Books for a Reluctant Reader

Otter is a reluctant reader. It’s not that he doesn’t like books. He loves books. He just has a difficult time retaining details in longer chapter books or anything he is unfamiliar with. He is very literal and so he often does better with non-fiction. It also helps to have books that contain pictures to help him “imagine” specific details. That’s made a challenge for me to find lots of books that capture his attention and hold his interest to keep him reading to the end. Even though he isn’t reading a lot of “typical” chapter books, he is reading a LOT of material – just in smaller chunks.

One series I found that Otter absolutely LOVES are books by Mike Venezia. Otter has a few things he has always been very interested in: presidents, space, science, coins, composers and history dates (specifically when people were born). When I choose books for him, I try to keep these interests in mind as a motivator. Recently he was the lucky recipient of every single one of the Venezia president books.

Books by Mike Venezia

He’s already devoured a bunch of them. Here are just a couple of the titles:


John F. Kennedy: Thirty-fifth President, 1961-1963


Ronald Reagan (Getting to Know the Us Presidents)

The books are about 32 pages long with large, easy to read text. There is a mixture of photographs, art and humorous, memorable cartoons. Each books gives some information about the featured president’s childhood and talks about some major events in their lives and term(s) as president. Even though they are designed for elementary aged children, my high schoolers have enjoyed them as well when we were doing Tapestry of Grace’s 20th Century study.

Otter also has all of Venezia’s composer books. Venezia also has a series on artists and some new books about inventors and scientists.

SaddlebackAnother series that has recently captured Otter’s attention are the Saddleback American graphic history books. These books are like comic books with lots of visual interest and bite size chunks of history that are easy to retain. Your mind associates the bits of historical fact with pictures and so it’s easier to recall specific events. Otter said if there were only 5 stars to give this series, he would give it 6. I found him curled up on the couch this morning with one “just because” and so I think I have to agree with his rating. wink

You can preview one of the books, America Becomes a World Power: 1890-1930 online at Google books.

You can also look at quite a few free samples of different Saddleback series at the official website.

Here are some other books I’ve found that work very well for Otter:

24/7 Science
24 7 science
24 / 7 science behind the scenes

24/7: Science Behind the Scenes Series

This series of books has several different themes: spies, forensics, medical files and mystery files. We don’t own any of the mystery files books since they cover some issues that go against our personal beliefs like UFO’s, etc. The reading level is supposed to be grades 5-7 with the subject matter appealing to even high schoolers.

“Each title focuses on the science and technology used to solve real-life crimes and heart-stopping mysteries. From killer wallpaper to deadly pets, from parasites to mosquitoes, these high-interest books build vocabulary, foster scientific knowledge, and develop inquiry skills through the use of charts, timelines, briefing notes, case files, primary sources, and captivating storytelling. Watch your inquisitive students become scientific sleuths as they read actual cases, study clues, and take a shot at crime scene investigations – all while sharpening their critical thinking and analytical skills.”
quoted from the scholastic website

These books appeal to Otter on a number of different levels. They are colorful with lots of great photographs, pictures and sidebars and appeal to his love of science.

Another series that has been a hit the Usborne young reading series 3. These are beautiful hard bound books – each with a satin book mark and wonderfully illustrated. They are 64 pages long and broken up into manageable chapters.


See inside this book!

Yet another great series is DK Eyewitness Classics. These books take abridged versions of classic stories and help them come alive with a multitude of illustrations, explanations, background information in colorful sidebars and more to help add depth and understanding to what your student is reading.

Little Women


I’ll post some more titles that have worked for Otter in the future, including some more traditional chapter books.

Coral Reef Lapbook

Today Otter glued into a folder all of the lapbook elements he finished last week about coral reefs:

An ocean food pyramid

Ocean food pyramid

Lift-the-flap venn diagram

Coral venn diagram

A lift-the-flap matchbook style booklet about fish and shrimp “cleaners”. After completing this booklet we watched a great little movie online:
Cleaning stations in Hawaii.


“My skeleton” vs. hard coral skeletons shutterfold


Inside of the skeletons shutterfold (He forgot to circle the inside/outside words!)

