8th Grade Reading: Books of Death vs. Books We Love

My 13-year old son came home from school today and complained about his reading assignment, Tuesdays With Morrie, by Mitch Albom. My son said, “We’re on page 30, and three people have died already!”

This year in 8th grade literature is referred to as the Year of Death in my house. My older son went through it three years ago and still talks about it. He had to survive reading Tuesdays With Morrie, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Glory Field by Walter Dean Myers, Night by Elie Wiesel, and Romeo and Juliet by you-know-who. This September, the recommended book to read for fun is Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige (who took Judy Garland’s birth name for the narrator), a violent book that many people have enjoyed despite the blood and gore.

My son won’t touch it.

I have put a lot of effort into finding books for my boys to read. Reading is in direct competition with video games, so it’s important to have a book going all the time, too. The older one has enjoyed Gary Paulsen, Rick Riordan, J.K. Rowling, and lots of other pretty normal boy books. He also enjoyed Great Expectations, which I made him read two summers ago when I realized the school district did not have any Dickens in its curriculum. But my younger son has been a special kind of challenge. He liked The Giver but didn’t like the sequel. He liked The Lightning Thief but none of the others. He has refused to try the Harry Potter and Narnia books. I begged him to read Susan Cooper’s Over Sea, Under Stone, but I was rejected. He liked several of Margaret Peterson Haddix’s books, but he seems to have outgrown them. Of course he has enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate books, but he’s outgrowing those, too. I have brought home stacks of books taken from recommended lists by our library, Goodreads, Guys Read, all great sources, only to have him choose only one book that sounds okay. Then he’ll read about a third of it before he gives up. This happened with A Wrinkle in Time and several other great books. I have been horrified about this for months.

I am happy to say that he loves nonfiction astronomy and cosmology books. He has read several books by Neil deGrasse Tyson, including Death by Black Hole a couple of times and currently Space Chronicles. He reads Astronomy magazine. When I emailed his teachers to ask them why he doesn’t read fiction, they told me he reads and understands well but doesn’t like a lot of books. Now, can I just say that the 8th grade reading list is not helping instill a love of books?

Miraculously, I recently handed him a book that he likes and is reading on his own. I couldn’t believe it when I first caught him reading it. He is two-thirds of the way through it, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to finish. And the winner is . . .

IMG_5442

THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH by Norton Juster!!

Now for some books we do love!

Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting
Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia
Katherine Applegate, The One and Only Ivan
R.J. Palacio, Wonder
Jerry Spinelli, Wringer
Lois Lowry, The Giver
Bobbie Pyron, A Dog’s Way Home
William F. Hallstead, Tundra
E.L. Konigsberg, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Lana Krumwiede, Freakling, Archon, and True Son (The Psi Chronicles)
Margaret Peterson Haddix, Among the Hidden, Found, and Sent
Louis Sachar, Holes

Let me know what you think! Any other book ideas?

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Categories: Books we love, Oldie but Goodie | Tags: | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “8th Grade Reading: Books of Death vs. Books We Love

  1. We struggle with this as well. Have you tried Kenneth Oppel’s “The Boundless”? Or “The Greenglass House” by Kate Milford. The art mysteries by Blue Balliet. I also just finished reading “Revolution” by Deborah Wiles. It’s historical fiction about the civil rights movement. Extremely well done. I couldn’t put it down. I’m giving it to my son to read soon. The first book in her 60s trilogy is called “Countdown” about the Cuban Missile Crisis. My son loved the trilogy written by Jean Craighead George, My Side of the Mountain, The Other Side of the Mountain, and Frightful’s Mountain. Oh, and my son’s reading “Code Talker: a novel about the Navajo Marines of WWII” right now and enjoying it.

    Good luck!

    • Thanks so much Jilanne. I loved My Side of the Mountain when I was a kid, but I’m not sure it’s up my son’s alley. I like the other ones you mentioned…. I’ll try them!

  2. Maybe The Chocolate War, The Outsiders, the Great Brain series (J.D. Fitzgerald)? Does he like any of Judy Blume’s stuff?

  3. shiela fuller

    Thanks, Beverly for this post. My son was an avid reader as a homeschooler. As a middle grader he enjoyed the Erin Hunter series and books by Carl Hiaasen. Then, in fifth grade, he went to public school. He despised everything they put in front of him and personally , so did I. He has been homeschooling again since last year, his junior year. I am trying in earnest to help him rekindle his love for a hold-in-your hand book. Thank you and to the others who have commented on all of your suggestions.

    • Thanks Shiela. This is very interesting. I have always wondered if my boys didn’t like a lot of the books because so many of the protagonists are female (Stargirl, Out of the Dust, etc.), but that’s not the issue this year. Good luck in your homeschooling adventure! Coincidentally, we have also had problems with the music programs because the music is almost all pop songs, so my kids who don’t play a melody instrument just sit there and play repeated notes or whole notes for an hour. It doesn’t get much more boring than that. Classical music is so much better, and there’s such a prejudice against it. Anyway nice to hear from you!

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