Top Books for Struggling/Reluctant Middle School Readers


For my first 5 years of teaching, I taught 6th and 7th grade Language Arts; however, in 2011, I switched to teaching Intensive Reading for the students in my school who had not passed the state assessment. When I moved to primarily teaching struggling readers, I knew I had to exam more deeply which books would truly grab these students’ attention and help them identify as readers. After a year in this position, I have some go-to books that I find have become great foundations for my students to grow into just plain readers, not struggling or reluctant. And now, after two years as an intensive reading teacher, I’m very lucky to become my school’s Reading Coach. I cannot wait to help all of the struggling/reluctant readers in our school find the just-right books to make them love reading.


Top 20 Books for Struggling and Reluctant Middle School Students 2012-2013

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series) by Jeff Kinney

Big Nate (series) by Lincoln Peirce

Amulet (series) by Kazu Kibuishi
(And Kazu’s anthology Explorer is a big hit between Amulet books.)

Bone (series) by Jeff Smith

Knights of the Lunch Table (series) by Frank Cammuso

Graphic novels Bad IslandGhostopolis, Tommysaurus Rex, and Cardboard by Doug TenNapel

Sidekicks by Dan Santat

I Survived… (series) by Lauren Tarshis

Maximum Ride: The Manga (series) by James Patterson

Any nonfiction book by Seymour Simon

Dork Diaries (series) by Rachel Renee Russell

Smile and  Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

dear dumb
Dear Dumb Diary (series) by Jim Benton

Love that Dog & Hate that Cat by Sharon Creech

Bluford (series) by various

Surviving Southside (series) by various

Popularity Papers (series) by Amy Ignatow

Any novel in verse, specifically Lisa Schroeder and Sonya Sones

After looking at my students’ checkouts for the year, I would definitely also add these to the list: 

Bird and Squirrel On the Run and Gabby and Gator by James Burks

Teen Boat by John Green

Liam O’Donnell’s Graphic Guide Adventures

The 9/11 Report by Sid Jacobson

Olympians graphic novels by George O’Connor

Mal and Chad (series) by Stephen McCranie

Discovery Channel’s Top 10 Deadliest Sharks and Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Predators

The Elsewhere Chronicles (series) by Nykko

Ghetto Cowboy and Yummy by G. Neri

Adventures of Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey

charlie joe
Charlie Joe Jackson (series) by Tommy Greenwald

cow boy
Cow Boy by Nate Cosby

Vladimir Tod (series) by Zac Brewer

The Lightning Thief (series) by Rick Riordan

These books listed may not all be relevant now. Each year, I will share my students’ favorites to keep you all updated:

An updated post about the books that were checked out most frequently from my classroom library in 2014-2015

Post about the most checked out graphic novels and novels in the 2015-2016 school year

Top Checked Out Books by Kellee’s Middle School Readers 2016-2017

Kellee’s End of Year Student Survey Results, Students’ Favorite Books, and Top Checked Out Books 2017-18

Kellee’s End of Year Student Survey Results, Students’ Favorite Books, and Top Checked Out Books 2018-19

2023 Note: These posts end in 2019 because I moved to the library starting int he 2019-2020 school year. Reflecting now, I should start pulling statistics from my whole library to share–I’ll do that from now on!

Reflection Note (2018): This post was originally written years ago, and I now struggle with the terms struggling and reluctant readers. The connotation behind these terms is so negative when really these students need all positivity in their lives. There are other options I’ve heard over the year like striving, undiscovered, or developing; however, I think in general we need to just remember that all readers are individuals, and we need to get to know each kid to see exactly what they need. I explain more in my You Tube Literacy Teachers Vlog interview:

What books/series do you find to be most popular with your middle school readers? Have you found success with the books I listed above? Have you/your students read any of the books I’ve listed? Did you/your students enjoy them?

19 thoughts on “Top Books for Struggling/Reluctant Middle School Readers”

  1. Oh Boy! This is a great list. I now have a bunch of books to look for to add to my library. All of the books I would have named ended up on your list except the Among the Hidden series by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I have had success hooking readers with those books every year.

  2. Love this list! Thank you–I’m bookmarking it.

    I’ll add the Babysitter’s Club graphic novels; my daughter who has trouble reading loves those. The Babymouse series is good to.

    • Thank you 🙂
      I have been really sad to see that the BSC GNs have not been more popular in my classroom as I am a huge BSC fan. Babymouse has been successful but mostly with my 6th graders, not 7th and 8th. Same with Squish and Lunch Lady 🙂

  3. I have found that my readers who are really struggling have a lot of trouble with graphic novels. They like them,but they don’t READ them. I’ve liked a lot of the high-low books like the Robins’ Carter High books or the M. Zachary Sherman Bloodlines books. They have a lower reading level, larger print, and are short. The students who read them seem to build more reading skills than those who try to struggle through longer books.

    • Really?! I’ve had the complete opposite. The picture assist them in reading the story and they ADORE them! I actually have trouble having them leave them. GNs are by far the most popular and loved books in my classroom.
      My students read similar books to the ones you listed- Bluford and Southside are like that.

  4. Great list, Kellee. Glad to see I have a lot in my classroom library. A lot of the boys in my intervention classes read only non fiction. That’s it. So I am always on the look out. Sometimes I will have girls that only read poetry. Reluctant readers stay in their comfort zone, and this past year we’ve discussed branching out and giving other genres a try. It’s been a big success for most.

    • Thank you Lesley!
      Nonfiction is an up and down genre in my class depending on the group of kids.
      Staying in their comfort zone is right! Most of mine stay in graphic novels, but we talked about ladders and working their way up. They really tried to push themselves 🙂

      Thank you for stopping by 🙂

  5. Kelle, this is indeed an excellent post to keep! Just the variety in this list is engaging for reluctant readers! Thanks for sharing on Kid Lit Blog Hop!
    -Reshama @ Stackingbooks

  6. Lots of great books on this list. I’ve read several and recommended them to young readers. Thanks for sharing on the Kid Lit Blog Hop. Cheryl, Hop Hostess

  7. Hi, Kellee. I have just spent the past two hours, quite contentedly I must add, viewing your list and comparing it to readers on I have the reverse responsibility as you- I was a literacy coach for 8 years and due to funding cuts, I am now back in the classroom with 6th & 7th graders who are low performing but do not have a learning disability. While sad to lies my coaching position, I am thrilled to be in a classroom designed to develop struggling readers and writers.
    Thank you for your insights and recommendations to help me build a current classroom library for my fearful and reluctant readers!

    • I am so happy that this list could help you!!!!!! If you need any other suggestions or help, please feel free to tweet me. Building a classroom library is so much fun!
      Hope you have a great year 🙂

  8. Kellee-

    I recently have found myself in a 6-7-8 Reading Advantage Classroom where I work on Reading comprehension skills to struggling readers. I wanted to give my students a list of Independent Reading Books to choose from and I thank you for the list.


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