Tag Archives: Reluctant readers

Great sports story for struggling readers: Scrum! by Tom Palmer


Scrum! by Tom Palmer. Published by Barrington Stoke, 2012. Paperback, 74 pages, ISBN:9781842999448

Barrington Stoke produce high quality, high interest books for struggling readers. They also produce books that are ‘Dyslexia friendly’ – the font, printing style, page color, length of paragraphs and chapters are all designed for successful reading. This one is tagged Interest age 8-12, reading age 8.

Publisher’s synopsis:

One boy, two codes … How will he decide? When Steven’s mother remarries and moves down south, Steven is torn between loyalty to his dad and a relationship with his mum’s new husband. Maybe even worse, he might have to leave his beloved Rugby League behind for a new Rugby Union team.

What do I think about this book?

Confession 1: Although I live in the greatest Rugby Union playing country in the world.. I don’t follow rugby that closely and I certainly have no real idea about the differences between League and Union – however after reading this book I learnt quite a few things about the codes and the differences between the two. Confession 2: I would never normally  choose and read a sports book… but I read this one quite avidly and found the story really moving (I had a little tear at one point when I could sense Steven’s frustration with his Dad and the choices he had to make.) Surely a sign of great writing if all of this comes across in a 75 page short book!

We have recently purchased Tom Palmer’s Football Academy series and will be getting all his other books for our library collection. Tom is a very generous author – he puts a lot of time into promoting reading, please check out his wonderful website – link below!

My thoughts on Barrington Stoke books:

I am so impressed with these publications that all of the copies in my library have been tagged and put into a section of short/easy/fast reads for my struggling readers (both girls and boys) at year 5/6 level, those with dyslexia, as well as the boys that don’t like reading fiction (these boys will try these sorts of books because they aren’t too thick and the size is ‘just right’). Having these books together in one place has been a hit with our special literacy groups as it reduces the angst the students feel when fruitlessly perusing the shelves for something to read. I believe in making things easier for these kids, but am doubly motivated when I can see they are more successful and their level of frustration is substantially reduced.

I had previously written about Gamer by Chris Bradford (also published by Barrington Stoke) – after reading that book and being so impressed with it, I decided I would have to seek out more from this publisher. What I love about these books is that they are really well written and are good stories that kids WANT to read.The high interest topics are age appropriate and importantly the covers look like those of mainstream books, not something that marks the reader out as being in a special needs group. These books are so well done, that readers of average ability, would be happy to read them as a quick read. Barrington Stoke have a wonderful selection of authors writing for them including Michael Morpurgo, Jo Cotterill, Tommy Donvaband, Chris Bradford, Karen McCombie, Jeremy Strong – something for every taste. These books are wonderful for kids wanting to be seen to be reading the same authors as their peers.

There are many sports books recommended for boys, and sports books are highlighted as a hook for reluctant readers. The problem for me is that a lot of these are American and kiwi boys don’t play or understand American Football and Baseball. Basketball is OK – as it’s very universal, as is Football/Soccer. It is great to see a book with Rugby as the theme as many of my students play the sport. I hope Tom will write more like these. If I can get boys reading these sorts of books there is always the opportunity to ladder them onto other great sports fiction, even if it is about baseball (e.g. Mike Lupica) because once they are confidently reading then they will be happier to explore other titles and will be able to see the parallels about striving for success, acceptance and identifying with the characters no matter which sport is the subject of the story.



Hooray for Tom Angleberger, Origami Yoda, Darth Paper the Fortune Wookiee and now Horton Halfpott!

I love Tom Angleberger’s books, if only I had more copies of each and every one of them. The copies I have of the Origami Yoda series are in such high demand that they have never been shelved (unless you count the new book display and the hold shelf!)


Horton Halfpott or the fiendish mystery of Smugwick Manor or the Loosening of M’Lady Luggertucks’s corset by Tom Angleberger. Published by Amulet Books, 2011. Paperback edition.

