something raw and essential at the heart is missing.

7) My Dyslexia. Hmm. I took a class with Phillip Schultz, and I am interested in reading difficulties and learning troubles, so I picked this up on a whim. He found out he was dyslexic at age 58, when he found out his son was dyslexic. It is short, sweet. It is very Jewish, if we can allow that as an adjective. I think a parent of a kid who is dyslexic might want to read it. Heartfelt but confusing somehow. And yet…I was moved.

8) I am being moved all over the place here, no? I wonder where that expression came from, moved. It is such a strange and human thing, feeling this emotional pain as pain, which, you know, hurts, but at the same time seeking it out, because it moves you somewhere else.

9) What are you reading now? Is it reaching you?

We Recommend: Inconsistent Animal-Lover’s Edition

It's We Recommend, in which we attempt 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.

Perhaps you remember a We Recommend from a long time ago, when a teacher wrote in asking for help selecting presents for some kids who were leaving her class? First of all, you guys rocked the recommendations, because the presents were apparently a hit. And, the teacher wrote in AGAIN asking for help. Can you even deal with what an awesome teacher this is? But I've got to warn you all: this one is a challenge.

I've got a boy, ten years old but young for his age, with some learning difficulties, sweet and loving and quirky and silly. His reading level varies from day to day, so it's hard to pin down, sometimes he'll struggle with Dr Seuss and some other days he'll read sentences out of Natural History books fluently. We'd like to get him reading chapter books, which he has resisted so far. My plan is to find an easy chapter book series that he just won't be able to resist – but I've no idea what that could be. He *loves* animals and wants to be 'a naturalist' when he grows up, and he also likes pirates and Star Wars.

Wow. And the nonfiction ones (at least sometimes) are easier than the fiction? Or at least the Dr. Seuss? Well it sounds like context helps. I'm going to go with the loving animals, and the naturalist side of things.

What's frustrating is that there are a whole lot of Junior Veterinarian and horse early chapter books, but they are pretty aggressively girl-oriented. I must say, he also makes me think of Hatchet, which is of course too hard. And of Trumpet of the Swan. The whole idea of wilderness and animals and all that. But a series is also requested (and with good reason, it sounds like) because if he is thrilled and inspired by one then the others will be all the more tempting.

But what?

I am thinking of Ranger Rick, to be honest. I know it's not a series, and it's not even a book, but it will entrance him I think, and there will be longer stories for when he's ready for that, and shorter ones for when things are not going that way. Though a quick look at the web site seems to indicate that Big Backyard might be easier.

OK, so here's what I'm doing—something I never do. I am going with an author I know, but a series I don't. I love Cynthia Rylant—she has the crazy ability to know what is compelling to kids. And these books look lovely, with a special emphasis on sea animals. That's right, it's the Lighthouse Series. (Sorry, the link is just for one, I couldn't find a good home for the whole series).

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I fear I may have traveled too far from his Star Wars and pirates love, but I couldn't think of the right thing. All the lovely woodsy E.B. White is too hard I think. And this does look really sweet.

But what I'm really getting at here is: hey excellent readers, got any suggestions? Put them in the comments (please!).

Your Book

You know those stores that exist in an alternate reality, where you wander in and there's an impossibly old proprietor, and amid the dusty shelves in the back you find a crystal ball that really works/a monkey's paw that will curse you/a magical book especially for you?

These places sometimes exist in reality, is the thing. Or if not these places specifically, places that do the same thing. Like the truck stop on the highway to Delaware in 1980 (maybe somewhere on route 95?), where a Greyhound bus I was on stopped when I was 16. We riders wandered in at two in the morning, amid a haze of fluorescent lighting and bleary truckers, and there was a wire kiosk of paperbacks, on which there was ONE and only one copy of this book:

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Oh my did I love this book when I was 16. It cost me just as much money as I had at the time (maybe $3.99?). My friend and I passed it back and forth between us, so we could both have access to it (that and Young Sinners, but that's another story). We read it over and over. And it seemed pretty clear to me at the time (and actually seems just as clear in retrospect) that the book was there for me and only me, that if someone had visited that truck stop 15 minutes before I got there it wouldn't have been there. It got beamed down as I entered the place, a flash of literary kismet.

You wouldn't think this sort of thing happened much at Barnes and Noble, would you? And yet….

Normally we go to the indie bookstores, which our neighborhood is lucky enough to have. But Chestnut had a $25 gift card, and so to Barnes and Noble we did go.

Once we got there, I went somewhere else, because for Chestnut to make a decision—not easy. It takes a long time, there is much vacillating. It was probably around 45 minutes before she came to get me, so we could think about whether The Fairies of the Forest (or something similar) was right, or should she consider Dear Dumb Diary, or or or…. And as we were talking it over, there, on the display shelf, was this:

Out of My Mind

"How about this?" I asked her. She picked it up. And that was it—she wanted it. Even though neither of us had heard of it before. Even though it cost $17 and she is the most frugal of book-buyers. She just knew it was the book for her. And she was right.

The crazy thing is, what was it doing on that shelf? It wasn't with a stack of others like it. It was published in 2010, for heaven's sake. But there it was, a sign of the literary powers that watch over us all, and every now and again bestow their favors.

The book is the story of a very smart 5th grade girl with cerebral palsy, and what it's like for her when she starts inclusion classes, where other people start to realize that within her drooling nonworking body is a sharp, funny, longing to connect mind. And it's not all positive, it's not all easy—but it's really good. And it was just right for Chestnut, for whom this girl lived.

Thank you, book gods.

I'm not the only person this happens to, right?