Getting Teens to Read: Local Teacher Weighs In

As a kid, I would spend my summers sitting outside reading book after book. I remember arriving at the bookstore the day the latest Harry Potter book was released and reading it in the car even though it made me car sick. And trips to the library were a weekly tradition. It’s no wonder that I ended up becoming an English teacher, but – as I quickly discovered as a teacher – that love for reading isn’t always shared by my students. I make it my mission to try to help even my most reluctant readers find a little joy in reading, and I’ve come up with five tips to help you get your teen interested in reading. 

1. Encourage your teen to read based on their interests. Reading a book about a topic you have no interest in can be very difficult, so know what your teen’s interests are and find a book that focuses on them. If your teen loves sports, a sports biography might be a perfect fit. If your teen is a romantic at heart, find a YA romance novel for them. This is probably the best way to get your teen reading. 

2. Read with them. You don’t have to actually read aloud to them like when they were much younger, but read the same book as your teen. This can lead to great discussions, and reading is a lot more fun when you have someone to talk about the book with. Plus seeing you read is a great way for your teen to see that you value reading.

3. Encourage a variety of genres. Graphic novels, comic books, poetry, and magazines are all great reading material. I know sometimes people see a comic book and don’t necessarily think it counts as “reading,” but it most definitely does! And graphic novels can help struggling readers better understand the story. Reading is a lot more enjoyable when you know what’s going on, so why not encourage graphic novels?

4. Suggest audiobooks. They count as reading too! Students with learning disabilities like dyslexia or students with ADHD might struggle with reading, but listening to the audiobook is a great way to still find the joy in reading. And audiobooks have many of the same benefits as physically reading a book, such as developing empathy, critical thinking and a strong vocabulary. 

5. Visit the library with your teen. This can be a great way to spend time with your teen and give them an opportunity to explore different genres of books. Librarians have great knowledge on books your teen might love. And a lot of libraries have teen activities, challenges, and book clubs. 

My personal favorites:

As a high school English teacher, I spend a lot of time reading young adult books so that I can recommend them to my students, add them to my classroom library or even add them to my curriculum. Below are some book recommendations that have been popular with my students, and could be a great avenue to get your teen reading too! 

Percy Jackson & The Olympians series by Rick Riordan: Rick Riordan is a great YA author. This series works well especially for younger teens, but I know older teens and adults love these books too. Percy Jackson is a Greek demigod who discovers people similar to himself at Camp Half-Blood. Percy goes on multiple adventures with his friends where he encounters multiple mythological creatures. What I also love about this character is that Percy Jackson has dyslexia and ADHD, but that doesn’t stop him from becoming a hero in this series.    

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds: Jason Reynolds is a poet and novelist, and this particular novel is the best of both worlds as it is told in verse. I taught this one to some of my high schoolers, and they loved it. This novel takes place in one minute as a teen boy, Will, is riding an elevator down from the eighth floor on his way to seek vengeance against the person he thinks murdered his older brother. At each floor, a ghost of someone in Will’s past who was affected by gun violence enters and shares their story. The novel is a fast read, and it’s one that is sure to keep even the most reluctant reader’s attention. 

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo: Clap When You Land, like Long Way Down, is written in verse, which means it’s a relatively quick read and pretty easy to keep a reader’s attention. The story is told from two different teenage girls’ perspectives as they deal with the very real tragedy of the 2001 American Airlines flight headed to the Dominican Republic that crashed in New York killing all the passengers. In this story, that flight directly impacts the lives of the two protagonists. Camino who lives in the Dominican Republic, and Yahaira who lives in New York City, lose their father in the flight, and through their shared grief they discover each other. 

Hey, Kiddo illustrated and written by Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Graphic novels are an excellent way to get teens interested in reading. This one in particular is really engaging and interesting because it’s autobiographical, and follows Krosoczka from his birth through his teenage years. Jarrett J. Krosoczka didn’t have the easiest childhood. He was raised by his grandparents due to his mother’s battle with addiction. Themes of this novel focus on the impact addiction can have on a family, and how art helped Krosoczka survive and thrive as he got older. 

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus: Karen M. McManus creates a great page turner with her engaging mysteries. One of Us Is Lying is the first of a series of books in which the teen protagonist is entangled in a mystery that they must solve. This first book starts with five teens in detention, but by the time detention is over, only four teens walk out alive. This book will keep your teen wanting to know what happens next, and the ending is one they won’t see coming. 


And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie: You might be surprised to see Agatha Christie on this list, but she is called the “queen of crime” for a reason. And Then There Were None is a novel that is occasionally taught in schools, but many students haven’t had the opportunity to read this one yet, and it is definitely a fun read. This classic mystery is about a group of individuals who do not know one another, but were invited unexpectedly and mysteriously to a dinner on an island. In each of their rooms they find a creepy framed poem about murders and as the night goes on the guests start to be murdered off just as described in the poem. This one will keep teens on the edge of their seats.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman: Neal Shusterman has written many YA hits, and his dystopian/sci-fi novels can lead to riveting discussions. Unwind is the first of a series which focuses on a futuristic world where parents have the ability to sign an order for their child between 13-18 years old to be taken to be “unwound,” a process in which the teen is dissected and their body parts are used for later use. I would say this one would be better for older teens due to the violence in it. 


The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: John Green has been such a force in YA romance novels. If you have a teen who loves a good love story, and doesn’t necessarily mind reading about the heartbreak that can come with love, Green might be the author for them. The Fault in Our Stars might be one of his most well known novels and is about a teen girl who has lived a life defined by her terminal illness, but when she meets a new boy at the cancer support group, her life begins to find a new meaning.  


Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: The copy of Speak that I have in my classroom library is definitely very worn out from so many students borrowing it, and is probably the one that gets borrowed the most each year. Speak is a novel about a freshman girl, Melinda, who is an outcast at school because she called the cops at an end-of-summer party. What nobody realizes, because they won’t talk to her, is that at that party she was raped by an upperclassman who is at her school. Melinda’s secret trauma silences her, but throughout the book she begins to heal with the help of her love for art, and she eventually finds her voice again.  

The Hero Code: Lessons Learned from Lives Well Lived by Admiral William H. McRaven: Nonfiction stories can be so powerful and interesting, especially for teens that aren’t too into fantasy/dystopian/romance type books. The Hero Code is written by Admiral McRaven, a Navy SEAL, and features lessons he’s learned in his 37 years in the military. What I really liked about this book is that there are numerous short stories that revolve around each lesson being taught. And while each chapter does include military stories, he also connects the lessons to everyday life. This is a great book for anyone, but a teen who is interested in the military might particularly enjoy this one.   

These books are written for young adults, but like all forms of entertainment, if you’re unsure of the appropriateness, give it a read ahead of time to make sure it’s right for your teen.