Hook them with a book

A book.


For some it holds the mystery of the universe, others a story to be entered and thoroughly explored and yet for some it is the very bane of their school life.

What is it that creates a passionate, life-long reader?

Often times I hear from parents and other educators how difficult they find it to hook their students/children especially boys into reading. Now that I am back in a primary classroom full time with 27 darlings, I can see the challenge.

The fact of the matter is that everyone is different. Different tastes, different aptitudes and different upbringings. When I visit the library with my class at our school, it becomes quickly clear those who are already readers and those who avoid it at all costs. I believe that the key to hooking students in a book is to find the magic book. The issue, however is that there is no ONE magic book that will hook all reluctant boy readers or in fact any reluctant reader.

Like all effective parts of education, finding the right book for a learner is putting them at the centre of the process. Last year I read a book called Igniting a Passion for reading by Steven Layne, it premised that the biggest problem facing our society was not illiteracy (the inability to read) but alliteracy, the lack of inclination to do so. He stated that kids are not in love with books. How true.

The love of books starts with a passionate first relationship. I can remember reading into the early hours of the morning when I found a book that hooked. But many of our students and especially those of a digital generation, they’re having trouble falling in love. Books take thought, they take us on a journey so that we have to pay attention to the minute details. We need to visualise and predict and think deeply about what might happen next. Unlike TV and movies where we are told what things look like and drip feed the content, books engage our brains.

So how do we hook with a book?

Below I have made a list of suggested titles that alongside a carefully cultivated relationship with your learner may hook them on a book and hopefully start their journey towards lifelong reading.


9 – 12 year olds:

  1. Midnight Gang by David Walliams
    • I’ve just finished reading this to my class as our shared novel and they loved it! Set in London, this novel follows Tom, a wimpish boy who ends up in the children’s ward of the most ineptly run hospital on the planet. Reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s many adult characters such as Mrs Trunchbull and Mr Twit, the adult characters in this range from down right nasty through to deliciously sweet like Tootsie and the Porter. Tom joins the Midnight Gang on the children’s ward who go about making their dreams come true in the most imaginative and spectacular way without leaving the hospital. The illustrations add additional glory to this novel from the great Tony Ross. A great transition book for those in love with Captain Underpants/Tom Gates into more sophisticated reading material.
  2. Two Wolves by Tristan Bancks
    • Imagine that one afternoon, police officers show up at your house. They ask for your parents who aren’t there and then leave. Next, your parents arrive and bundle you and your younger sister into the car and declare you are going on holiday. Problem is, you never go on holiday.
      Ben has to figure out what is going on, something isn’t right and he thinks his parents may have done something wrong. Which wolf will he become? The big bad wolf or the good wolf? Super fast paced, and keeps you guessing until the end.
  3. Holes by Louis Saachar
    • The tale of Stanley Yelnats who is falsely accused of stealing some famous sportsman’s shoes from a charity auction. He is sent to Camp Greenlake, where he has to overcome the challenges of a barren landscape and the crazed/horrible adults he finds himself around.
  4. Wonder by R J Palacio
    • Follows the tale of a boy with a facial disfigurement entering mainstream schooling for the first time. Deals with the concepts of accepting yourself for who you are, dealing with bullying and standing up for yourself.
  5. Dunger by Joy Cowley
    • Follows the story of Melissa (14) and William (11) as they are bundled off to their Grandparents archaic bach in the Marlborough Sounds over summer. No electricity and cell phone reception plus some hippy grandparents who are deaf and semi-immobile makes for an entertaining but heartfelt read about the value of love.
  6. Dandelion Clocks by Rebecca Westcot
    • Deals with a young girl Liv, finding out about and watching her mother’s battle with terminal cancer come to an end. It starts at 13 weeks before and 6 months after. Great for showing the power of passions (Hobbies) and their role in helping us be resilient.
  7. Once series by Morris Gleitzmann
    • Told from the perspective of a 10 year old Polish boy named Felix, this book covers the period of World War 2 in Poland and how the Nazis took over and discriminated against Jews. As it is told from a 10 year olds perspective, it’s more serious themes are undercut with a great sense of humour and innocence.
  8. Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz
    • Alex lives with his Uncle, a MI6 agent, little does he realise those self-defense lessons and shooting practice will come in handy when he gets recruited for a mission. Reluctantly he agrees and what happens next will challenge everything he has ever known about himself, his parents and humanity.
    • Action packed, nice balance of humour and seriousness.
  9. Cherub series by Robert Muchamore
    • I haven’t personally read this series of books by Robert Muchamore but can only testify to their popularity particularly amongst pre-teen and teen boys by the fact they were never in our library at HPSS. CHERUB is an elite series of spies, soldiers and agents all under the age of seventeen who are thrown into missions that will challenge their mental and physical capacity.
      • NB: might be better with students 11+ due to some dicey language and situations.