From the book jacket (publisher):

There are so many exciting things in this book — a Stolen Diamond, snooping stable boys, a famous detective, love, pickle eclairs — that it really does seem a shame to begin with ladies’ underwear . . .

IT ALL STARTS WHEN M’LADY LUGGERTUCK LOOSENS her corset. As a result of “the loosening” all the strict rules around Smugwick Manor are abandoned. Shelves go undusted! Cake is eaten! Lunch is lukewarm! Then, when the precious family heirloom, the Luggertuck Lump (quite literally a lump), goes missing, the Luggertucks search for someone to blame. Could the thief really be Horton Halfpott, the good-natured but lowly kitchen boy who can’t tell a lie? Find out in this funny mystery by the author of ‘the Strange case of Origami Yoda’.

Book trailer:

What did I think of this book?

Loved it! It is so funny and it reminded me a lot of Lemony Snickett but it’s not so dark. There are plenty of quirky and eccentric characters and a slightly over the top style, that is a send up of the British aristocracy and life upstairs and downstairs (imagine David Walliams writing a kid’s version of Downton Abbey…but possibly even funnier!) The humourous scratchy pen and ink illustrations really set off the story. The writers style includes pauses to deliver a bit of “background” which will give the more reluctant reader a chance to draw breath before racing along again with plenty of twists and turns. I like the way the chapters are relatively short. This would be great as a read loud and really good for some of my more reluctant readers as long as they are prepared to tackle the language style.

This book was nominated for an Edgar award: 
The Edgar Allan Poe Awards (popularly called the Edgars), named after Edgar Allan Poe, are presented every year by the Mystery Writers of America.They remain the most prestigious awards in the entire mystery genre. Since 1961 they have presented an award in the category of Best Juvenile Mystery Fiction. (Source: Wikipedia)

Author website: www.hortonhalfpott.com

About the Origami Yoda Series – This is an awesome series for kids both boys and girls, that will hook many reluctant readers in the same way Diary of a Wimpy Kid has enthralled kids everywhere.

“Dwight is a sixth grader at McQuarrie Middle School who is considered quite weird and doesn’t really have any friends. Then one day, Dwight makes an origami finger puppet of Yoda. Eerily, Origami Yoda gives advice that always seems to work, and may even predict the future. Students at McQuarrie soon become convinced that Origami Yoda has a special connection to the Force. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda tells the tale of Dwight and his mysterious Origami Yoda through the eyes of six graders Tommy, Kellen, Mike, Sara, Cassie, Lance, Quavondo, Murky, Jennifer, Amy, Rhondella, and a seventh grader named Caroline. Origami Yoda gives advice to anyone willing to listen—everything from how to stop being a crybaby to asking a girl to dance. However, there are still some who don’t believe that Origami Yoda is for real. Tommy decides to write a case file to prove or disprove Origami Yoda’s realness. He convinces a number of students to write about their experiences with Origami Yoda, while his friend Kellen illustrates the file. However, Harvey, who has always been cruel to Dwight and is skeptical about Origami Yoda’s wisdom, just wants Dwight to admit that Origami Yoda is fake”. (Source: Wikipedia).

The strange case of Origami Yoda (2010)


Darth Paper strikes back (2011):


The  secret of the Fortune Wookiee (2012)


Coming to my library soon….

Art2-D2’s Guide to Folding and Doodling: An Origami Yoda Activity Book! 2013….


Exciting dystopian fiction for reluctant readers “Gamer” by Chris Bradford


Gamer by Chris Bradford. Published by Barrington Stoke Teen, 2012.

High interest fiction for struggling readers.

From the publisher:

Scott is selected as a games tester for Virtual Kombat, the most realistic fighting video game ever invented – so real it hurts! Once a Gamer enters the fighting world, it becomes hard to distinguish between what is real and what is not. Scott must work his way up the ranks to make it out alive, but when friend and rival Kate fails to return from the Virtual Arena,Scott begins to wonder if it’s more than just a game…

“An action-packed dystopian adventure from the bestselling author of the Young Samurai series”

“Dyslexia friendly”

Hear the author read the first chapter:

What do I think about this book?

