Adele has been a youth services librarian in public libraries for 20 years.
Best Books and Materials for Girls Who Are Reluctant Readers
If your girl would rather do almost anything than pick up some reading material, check out this site which has useful tips and lots of suggestions for materials that will spark her interest.
My Own Reluctant Reader
My daughter was a reluctant reader who was put into a remedial group in 1st grade. At first, I wasn't sure what to do (even though I'm a librarian) because I had been such a voracious reader in school that I would read just about anything.
But, as you'll see, we figured out some things that she liked to read, and she was able to build her confidence. Now she is a high-schooler who takes advanced English classes and enjoys reading Lord of the Rings and Shakespeare.
To navigate, you may use the links on the Table of Contents below, or just keep scrolling down the page. The software for this site-builder puts the information in one long, continuous segment, rather than directing you to other pages.
A Note About Reading Levels
There are several formulas that assign a number that shows the level of a given piece of writing. The one I’ve chosen is Accelerated Reading, also known as AR level.
The levels roughly correspond to grades. For example, a 3.5 level would be something that would generally be readable by third graders halfway through the school year.
However, the AR level is just a general guideline and should be used within a range. Don’t be afraid to let your girl try something that is above her normal range, even if she is a reluctant reader. Many of these books are not as difficult as the reading level would suggest. They combine pictures and short chunks of text that make them easy to read.
Conversely, let your girl pick things below her reading level as well. The main thing for a reluctant reader is to get her interested in reading and find it enjoyable. When children read books that are a little easier, they develop fluency. For this reason, you can also let your girl read the same book over and over. Even though repetition like this can drive adults crazy, children enjoy repeating things, and they are learning more each time they read a book.
Accelerated Reader Website
On this site, you can determine the reading level of a certain book. You can also enter your child's grade, interests, and/or reading level, and get a results list of recommended books.
Comics and Graphic Novels to Get Girls Into Reading
Comics and graphic novels break the text into smaller chunks that make them less daunting to reluctant readers. They also provide lots of action, and picture clues that help struggling readers figure out what the words are saying.
Most people are familiar with comics, but graphic novels are a relatively new format. A graphic novel is set up much the same as a comic book with the page divided into panels with pictures and dialogue bubbles. The main difference with graphic novels is size: they have smaller pages, like a novel, and they tend to be thicker. They often also tell longer stories than you’ll find in a traditional comic book.
Read More From Wehavekids
New! Lupin Leaps in by Georgia Dunn
AR Reading Level: 2.2; Grades 3-6
Georgia Dunn does an admirable job of getting into the mind of a cat in this amusing graphic novel which puts her three housecats in the role of reporters for Cat News (CN) as they pick up their microphones and report on things like warm laundry, Christmas trees, and the always-frightening vacuum cleaner.
Lupin Leaps In is a series of “breaking news reports” that are 3 or 4 pages long, perfect for dipping into for short periods of time to get a little laugh.
I especially like the first news story, “The Man Lost His Tail.” We see two cats (Lupin and Puck) sitting at a news desk dressed in suits with a box of tissues ready, presumably because they are reporting on such an emotional story. They have noticed that the man of the house is missing his long dark ponytail (we know he just got a haircut) and they are speculating on how it will affect his sense of balance. At one point, Puck asks, “Are we certain people even need tails?” Elvis, the no-nonsense Siamese replies curtly, “Yes.”
Concerned about the Man’s well-being, Lupin and Puck descend on him with their microphones, “Is your back cold? …do you need to lie down?” Finally the softhearted Puck curls his tail around the man’s neck “It’ll be okay. We’ll just share mine.” The man sits with a slightly bewildered look on his face, (apparently the people in the household aren’t able to see the suits or microphones or hear the cats’ comments), probably trying to figure out why the cat has a sudden urge to wrap itself around his neck.
The humor continues as the cats break even more stories: The People Bought a Bird Magnet (a birdhouse), The Annual Gourd Sacrifice Has Begun (carving a Halloween pumpkin), and We’ve Been Forced Into Stupid Little Suits (Halloween costumes for cats).
The watercolor drawings are charming, and the author includes some notes on how to draw the characters as well as providing several paper dolls of the cats and their outfits that children can cut out.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
AR Reading Level: 3.2; For girls in grades 3-6
You have to love a book that has a roller derby girl in rainbow socks on the cover. You can tell she’s exuberant and ambitious.
Roller Girl is a book that will appeal to girls who are going through friendship transitions and looking ahead to all the changes that middle school will bring.
Life takes a turn for Astrid, a fifth-grade girl, when she attends a roller derby game with her best friend, Nicole. Astrid’s mother has taken the two of them to an evening of “cultural enlightenment,” and Astrid is fascinated with the game. Her best friend, not so much.
Since they have been best friends for so long, Astrid assumes that she and Nicole will sign up for roller derby camp, but she finds out that Nicole has very different interests and chooses to go to a ballet camp instead.
What follows is a two-pronged story for Astrid. On the one hand, she is dealing with becoming estranged from a long-time friend. Nicole starts to hang out with a girl who had teased Astrid in the past, and she has to deal with feelings of betrayal.