13+ year olds

  1. Monument 14 series by Emmy Laybourne
    • Bus full of teens crashes into a Walmart during the fall out of a chemical being released in the air that acts upon each different blood type in a different way. The 14 kids have to figure out how they are going to survive, and how to be a leader. Strong male protagonist and edge of your seat action. Followed by 2 more books and 2 short stories.
  2. The absolutely true diary of a Part-time Indian – Alexie Sherman
    • A much more grown up and darker Captain Underpants crossed with Tom Gates. The main character is an American Indian boy living on a reservation with his dysfunctional family and yet attends the local mostly white high school. The book is about his journey to discover his self-identity in a world which tells him he should be a certain way.
  3. The sky so heavy – Claire Zorn
    • One day, Fin’s problems involve how to impress the cutest girl at school, and yet the next morning there is suddenly no power/water or internet and he has to figure out how to survive. His parents are gone and there is snow falling outside in Australia. Full of action, fast and action packed read.
  4. The Protected – Claire Zorn
    • Claire Zorn does a great job of getting under the skin of her readers. The Protected is the story of a girl struggling in the aftermath of her sister’s death. The book goes into the gritty world of a girl in the midst of grief, dealing with her parents and their grief as well as navigating the world of teenage life.
  5. Half-Bad – Sally Green
    • An upgraded and much darker Harry Potter inspired fantasy novel. Nathan is a half white and half black witch, and it turns out his father is the infamous blackest witch there is, Voldemort pales in comparison to this guy. In a world ruled by the white witches Nathan is contained and treated like a caged animal. A journey of self-discover culminating upon his 17th birthday where he finds out which side of his lineage he will be gifted magic from. Is he really half-bad?
      • NB: This book is dark, like really dark especially after the first book.
  6. I’ll give you the Sun – Jandy Nelson
    • I’ll give you the sun is told from the perspective of two twins Jude and Noah who early on are totally inseparable until an event in their lives changes everything. The story is told from alternating twin’s perspectives, Noah tells of the past and Jude the present until Nelson weaves their lives back together again.
  7. The Road to Winter – Mark Smith
    • Imagine a deadly virus has swept Australia, leaving only a handful of people left. Finn has lived on the coast outside his old home for two winters on his own, that is until one day Rose stumbles into his life. Rose is being chased by Wilders, a gang of baddies who have taken over in the wake of no government. The story follows their hideout and the consequent events as the Wilders try to find them. I especially liked the depth of this novel as it dealt with the current refugee crisis in Australia.
  8. Divergent series – Veronica Roth
    • The world for Tris is divided into factions, Amity, Candor, Abnegation and Dauntless. At the coming of age test, every young adult who reaches 16 is tested to find out which faction they are best suited to join. There should only be one faction for every person, except Tris is divergent, this means she has aptitude for more than one. But, in this world Divergents are considered dangerous and a threat to the “perfect” society. What will she do to stay safe? What lies beneath the surface of this seemingly perfect society.

Those are only a few suggestions that spring to mind immediately. Remember you have the power to help students fall in love with books,  never judge their choice, only guide them to a book that hooks.

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