I was impressed firstly by the cover – because so many of my readers judge a book by the cover and first impressions really count. This title has a stunning lenticular cover and the image on the front will be instantly appealing to some of my most reluctant boy readers. Secondly, the thickness – it’s just the right size for the same boys. Thirdly text size and layout – it’s promoted by the publisher as dyslexia friendly and looks it, plus the chapters are short. There isn’t anything off-putting about this book – so we are off to a brilliant start.

I am really impressed because so many books published for high interest but low ability readers look unappealing and just don’t look like regular books. The kids that will want to read this aren’t dumb and don’t want to be made to feel that way. This book is so “cool” looking I know higher level readers will want to read it too. Other publishers should take note.

As for the story it rocks along at an exciting pace very much like a mini ‘Hunger games’. I enjoyed it and I am sure my students will too.  This has really made me aware of how desperate I am to fill this gap in my collection, I need more books like this – because one won’t be enough! As a result, I  have just made up a list of other books from this publisher that I will be adding to my wish list  for my library. Chris Bradford has another title available through Barrington Stoke “Ninja : first mission“…and it’s at the top of my list as well as two by Tommy Donbavand who wrote the very popular (at least in my library)…’Scream Street’.

If you are interested in books like these, check out the Barrington Stoke website here: http://www.barringtonstoke.co.uk

One of my favourite ‘go-to’ websites for books categorised by age and reading ability “Love reading for Kids” has previews and reviews of many of these titles and is a good source for information on suitable titles for reluctant, struggling and dyslexic readers:


Does this book make my story look fat?

As much as children judge books by their covers they also decide whether they want to read titles by seeing and feeling the thickness of the book and looking at the size of the font. Some kids find the sheer size of titles overwhelming and daunting. The ‘problems’ with large thick books are these: if hardcover, then the book weighs a ton, if paperback,  then after a few weeks of being pulled in and out of backpacks the covers end up dog eared and the spines weak. The thickness of the book often means that to hold it open and read comfortably you have to press it reasonably flat, thereby causing the pages to ultimately fall out of the cover. If the book is printed in a smaller font then you end up with text so small that it makes it exhausting to read. No matter how great and wonderful the story, for a reluctant reader the size is going to be off-putting.

I really identified with the students that turn up their noses at big fat books today, when I decided to buy a copy of Eragon by Christopher Paolini.

alt=eragon, eldest, brisingir, inheritance

My children haven’t read this book and neither have I. I should be familiar with the size of it as at least two of my teachers are always recommending this book to their students. They have read and loved it and I wanted to see what I thought of it and whether it is the sort of fantasy book I would be happy to recommend to students (I really believe that in order to recommend books you have to be totally familiar with them and reading them is the only way!) This book and it’s sequels are perennially popular in my school library. Copies of the first book especially, are always out on loan and due to the size of the book they can never be returned by the due date (all our copies are out at the moment and we usually have at least two reserves for book 1…resulting in the need for me to buy my own!)

Happily browsing in the book store I glanced down and saw the copies of Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr and Inheritance. Unfortunately they were the variety I dislike – smaller sized paperback but still very thick, with thin covers and a teeny weeny font size. The book store didn’t have it, but I believe there is also a deluxe edition of three of these books in one volume. Surely this would be much too big to handle? This is where given a of choice between print and digital I will opt for buying the ebook version every single time. With an ebook I can make the text larger as necessary, if I find myself unable to put the book down I can read late into the night with a backlit screen without annoying my husband. If I need a break from reading it, I can bookmark the page and come back to it later without worrying about the overdue date at the library. For my family I find it easiest to buy children’s ebooks from the Kindle store -that way we can share the Kindle account between our devices.

I want to love these stories and I am sure I will when I read them!

