Book Hooks #1

High school teachers, how many students in your class have read a book before? Actually read a whole book?

It might seem like a question with an obvious answer. Most people would assume that the average high school student has finished multiple books in his/her lifetime. However, many of the students in our classrooms have indeed never finished a book.

Some of them truly struggle with fluency and comprehension making reading a book a challenge. Some of them have the ability to read. STAR test scores come back telling us they are reading close to or at grade level, but because they do not spend time reading novels and/or works of length, many of them lack the habits of reading and/or stamina necessary to finish an entire book. Then we hand them To Kill a Mockingbird or Frankenstein and wonder why they struggle or turn to Sparknotes.

I use free choice of books in my classroom with regularity for this reason (something I think should be a part of school-wide interventions and initiatives. I have a hunch that time to engage with high interest books raises reading scores more than computer programs which promise the same … probably cheaper too).

If you are a secondary teacher looking to “hook” your students, these are some books I turn to regularly for my most reluctant readers. Look through the choices and the books to which students can bridge to help hook your students into reading, but note, when you are choosing the perfect book for your student, make sure to know him/her. Read student journals. Ask questions. Know their interests. This will help make that perfect book choice even more effective and memorable.

  1. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Quick Summary: Melinda is about to start high school, but at a summer party, she called
the cops, busting up the party and making her a pariah at school. Now nobody, not even
her friends, will talk to her and Melinda must come to terms with the secret of that evening and its lasting effects on her life. Melinda’s secret about that evening will keep readers wondering and turning pages to the end

Who It Will Hook: Reluctant readers, struggling readers and younger high school
students will also be able to easily get through this one

Once you’ve hooked them, have them try: Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess,  I
Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

2. The Fab Five by Mitch Albom
Quick Summary: Okay, as a teacher in Michigan, my students have a heightened
interest in this book as it chronicles the triumphs of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, the five freshman starters for the University of Michigan basketball team in the 1990s. It is also written by famed Detroit Free Press writer, Mitch Albom.

Who It Will Hook: Your sports fans (naturally). Also, Albom’s writing style is one that will appeal to non-sports fans as well. It has a strong narrative voice and is very accessible to readers of various levels.

Once you’ve hooked them, have them try: anything else by Albom (for really struggling readers, he also has a series of books called Live Albom which are collections of his columns. The reader would have to be a big sports fan since the columns are mostly 1980s-early 1990s, but they are quick reads that could build some confidence for a reader), The Last Shot by Darcy Frey

3. A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer

Quick Summary: The amazing true story of a child who suffers abuse at the hands of his mother and his struggle to survive.

Who It Will Hook: I have never found a student who wasn’t pulled into this story.  It’s a quick read and accessible for readers of many different levels.

Once you’ve hooked them, have them try: the other books by Pelzer, The Glass Castle by Janette Walls

4. The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah

Quick Summary: Winter has everything a girl could ever dream of.  After her father, a successful drug dealer, goes to jail though, her world comes crashing down around her and Winter must learn about how strong she truly is.

Who It Will Hook: Girls who love drama.  Warning: this book does have some scenes that are rather explicit.  If you teach in a more conservative area, you might want to be careful about recommending this book.  The students in the district where I teach are for the most part not ultra conservative, but I do always warn students before I recommend this one.  I did a book talk on this book for a group of students last year and read the first page out loud.  There was a waiting list for the book afterwards.

Once you’ve hooked them, have them try: Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree, Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Quicksand by Nella Larsen

Do you have a book that always “hooks” readers?  Is there a book you read as a high school student that changed you from a reluctant to a passionate reader?  Comment below and I will try to include it in a future book hook entry!






3 thoughts on “Book Hooks #1

  1. I tend to offer Tears of a Tiger to reluctant male and female readers and once they’ve read this drama by Sharon Draper, bridge them into a more layered drama such as The Bluest Eye. Speak has always been a go to fan favorite among both genders, especially the artistic kids. 13 reasons Why is a more modern approach to lead into stuff like The Bell Jar or even Chopin. We Beat the Street (a Sharon Draper partnership) pairs well with anything by Walter Moseley. A lot of non-fiction readers will also like reading Black Like Me and then want to delve into more Southern non-fiction and fiction alike which could lead them to Faulkner. I think finding short stories by authors also helps students grasp voice and style to see if they really would enjoy spending time with more words by that same person. I’m thinking of Flannery O’Connor’s, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” or “Hills Like White Elephants,” by Hemingway. Raymond Carver’s stories have always been a powerful discussion starter for kids who typically carry a hatred for reading into my classroom. One thing that resonates at our school is the fact that The Outsiders is and always will be he majority of the populations favorite book…what’s ironic is that when teacher shear this, they don’t push them toward the sequel, Rumble Fish. My question for you and other teachers who offer choice is, how do you schedule it in and balance the required material with the choice?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Hazlewood High series is on my list for a future post.
      As far as time in the classroom, I like the idea of using short stories and last year I used novel and memoir excerpts as articles of the week as a way to hook some students into books (The Glass Castle became a hit after doing this).

      Sometimes though some of the traditional curriculum has to go in place of choice. If this can make reading the rest of the year more accessible and less intimidating, then it may be worth it.

      In an ideal world, administration would see the importance of sustained reading for pleasure over computer programs that promise big reading results but rarely produce life long love of reading (and often come with a price tag).

      When administrators truly understand what literacy looks like, the media specialist becomes one of the most valued members of the staff, time for the entire school to read is honored and protected and everyone, students and all staff is reading.

      I also encourage anyone in education to read and follow Penny Kittle


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