Book recommendations to encourage your pre-teen to read

Johanna L. Añes- de la Cruz

Posted at Jun 06 2020 05:26 PM

MANILA -- School won’t be starting any time soon, so it looks like kids will be staying put at home for the next couple of months.

Many parents have considered being under community quarantine an opportunity for their kids to learn new skills like baking, cooking, playing musical instruments. And, if you’re one of those parents who want their pre-teens (most of whom are glued to their gadgets for a good part of the day) to develop a love for reading, then now is the perfect time to try and inspire that interest in them.

I’ve gathered the recommendations of fellow bookworms to help make a reluctant reader get into the wonderful world of reading. I’ve also included my son’s favorites because it would be nice to know straight from a pre-teen reader which books he actually loved. 

With the many distractions offered by the internet and video games, trying to make your children (especially pre-teens) love reading might seem like a herculean task. Hopefully, one of the books recommended here would be that one book that sparks in your kid a lifelong love for reading.

 Honey de Peralta
Publishing representative, founder of Filipino Reader Conference

I used to be a high school English teacher, and while we had recommended books for our students, I eventually realized that any person will only love reading if they find a book that they enjoyed and then continue to choose books for themselves. After all, true love only comes with freedom of choice, does it not? 

And so, though I have my favorite books and books that we often put in our school reading lists, if we’re talking about getting pre-teens to love reading, I prefer to go by books that other kids have recommended to me. 

I have fond memories of my 9-year-old niece who, when I asked what her favorite book was, immediately gushed about R.J. Palacio’s "Wonder." When I asked her why she liked it, she told me that the book was both surprising and kind. And on that recommendation, I read it. Still one of the best things I’ve read to this date.

My son, when he was around 10, was a huge fan of Suzanne Collins’ "Gregor the Overlander" series. It was practically the only series I saw him read nonstop on a long road trip, and he kept raving about it after. Then one day, I brought him a book, and asked him to read it because I needed input on it for work. It was "The Inquisitor’s Tale" by Adam Gidwitz, about three misfits who lived in the medieval era, and they discover powers. I didn’t fully expect him to finish it, but he did, and when I asked what he thought, I recall he seemed surprised when he said, “I think it’s as good as 'Gregor,' maybe even better. It’s pretty good, Mama!” 

And perhaps a third and final recommendation is "Dog Man." I mean, what else is there to say about "Dog Man"? It was responsible for the huge sales boost for middle grade graphic novels. Which means tens of thousands of kids recommended it. I met a colleague’s 11-year-old daughter, and while my colleague and I were casually talking about "Dog Man," and the daughter suddenly jumps in the conversation to yell at her mom, “You HAVE to get me the latest 'Dog Man,' OK?!” 

Bottom line: Go check out what the kids love and what they’re reading. And more often than not, I find that these books are also treasures even for those of us who aren’t so young anymore.

 Jessica Zafra
 Writer, editor, columnist, publisher

I don't know what the experts recommend, but last week I had a book discussion on Zoom with some very smart 8-10 year olds. They enjoyed "The Witches" by Roald Dahl, and some had already read his other books "Matilda," "The BFG," "Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory." They are now reading "The Wizard of Earthsea" by Ursula LeGuin and William Golding's "Lord of the Flies," which some adults find distressing. 

I recommend giving preteens "The Lord of the Rings" by JRR Tolkien and "The Once and Future King" by T.H. White. These should keep them occupied for many days. The earlier you read them, the more times you can reread them.

And kids have powers of concentration that grownups have lost. 

 Janise Ruiz
 Mom to Luc and Franco, wife to Paul

I read to my kids every day until they started sleeping in their separate rooms (they used to sleep together in one room or occasionally sleep in my bedroom) when my eldest was 10 and his brother was 9. Good thing they learned to pick up books on their own even after that. We always have books around at home, but a trip to the bookstore is always encouraged (and initiated by me!). I find that they gravitated toward adventure, science fiction, and fantasy books at that age. Some of the books they enjoyed reading were serial books, which all the more encouraged my kids to keep reading. 

From my library and my kids’ own, I would recommend the following books for pre-teens: "The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman, "Adventures of TinTin" by Hergé (Georges Remi), "The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel Series" by Michael Scott, "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline, "The Chaos Walking Trilogy" by Patrick Ness, "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak, and "A Really Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson. 

All reading is good. Don’t dismiss non-fiction, graphic novels, comics or webtoons. They might just give your new or reluctant reader the desire to start turning pages.

 John Michael de la Paz
Teacher, children’s literature advocate

As a teacher of young kids, I think of three things when I’m trying to get a kid into reading: genre and/or format, length, and topic and/or theme.

Info books like "What Kids Should Know about Philippine Architecture" by Edson Cabalfin and illustrated by Asa Montenejo are a good jump-off point for kids who are not interested in reading. This book has beautifully drawn illustrations and the kids can choose which part of the book interests them, so there is no pressure to finish the book in a linear manner

Though the reading orientation is different, manga such as "My Brother’s Husband" by the great Gengoroh Tagame just might work in encouraging kids to read as words are paired with paneled illustrations similar to comics. This book in particular has been praised for its beautiful treatment of a sensitive topic that works for both children and adults.

"Bridge to Terabithia" is a classic. Nine- to 12-year-olds are expected to read chapter books and the length of this book is just right for someone transitioning into pictureless books. Likewise, its theme of friendship and parting of ways has never failed to allow children to explore pain and empathy.

Nico de la Cruz
 Incoming high school freshman, reader

My mommy started reading to me when I was very little. I remember reading Adarna and Lampara books and also other stories. Among my favorites then were Adarna’s "Tiktaktok at Pikpakbum" by Rene Villanueva and "Goodnight Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown. 

When I became older, I really enjoyed reading the Harry Potter series. I could almost imagine myself studying at Hogwarts and using magic. I also loved "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio because it teaches you kindness and forgiveness. Another favorite is "The One and Only Ivan" because the characters are cute and it shows you how to be kind to animals. I read "The Thief Lord" by Cornelia Funke twice already because Venice seems so magical and the characters are very interesting.

Some of my other favorites are "Flora and Ulysses" by Kate di Camillo, "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak, "The Chaos Walking Trilogy" by Patrick Ness, "The Magic Misfits" series by Neil Patrick Harris, "Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events," and Rick Riordan’s books.

I’m now reading "The Fellowship of the Ring" by J.R.R. Tolkien and I’m enjoying it so much because I’m a fan of "The Lord of the Rings" movies and the book is more detailed and has more characters that were not part of the film.