My school is looking at how we will provide ebooks in our library and I have been looking at popular titles and their availability in epub format. Let’s just say that these 4 books are at the top of my list! In the meantime if you are considering a book for your child that is on the hefty side – consider buying the ebook instead. There may be a greater chance of it being finished without pressure.

Fizzlebert Stump : The boy who ran away from the circus (and joined the library!)


Fizzlebert Stump : the boy who ran away from the circus (and joined the library) by A.F. Harrold, Published by Bloomsbury, 2012.

From the publisher:

‘There are many boys in the world, all slightly different from one another, and most of them are referred to by names. These are often John or Jack or Desmond, but sometimes they are James or Philip or Simon. Once, and once only, there was a boy whose name was Fizzlebert.’

Fizzlebert Stump lives in a travelling circus. But although he gets to hang around with acrobats, play the fool with clowns, and put his head in a lion’s mouth every night, he’s the only kid there – and he’s bored. But then Fizz decides to join a library, and life suddenly gets a lot more exciting, when a simple library card application leads to him being kidnapped by a pair of crazed pensioners! Will he ever see the circus again?

A story of a boy, a book, some very bad people, some very brave deeds, and the importance of rubber teeth for lions.

What do I think about this book?:

The title is a bit of a misnomer, as Fizzlebert doesn’t intentionally set out to run away from the circus and join the library, rather he is kidnapped after trying to return a library book he found. Even so, this is funny in a typically English sort of way and it’s the very type of book I need in my library for all those year 3/4 readers who enjoy Andy Stanton (Mr Gum), or David Walliams (Gangsta Granny, Billionaire Boy, Ratburger) or Philip Ardagh (The Grunts). The quirky illustrations break up the text nicely and the chapters aren’t too long. Unlike some other reviewers, I like the way the author makes little comments to the reader at the chapter’s end about what just happened and what is possibly coming up next – I think it makes the reader feel as though the book was written with just them in mind! Very engaging and good for some reluctant readers and also those quirky children who don’t always feel they fit in. Age 7+.


Shrunk! by Fleur Hitchcock and the Story Adventure Project


Shrunk! by Fleur Hitchcock. Published by Hot Key Books, 2012. Paperback, 176 pages.

I have been waiting for what feels like ages for this book to arrive. Shrunk! is Fleur Hitchcock’s first children’s book and was published in 2012 by a new UK publisher “Hot Key Books”.  I read about this book and thought it sounded perfect for some of my reluctant boy readers, it’s not too long and would make a great read aloud.

This wonderful story has something for everyone to identify with; a quirky, likable main character …with an annoying little sister, he is also the new kid in town and struggling to make friends; an embarassing granny and worse…embarrassing parents; a little bit of magic and science fiction thrown in (disappearing planets, shooting stars, meteorites, rumoured alien abductions and the possible end of the world); a horrid bully (who Tom shrinks down to size – literally and figuratively and renders harmless for a while); funny animals and lots and lots of humor. If you like British humor (e.g. David Walliams or Andy Stanton, even Roald Dahl) then you will really enjoy this story. I loved it! It will be on our new book display early in term 1.

From the publisher:

“After Tom moves in with his grandmother next to the Bywater-by-Sea Model Village, he makes a wish on a shooting star and gets the curious ability to shrink things. The first thing he shrinks is Jupiter, then some sheep and a boat.But without Jupiter in place, the Earth is slowly being drawn towards the Sun. With the angry (and miniaturised) school bully yelling from his pocket, Tom has to return Jupiter and save Earth — all while trying to make friends in his new home.”
Here is Fleur Hitchcock reading an extract from her book, which will give you an idea of how funny this is read aloud.

What is Story Adventure all about? From the Story Adventure website (here):

Have you ever wanted YOUR SAY in how a book gets written?
Fleur Hitchcock has to write a new book for her Evil Editor and she needs your help.

Step 1. Read the free chapters.

Step 2. Tell Fleur what should happen next. (Sign up required.)

Step 3. Get YOUR ideas and writing into the book!

Step 4. Come back next Monday to read the next chapter.