When Your Child Won’t Read: Getting Teens to Love Reading

Teens and reading.

The Outsiders is one of the best young adult novels ever written. S.E. Hinton was only 17 years old when she wrote it, which is nothing short of amazing. When reluctant readers open this book, somehow their disdain for reading disappears, and they devour the entire book before they even know it. This happened to my daughter a couple weeks ago. Her language arts teacher assigned The Outsiders as the first novel study of the year. She read the book from cover to cover and completed her written assignments in just a few days. I must admit that my tweenager tolerates reading a bit more than your average 12-year-old, but I was still amazed by her insatiable appetite for this book. She was completely consumed by Ponyboy, Johnny, and the rest of the Greaser gang. Thanks, Mrs. Carlock!

From elementary to middle school

Why doesn’t this happen more often? Once kids approach the teenage years, their love for reading fades, and it becomes increasingly difficult to find the “right book.” Of course there are exceptions to this rule. As the sponsor of a high school book club, I have the privilege of being around teenagers who are giddy about reading and love to talk about books. Yet, the vast majority of teens (and adults for that matter) do not feel this way. What happens to the joy elementary-age kids have for reading? Each time my six-year-old sits down to read Henry and Mudge, his eyes light up, and he chatters to anyone within earshot about what’s happening on the page.

How can we help?

We’ve all been told countless times about the importance of reading to our kids. While I’m sure the hours spent reading will somehow positively affect their academic performance, it doesn’t guarantee that our kids will be the next S.E. Hinton, or that they will even like reading at all. Kids are unique; they have their own personalities and interests. We can, however, model what we would like to see in them. You know that novel that’s been sitting on the nightstand for the last ten months? Dust it off and get started. Seeing us reading may pave the way to our teens becoming avid readers.

To me, there’s nothing better than an afternoon roaming around a bookstore, and I’ve discovered that my kids enjoy it, too. Take a trip to McKay’s. It’s always an adventure. If McKay’s is not quite your style, Barnes and Noble is a great option. And don’t forget the public library. It’s FREE — at least when you return your books on time.

Reading Resources

No one likes being forced to do anything, but let’s face it: it will only be a matter of time before your teen comes home from school with a book report assignment that they would rather not do.

To that end, here are some of my favorite young adult titles for the reluctant teen reader in your life.

Middle School

  • The Outsiders-S.E. Hinton
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham-Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Hatchet-Gary Paulsen
  • The City of Ember-Jeanne Duprau
  • Stargirl-Jerry Spinelli
  • Freak the Mighty-Rodman Philbrick

High School

  • Speak-Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Kalahari-Jessica Khoury
  • Magonia-Maria Dahvana Headley
  • Steelheart-Brandon Sanderson
  • Faking Normal-Courtney Stevens
  • A Darker Shade of Magic-V.E. Schwab

Most of these titles can be found on Amazon and Powell’s (an online used bookstore). Teens Read  is another fantastic resource, specifically geared toward book reviews and author interviews. I would love to hear about the books your teens enjoy reading, or any tips you have encouraging teens to READ!


  1. Congratulations on your first blog! I enjoyed reading your article. My daughter is always asking to go to the library and Barnes and Nobles. I will share your book suggestions with her and hope she continues her love of reading through out her teen years.

  2. Hey Rhonda., it made me smile to see your comment. Yes, most of my students love to read, but since they do, I want them to see that responding to reading can be cathartic. Also the authors like Hinton and others like Adeline Yen Mah from Chinese Cinderella among others, wrote to tell their stories of growing up with their own individual problems even though they are decades apart in age from students today. Hopefully, students will journal or write to tell their “own stories” and who knows? We may see another S. E. Hinton among our students.

  3. That was a fun read Rhonda! My tip is for boys. When I’ve been asked to help them read as a volunteer mentor, I got results by getting them to write computer programs. They loved writing code that made a game they could play and they quickly learned words had to spelled correctly or their code wouldn’t compile. I found my favorite resource for this here: http://davidbau.com/archives/2005/07/29/haaarg_world.html

    I think many boys love having a reason to read and this gives it to them. (I also challenge them with the question “How will you find your own cheat codes for your video games on the internet if you won’t read?” That always raises their eyebrows!

  4. My daughter also loved The Outsiders, and I was so impressed by how deeply she was touched by this book. I look forward to seeing her next book connection- maybe in your list of suggestions! (And I might just need to dust of that book on my nightstand… how did you know?!?)

  5. I’m soooo glad to have this list of resources by age. A few of these books I wasn’t familiar with, but I may even initiate a read-swap with my kids! Great post on an invaluable subject from someone who knows — as a teacher AND as a mother.

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