For Chronic Book Abandoners & Reluctant Readers

Do you have a reluctant reader in the house or classroom? Or maybe you have a “chronic book abandoner”–one who just can’t stick with a single book to completion. It’s a common problem, but I have a suggestion: Mysteries.

Why mysteries? Mysteries generate questions, and when we have questions, we naturally want answers. Sometimes I will keep reading a book I’m not even that “into” just to get my questions answered. Questions compel us to keep reading. This may be what your reluctant reader or chronic abandoner needs to finish a book!

My son read this book, CrimeBiters! by Tommy Greenwald, in about a day this summer and loved it. He wanted me to read it too, so yesterday, I did and was pleasantly surprised. It combines mystery with humor (including some cute illustrations sprinkled through the book) and the easily connectable self-consciousness of this age group (the main character Jimmy has discovered he has a weird blotch on his face just days before 5th grade begins). We can’t wait for the sequel to come out. Bonus:  I often feel that the more compelling mysteries are aimed at 5th grade and up, but this one aims at about 3rd grade and up!


This book also reminded me that upper elementary/middle school is “my place,” because I find humorous the same things my 9 year old did while reading the book.

sara goofy

Of course, for a mystery to do the trick of compelling a child to stick with it, the book needs to be appropriate to his independent reading level–a book he can easily read without support or assistance. Independent reading level is generally accepted to be 95-100% word accuracy while reading, with satisfactory to excellent comprehension. Anything less than 95% accuracy generally transitions into the child’s instructional reading level (texts he needs support and teaching to read and understand). Think of that in terms of a 100-word block of the text–if the child cannot decipher more than 5 words, he clearly needs support to truly understand the text.

It may also be helpful with a struggling or reluctant reader to at least begin by reading a mystery aloud to him/her. This may help draw kids into the story and drive them to want to keep going on their own. Or if the book is the beginning of a series, try reading the whole first book with them in hopes they will continue the series on their own!

Here are some other series with strong mystery aspects to try (grade levels are my estimates based on experience, and take into account reading level and background knowledge/maturity needed to understand/cope with subject matter, both equally important!):

The 39 Clues series (by various authors; grade 3 and up; book 1 is The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan)

Island series or Everest series or Kidnapped series, by Gordon Korman (grades 3 and up)

Shadow Children series, by Margaret Peterson Haddix (book 1 is Among the Hidden; grades 5-8)

Alex Rider series, by Anthony Horowitz (book 1 is Stormbreaker; grades 5-9)

Enola Holmes Mysteries, by Nancy Springer (book 1 is The Case of the Missing Marquess; grades 5-8; personal favorites!)

Sammy Keyes mysteries, by Wendelin Van Draanen (grades 5-8; personal favorites!; book 1 is Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief)

Echo Falls mysteries, by Peter Abrahams (grades 6-9; personal favorites!; book 1 is Down the Rabbit Hole)

Theodore Boone series by John Grisham (grades 4-7)

Non-series (stand alone) books to try:

Three Days, by Donna Jo Napoli (grades 5 and up)

Missing, by Catherine MacPhail (grades 4 and up)

Fuzzy Mud, by Louis Sachar (grades 4 and up)

A Week in the Woods, by Andrew Clements (grades 3-6)

Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy, by Susan Vaught (grades 5/6 and up)

Read on, families!



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