My Ace In The Hole....
Newberry Medal of Honor 2002
For years this has been my "go to" book for my fourth grade boys who think they don't like to read and it works every time.
What Alex Frankovitch lacks in stature, he makes up for with his smart mouth. Although he is the smallest and worst baseball player on the team, he has continued to play for 6 years. He is repeatedly picked on by a bully named TJ Stoner who has been a star pitcher since they were very young. After Alex brags about his own "mean curve ball", he finds himself in a humiliating pitching contest with TJ. Alex's mouth often works faster than his brain and he finds himself constantly trying to talk himself out of embarrassing situations.
Alex is hilarious and students often love watching how he stands up to the bully and how he often ends up embarrassing TJ along with himself. Alex says things to TJ that many kids would love to say to bullies and students admire his tenacity and perseverance.
The ending is satisfying when Alex's true talent is revealed to all his schoolmates.
Although published 30 years ago, Skinny-Bones is still very relevant today. I would recommend this book for grades 3-5, especially those who have not connected with other books. It may be the book to light the spark that will make them want to read more!
My Weird School Series
by Dan Gutman
Lexile ranges around 540
Often many of my fourth graders are not sure of what books to read at the beginning of the year. I find that readers who are still building their fluency, vocabulary and stamina for longer books often enjoy this series.
Dan Gutman has admitted that he writes for "kids who don't like to read" and this is obviously the case in this series. The books are a step up in difficulty and text complexity compared to The Magic Tree House series (although they lack the historical or academic information gained in the series).
It is true that the main character, AJ, is not the most respectful boy and he often talks about how much he hates school. Yes, the adults in the books are portrayed as being completely unable to control their emotions (to put it mildly) and are made to look stupid by AJ and his gang. But that is what makes it appealing to students who don't yet love to read... they think these books are hilariously silly and, more importantly, they want to read more.
I highly recommend this series for boys and girls in grades 3-5 who enjoy silly, not too difficult books. Thankfully Dan Gutman has written a ton of books in this series to keep those reluctant readers busy (My weird School, My Wierd School Daze and My Weirder School series). By the time they finish several of these books, they are ready for something more.
Dan Gutman has written over 100 books!
Check out his website here.