On the other hand, she is working on becoming a good roller derby player, which takes quite a bit of doing. She can barely stay upright on skates when she begins practicing with the team. She has her heart set on being the main offensive player, the “jammer,” and spends extra time at practice sessions to achieve her goal.
The strength of the story is in its realism. Astrid's friendship with Nicole is not restored to how it once was, even though the girls end up on better terms. They discover they have grown apart with entirely different interests, a process that is as painful as it is common.
And -- Spoiler Alert!! -- even though Astrid works extra hard on her roller derby skills, she's not able to rise from rank beginner to star jammer in just one season. Nevertheless, she does see improvement in her play and is able to influence the game in the less glamorous role of blocker.
Roller Girl has won several awards, including the Newbery Honor, and it is no wonder. Jamieson has created a relatable and sympathetic character in Astrid; she's introduced a new generation to the sport of roller derby; and she has produced dynamic and colorful artwork to illustrate her story.
Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova
AR Reading Level: 2.8 for girls in Grades 4-8
Books set in middle school are popular with 4-6th grade girls, and it’s no wonder. They know they will be navigating those waters soon, and they are learning how to deal with the social scene through their reading, all the while thinking that they are reading the book for entertainment.
Awkward follows the adventures of Penelope (Peppi for short) as she makes her way through several awkward situations in her new school. The story wastes no time in getting to the first awkward situation: Peppi trips and falls on the first day, and a boy stops to help her pick up her books. Inwardly she is thankful for his help, but his actions draw the attention of the mean kids who start with the catcalls “Nerder found a new girlfriend.”
As Peppi will tell you, the first cardinal rule for surviving school is “Don’t get noticed by the mean kids.” In response to the boy’s help, she pushes him away, yelling “Leave me alone!” She feels terrible about it, but doesn’t quite know how to approach the boy (she find out his name is Jaime) later to tell him she’s sorry.
Thus begins a familiar awkward middle school situation: wanting to apologize to someone, but not quite having the guts to do it. And, of course, the longer you wait, the harder it is to do.
The book does a good job of showing how tough it can be to navigate middle school social situations and will give girls some ideas on how to deal with awkward moments.
The book also has a strong plot line: Peppi ends up joining the art club to find a group of like-minded people and that club becomes locked in a duel with the science club to show which of them deserves a display table at the school fair. It turns out that Jaime is a member of the science club, and also assigned to be Peppi’s science tutor.
What follows is a sweet story about unlikely friendships, learning to say you’re sorry, and working together to make a bad situation better.
For Girls Who Like Reading Comics
AR Reading Level 2.2-2.6; For girls in grades 3-5
I admit, I cringed a little when I gave Archie Comics to my daughter in 3rd grade. The corny 50’s vibe. The constantly flirting and scheming girls. But I was desperate to get my reluctant reader to read something a little longer than Frog and Toad.
I brought home a few hardbound copies of Archie Comics, and she read them all and asked for more. All through grade school, she mostly read Archies, with the occasional other book thrown in here and there. Before I knew it, she was reading The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I’m still not sure how a girl leapfrogs from Archie to Tolkien, but it worked for her.
Now that she is in high school, she takes advanced English courses has no problem reading Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
But, to get back to the Archie comics, they are by and large wholesome, and deal as much in jokes and wordplay as they do in fashion and flirting. My daughter still reads them at age 16, and she hasn’t become boy-crazy girls or obsessed with her appearance (or very interested in visiting malt shoppes, for that matter.)
There are literally hundreds of Archie titles to choose from. Girls can find them at many grocery stores next to the checkout stand.
For Girls Who Like Reading About Kids With Special Challenges
AR Reading Level: 2.7 For Girls in Grades 3-6
Don’t be taken aback by the title. Author and illustrator Cece Bell has written this autobiographical graphic novel about her life as a girl with hearing difficulties, a childhood in which she coped by imagining a super hero persona for herself, a super hero named “El Deafo.”
Bell tells her story in a matter-of-fact manner that makes it all the more poignant. She suffered a bout of meningitis when she was only a girl of four, and when she recovered, she was puzzled to find that everyone sounded like they were talking underwater.
She describes the struggles and frustrations as only a person who has lived through it can do. When her girl friends ask her if she wants “cherry pop, juice, or a Coke,” she hears it as “Jerry’s mop, shoes, or a coat.” She explains how difficult lip-reading can be and how isolated she felt at sleepovers when the lights were turned off and she had very little hope of understanding the conversation of the other girls.
In first grade, she is fitted with a “Phonic Ear” that amplifies her teacher’s voice, and she find that she can hear her teacher even when she leaves the room and is talking in the hall—or going to the bathroom. With her Phonic Ear, she discovers she has “amazing abilities unknown to anyone”—just like Bruce Wayne. She pictures herself as “El Deafo,” a hero who can hear around corners and vanquish the kids who tease her.
Bell's graphic novel style is engaging and her characters--in the forms of humanized rabbits--are totally relateable. Children will root for little Cece, just as they do for the main characters with differently-abled challenges in books like Wonder and Rules.
