Hook the Boys on Reading!

For Middle Elementary Students

By the time they reach the middle elementary grades, boys’ habits and attitudes about reading have developed, along with personalities. Knowing your boys as people may give you clues about them as readers. Which of your boys are connectors/belongers? Thrill seekers/party animals? Answermen? Librarian and children's literature expert Barb Langridge at abookandahug.com offers advice here for matching boys' personalities with book suggestions.

With middle elementary boys, it's all about laughing out loud, living out adventures vicariously, danger, and the gross and disgusting. The graphic novel format is especially popular, and there are many to choose from. (It is no accident that many in the list below are graphic novels.)

Boys this age are still drawn to non-fiction (think pirates, the Titanic, military vehicles, sports, mummies, spies, unexplained phenomena, etc.), and the good news is that the Common Core requires teachers to give equal emphasis to informational text. For suggestions about where to find quality informational texts, see this TeachersFirst list.


Before/after reading

Survey your students about what they enjoy reading and what they want to know. (Their curiosity will often drive their reading choices.) Do this informally over a boys-only “Lunch Bunch” one day. Repeat several times over the course of the year as tastes change, new items become “hot,” and reading skills improve. Send the message that you are interested in how your boys are growing as readers and what kinds of books will keep them reading.

Offer to allow your boys to create a guy-friendly reading space. Have them envision it on paper, and create a list of things they will need.  Have them craft a letter soliciting donations of items and materials to “build” it.  Let them use recess time to assemble the space, and finally let them think of clever name for it.  Read here about how one librarian enlisted the input of boys to create a “cave” for them.

Consider some guys-only activities.  Sponsor “Breakfast and Books” events and invite dads, grandpas, and uncles to attend with your boys.  Invite male staff members, local Scout leaders, coaches, and young men from your high school sports teams into your classroom as guest readers for read-aloud.  As part of your literacy block, have occasional “guys only” literature circles or book clubs, giving careful thought to the choice of titles offered. You might even ask a male to guest-host the event if you are the only female.

Visit guysread.com, a website started by author and former teacher Jon Scieszka.  Designed to promote reading among boys and young men, it offers book suggestions for guy-friendly categories such as “How to build stuff,” “Robots,” and “At least one Explosion.”  Start your own Guys Read “field office” complete with charter, principles, and global map available at the Guys Read site. Bookmarks, bookplates, and spine labels just for guys are available as well.

As an extension for boys who really enjoy the graphic novels/comic format, the following reviewed resources from TeachersFIrst provide tools for your boys to create comics of their own. If time in class doesn't permit this, make the links available on your class or school website for kids to access at home. You might also visit Marek Bennett's Comics Workshop for Teachers, a blog with resources and ideas for making the most of graphic novels and comics in your classroom.

Write Comics


Lego City Comic Builder

Comic Master

Professor Garfield's Comics Lab

Read Me Resources

Toon Book reader and comics lab

Make Beliefs Comix


Books for Middle Elementary Students

Cleary, Beverly. The Mouse and the Motorcycle. ISBN: 9780380709243  Lexile: 860
Snappy dialogue, a rodent for a main character, a motorcycle (albeit a toy one), and secrets kept from adults have made this book popular with boys for decades.

Hatke, Ben. Zita the Spacegirl.  ISBN: 978-1-59643-695-4  Lexile: GN310
In her quest to find her abducted best friend, Zita finds herself on a strange planet and encounters aliens, monsters, and robots. A tale of friendship so well done that boys don't mind reading about Zita-- even if she is a girl!

Hillman, How Strong is it? A Mighty Book All about Strength (and others in the series)ISBN: Lexile: 1050
Boys of this age love comparisons and superlatives—the biggest, strongest, weirdest, etc. and that's just what Hillman delivers in this series.  Written with humor, it offers interesting facts about things beyond what you might typically think of as strong (or big or weird).  The full-size, full color photographs extend the text.

Krosoczka, Jarrod. Lunch Lady (and others in the series) ISBN: Lexile range for the series: 240-390
Lunch Lady and her sidekick Betty sniff out trouble and solve cases –sometimes with supercharged kitchen gadgets! Boys will relate to the school lunchroom setting and everyday school situations.

Scieszka, Jon. Guys Read: Funny Business. ISBN: 9780061963742. Lexile: 840
Volume 1 of the Guys Read Library contains hilarious short stories from the likes of writers like Jeff Kinney, Adam Rex, and Jack Gantos.

Scieszka, Jon. Guys Read: Thriller. ISBN: 9780061963766 Lexile: 760
Volume 2 contains spooky but not-so-spooky-as-to-give-you-nightmares stories by accomplished writers such as M.T. Anderson, Gennifer Choldenko, Bruce Hale, Jarret Krosoczka, Walter Dean Myers, Margaret Peterson Haddix, and James Patterson.

Santat, Dan. Sidekicks. ISBN: 978-0439298117   Lexile:340
This book has all the elements for a great boy’s read—superheroes, arch enemies, wacky animals, and a hero called Captain Amazing.  Which of the captain's four pets will qualify as his sidekick and help him in his metropolitan missions?

Seuling, Barbara. From Head to Toe: the Amazing Human Body and How it Works. ISBN: 9780439570664. Lexile: 810
This is a humorous romp through the major systems of the human body. The book is written in a conversational style, and each system has an accompanying easy-to-do experiment to illustrate key points.

Smith, Jeff. Bone: Out from Boneville (and others in the series)ISBN:9780439706230.
Lexile range: GN340-560
Three cousins, separated in the desert, fighting dark forces and creepy creatures to save their beloved valley. There’s much here for your boys to like, and the adventures continue in eight more books of the series.

Stilton, Geronimo. Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye (and others in the series). ISBN: 978-0439559638.  Lexile range for the series:  410-810.
Another rodent boys can't resist!  Geronimo is an adventure writer who keeps a log of all of his excursions—some of which he is dragged into by his sister Thea.  There's lots of humor, danger, action, and (for your boys who love word play)--puns!  The chapters are short and the pace is quick. 

Vernon, Ursula. Dragonbreath. ISBN: 9780803733633.Lexile range for the series: 650-800
Danny Dragonbreath is a dragon who (unfortunately) cannot breathe fire. This doesn’t stop him, though, as he and his best friend Wendell encounter ninja frogs, were-wieners, bat monsters, and horned bunnies in an assortment of wacky, sticky situations.  A nice combination of text and comic panels.

Wight, Eric. Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom (and others in the series). ISBN: 9781416964841. Lexile range for the series: 530-600
Whether he's trying to clean his out-of-control closet, build a car for the Boy Scouts Pine Run Derby, or solve math problems, Frankie uses his keen imagination and conjures up different persona to help himself through the situation. A combination of chapter book and graphic novel, it has lots of appeal for many boys.