Clam shape book with sentences written inside

clam book

Coral reef creature cards and pocket

coral reef creatures

Fish defenses

fish defenses

Parrot fish “story”

parrot fish

Coral reef matchbook

coral reef matchbook

Some more booklets:

lapbook elements

Barrier Reef facts shape book

Great barrier reef

We also finished reading Pirate Diary: The Journal of Jake Carpenter.

Pirate Diary

Otter really enjoyed both the story and the illustrations. While we went through the book we used the free unit over at Homeschool Share for some vocabulary and discussion ideas.

He enjoyed the story so much that I put a couple of other books on hold at the library:



I’d also like to get the newest book in this series, but our library doesn’t have it in yet:

Roman diary

Roman Diary: The Journal of Iliona of Mytilini: Captured and Sold as a Slave in Rome – AD 107

This series of books has really great, detailed and action oriented pictures with fun story lines. In the back of each book there is an illustrated notes for the reader section that explains the real history behind each fictional story.

Today as an extra activity for science to go with Adventures in Sea & Sky, Otter made a pop-up barnacle:


You can get the free printout from Ellen J. McHenry’s website.

He also worked on a coral reef lapbook we got for free from Homeschool Share. Today he mapped out where coral reefs are in the world and learned why they are important.

The top part of the picture below is blurry but I was too lazy to take it again!

Coral reef lapbook

Otter is also doing science activities with The Young Scientist Series kits. The kits come with everything (just about) that you need for the various experiments. The experiment he’s working on this week is growing some wheat grass, measuring its growth daily and making a graph of the measurements.

wheat grass measurements

He loves the kits and so do I because I don’t have to hunt down all of the materials. The only downside is that the kits are expensive. On Amazon they run from about $15 to $24 or you can get all twelve kits from Steve Spangler’s Science for $299.95. Each box comes with 3 different themes with several experiments to do per theme. We started out with Set 1. It has the following kits inside:

Kit 1 covers recycling with activities for decomposition, making homemade paper and labeling recycling bags/boxes with homemade labels.

Kit 2 is all about scientific measurements. You grow wheat grass & beans, measure them and graph the results. Another activity is to measure towers of ice cubes as they melt and graph the results. The last activity is to measure and graph some foam capsules after they get wet (and slowly expand).

Kit 3 covers magnets and has activities where you do different things with magnets like make a compass.

Each kit comes with instructions for the teacher covering the purpose, materials, methods, results and conclusions. They also come with student pages. The student pages guide you through each step of the experiment with Celsius the Science Bug explaining concepts and asking questions as you go along. There are also areas to draw pictures, write down data and answers. Writing is kept to a minimum, but you end up with a nice record of each experiment to put into your student’s science notebook.

I got these kits as a sort of “science treat” for Otter. He loves science so much – it’s nice to be able to hand him a kit every now and then to “play” with.

Old Book Finds for Otter

I like old fashioned readers. There is just a certain charm about them. The stories and illustrations are wholesome and there is none of the modern day “garbage” you find in a lot of materials “nowadays”.

Recently my husband and I went to the gold country here in CA and explored a cute little antique shop. I found some readers and just HAD to get them for Otter. Here is the 5th grade reader from the 30’s that’s my favorite:

New Stories of Today and Yesterday

New Stories of Today and Yesterday has 480 pages chock full of good old-fashioned stories and poems. At the end of each selection there are some brief questions about what you read as well as activity suggestions and other book titles you can read on the particular subject. The neat thing is that you can actually find some of the recommended titles online for free like the Hoosier Schoolboy!

I also love the pictures:

We also picked up a couple other books for him. Here is one for science:

Science in Our World

Science in Our World is a 5th grade California state textbook from 1955. It’s a great little book with all kinds of basic science information and basic experiments.

Oh… and gee, there are actually experiments where a child may be required to use a hammer and nails and other “dangerous” equipment!

I just really like these “old” books and try to incorporate some in our weekly schoolwork. I can generally trust the contents and don’t really have to worry about some inappropriate junk that often litters modern day books and stories.