The graphic novel format makes this a less-daunting read for reluctant readers and provides humorous and touching insights to the life of a hard-of-hearing girl navigating the hearing world. This book impressed the Newbery committee, earning it a prestigious Honor Award.
For Girls Going Through a Tough Time
AR Level 2.6 ; For girls in grades 4-8
Even though this graphic novel has a 2.6 AR level, it deals with themes that older elementary and middle school girls can relate to: dealing with social challenges, appearances, puberty, and family expectations.
Smile follows the adventures of a 6th-grade girl, Raina, who has the misfortune to fall and knock out her front teeth, resulting in years of annoying and painful orthodontia. With gentle humor, Raina shows girls that they can weather the worst of times. The book is based on the author’s experiences.
Get this book for a girl who doesn’t want babyish themes, but would enjoy a short, succinct book with lots of illustrations.
Girls who like this book would enjoy Telgemeier’s other works, Drama, and Sisters.
For Girls Who Like Reading About Spunky Heroines
AR Level 2.2; For girls in grades 1-4
With its trademark pink and black color palette and its irrepressible mouse girl heroine, this series has won a number of Children’s Choice Book Awards, a national award which the children vote for themselves.
In Babymouse Queen of the World, Babymouse longs for excitement, but everything in her life is mundane…until she hears about Felicia Furrypaws’ slumber party.
Other titles in the series include Puppy Love, Rock Star, and Cupcake Tycoon.
For Girls Who Like Action
AR Level 2.2; For girls in Grades 1-4
This series is for the girl who likes action and derring-do. The Lunch Ladies appear meek and mild in their yellow rubber gloves, but when a teacher is mysteriously replaced by a cyborg, they spring into action with all sorts of tech gizmos.
Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute was chosen as a Children’s Choice Book Award title, which means it was selected by a vote of children across the country.
Chapter Books for Girls: Ones With Cartoons
These books are different from graphic novels in that they have regular blocks of text, but they are broken up into smaller chunks, and drawings or cartoons appear on almost every page, so that they give reluctant readers some time to rest their eyes.
A Grumpy but Lovable Cat for Girls
AR Level 3.6 For girls in grades 1-5
Bad Kitty is one of the most recognizable and popular characters at the library where I work. He’s your typical grumpy and self-involved cat, but he has his endearing side as well, no more so than in Happy Birthday Bad Kitty.
Don’t let the 3.6 reading level put you off from trying this book with a younger girl. Often there are only 2 or 3 sentences per page, and the humor will draw her in before she notices she’s reading a book with a slightly higher vocabulary level.
The Bad Kitty series is good for a girl who wants to be carrying around a chapter book, but is daunted by lots of text.
My favorite other books in the series are Bad Kitty Meets the Baby, Bad Kitty Gets a Bath, and Bad Kitty: Drawn to Trouble.
**Note: The original title, Bad Kitty, is a totally different sort of book. It’s done by the same author/illustrator, but it’s a picture book that introduces letters of the alphabet. Your girl might still like it if she likes the other titles, but it has a completely different format and purpose.
For Girls Dealing With Life's Trials
AR Level 5.4; For girls in grades 4-8
Dork Diaries: Tales From a Not-So-Fabulous Life is the first in a series of books that follows the ups and downs of an eighth-grade girl by the name of Nikki Maxwell. All the tween challenges and insecurities are there: arguments with her mom, crushes on a boy, dealing with the mean girl.
Like other books in this section, the titles in this series have frequent cartoons and text broken up into smaller segments that make them less daunting to a reluctant reader. Unlike the other titles, these illustrations are decidedly girly with lots of swirls, glitter and ribbons.
The Dork Diaries are a hot title at my library and always checked out by girls of every reading level. There are several other titles with the same self-deprecating humor: Tales from a Not-so Popular Party Girl, Tales from a Not-so Talented Pop Star, etc.
For Girls Who Understand Drama Queens
AR Level 6.1 For girls in grades 3-6
Even though the Dear Dumb Diary series looks like it has a high reading level, it is worth taking a look because the short length (they’re only around 130 pages), the frequent drawings and the conversational style make them feel much easier for reluctant readers to read.
The author, Jim Benton, plays the story for laughs, and has created his main character, Jamie Kelly, as a girl who is a bit of a drama queen with strong emotions and definite opinions on everything. As the publisher’s blurb says “She's cool (sometimes), nice (mostly), and funny (always).” (Some parents object to her personality, but you’ll want to gauge it for yourself. Take a look at the video below to get a feel for the series.) The first book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, sets the tone.
If your girl likes this book, there are lots of others in the series, with titles like My Pants Are Haunted and Am I the Princess or the Frog?
Dear Dumb Diary Trailer
Here's a short little video featuring the girl at the heart of the Dear Dumb Diary series. It will give you a good sense of the main character and the tone of the book.
Here's Jamie Kelly.
Chapter Books to Get Girls Reading: Less Text and More White Space
These books are thoughtful, funny & touching, and they all leave lots of white space on the page so that reluctant readers aren’t overwhelmed by too many words.
Some of them use a poetry format (don’t worry; they doesn’t use unfamiliar phrasing or uncommon words), and some use short chapters or a series of short stories.