I’m sure as a teacher you have had your share of reluctant readers! You know those kids…the ones who are always telling you that they don’t like to read, those that are “at-risk” or “struggling”. From here on out you will see that I will call these students our “striving readers” as I subscribe to the belief that these labels can be harmful to students (as suggested by Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward in their book, From Striving to Thriving). Harvey & Ward state, that the best form of intervention is a good book. But with striving readers, it can be hard to find that good book! In fact, the older these students become, the harder it seems to find that just right book.
Often, these upper elementary strivers do not want to be seen holding a picture book so, as a teacher I’m always on the lookout for books that look hard from the cover but are easier and not too overwhelming inside. I can speak, not only from classroom experience but from one of my own boys. The book that made a difference for my son Ben was Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli. This was the first book, in the summer between 4th and 5th grades, that he fell in love with. It was this book that motivated him to read and move from a F&P of O in the fall of 2017 to an R in the winter of 2018! After years of intervention it was one book that made the difference! What was it about this book, you ask? It was written like a poem…in verse but it looks like a really thick chapter book that any 4th-6th grader would read. A story of twins who have a magical bond and feel like half of the same person but who, as they grow older are learning who they are as individuals. (Ben was just sad that there wasn’t a sequel). My son had finally found a book that made him want to read!
This whole experience taught me to always be on the look out for those books that might entice and intrigue my striving readers! Many realize that graphic novels seem to be something they migrate to but also books written in verse might just be that special book that makes a striving reader a reader for life! So…what are some good books written in verse? Check these out and add some to your classroom library. Another plus, to many of these novels is that they are multicultural!
Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli
This book addresses issues of identity, belonging, family, and bullying in this humorous and heartfelt novel about twins.
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shoven
This is the current book in verse that I am reading. This book appealed to me because it is about a school that is closing and will be replaced by a shopping center and is told by the fifth grade class entirely in poems. I have to be honest and tell you that another reason that I picked it up is because it in an NCTE 2017 Notable Verse Novel and the author lives in Maryland (my state)!
Another Day as Emily by Eileen Spinelli
I just checked this book out from the Maryland Digital Library, started it and finished it in about 2.5 hours. It was FANTASTIC!! Emily, who is 11, can’t win. Her hero brother called 911 after seeing a elderly neighbor collapse and she failed to get a part that both she and her best friend auditioned for. Suzy sees a kindred spirit in Emily Dickinson, who she studies for her summer project. So, she decides to emulate Dickinson by trying out a life of solitude.
You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airman by Carole Boston Weatherford
This is on my list as my next book in verse to read! The historical story of the Tuskegee Airman told in a novel in poetic form. This book is sure to be a book that many boys will want to read!
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (Newberry 2015)
This book seems to have it all; basketball, a set of twins, and it is written in verse. This is a fantastic book with issues around a girlfriend, relationships with their Dad, basketball, and sibling rivalry but we warned as it has a sad ending. I would definitely say this is a great middle school book but could also be appropriate for grade 5. The sequel to this story is Booked.
Little Dog, Lost and Little Cat’s Luck both written by Marion Dane Bauer
Two heartfelt stories with animals at the center of the story. In Little Dog, Lost we see a boy in need of a dog, a dog who needs an owner and a neighbor who needs a community. If you like the first book be sure to check out the companion book Little Cat’s Luck!
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
A story of a 9 year old Vietnamese child that immigrates from Saigon to the Alabama at the end of the Vietnam War.
Red Butterfly by A.L. Sonnichsen
A Story of a young orphan girl in China who is adopted at birth by an American living in China. Soon you discover that she was never officially adopted and as an 11 year old is sent to live in a Chinese orphanage while her adopted mother is sent home to Montana.
Love That Dog and Hate That Cat: A Novel by Sharon Creech
In the first book, Love That Dog, we see a young boy who doesn’t like to write but has a teacher that makes the class write poems. This story makes a great read aloud as it is not too long; only 128 pages.
Moo by Sharon Creech
This book is about a families move from the city to rural Maine. The children in this book develop an interesting relationship with a eccentric senior citizen and her cow!
EVEN more fabulous books in verse:
I would also like to note the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) gives awards each year for novels written in verse and books of poetry. Many of the books I have mentioned are on their list but it is worth checking out their awards and honors each year at the NCTE site.
Also…if you haven’t be sure to pick up Harvey and Ward’s book, From Striving to Thriving. It just may change the way you look at and approach those striving readers!