What do tweens want to read?
Tweens don't want to read (or be seen to be reading) anything that seems too young. But some may not be ready for the sophisticated and challenging themes of teenage titles. Keep this balance in mind when developing your school library or class library collection.
Research by Strommen and Mates (2004) found that fostering a love of reading means “making age- and interest-appropriate books easily available as the child matures.”
Scholastic's Kids & Family Reading Report (2016) showed that kids' favourite books are ones they get to choose themselves. The 2015 version of the report showed that 9–11 year-olds are keen to have books with a mystery or problem to solve, while 12–14 year olds want books with smart, strong or brave characters.
Scholastic's Kids & Family Reading Report
Offer a broad range of genres and formats
When deciding what to buy and recommend for your tween readers, there are some genres and formats they find particularly appealing.
Associate Professor Teri S. Lesesne has been book-talking to middle-school students for many years. In her book, Naked reading: Uncovering what tweens need to become lifelong readers, she found that intermediate-aged students enjoy the following materials and genres:
- Comics and magazines — by far the most popular reading material for year 8s. Comics often have a movie tie-in that's also appealing to these readers.
- Series fiction — “easy, enjoyable and accessible”. Consistency in plot, character, approach or genre make for a familiar and comfortable reading experience.
- Non-fiction — consult with your students for their particular interests. Be prepared to buy appropriate titles, which are aimed at older readers. For example, students who are interested in science may love a title like The elements by Theodore Gray. Although not specifically aimed at this age-group, it's written in an accessible and humorous style.
- Horror, suspense, supernatural — great for total immersion in another world or reality, often with heroes who defeat their foes against the odds.
- Humour — Lesesne comments that books tend to get more serious as readers get older. However, students still want books that make them laugh.
- Mystery — equally enjoyed by boys and girls.
Tween readers — keeping them motivated
Magazines for New Zealand school libraries
Reading through life’s transitions
Stories provide the possibility of educating the feelings and can offer their readers potential growth points for the development of a more subtle awareness of human behaviour.
— Benton and Fox (1985)
The intermediate-age years are a time of many transitions — physical, emotional and psychological. Research referred to in the Newsweek article A peaceful adolescence suggests most kids do just fine. And, psychologists point to the development of the 'five Cs' personality traits "possessed by all adolescents who manage to get to adulthood without major problems":
A peaceful adolescence
Select books with good role-models
Books with characters that portray these traits can help adolescents by giving them the opportunity to observe how characters resolve issues and face different challenges.
Ensure your Year 7–8s have access to juvenile fiction that:
- explores family and friendships (for example Dunger by Joy Cowley, Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo)
- have characters that are:
- independent and face adversity — like Beatriz in Island of Lost Horses by Stacy Gregg
- curious and are questioning parental expectations — such as The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.
Sources for book titles
Use our Books and Reads tool to explore, find, and share books for tweens.
In 2013, Wayne Mills and Celeste Harrington surveyed over 1500 New Zealand students in years 6–8 for their favourite reads. The result was a list of 1350 titles.
Mills and Harrington survey results about favourite reads
NZ Intermediate School Librarians group on Goodreads — follow link on the page for 'discussions' to read reviews from librarians.
Cross-unders: Great teen books for tween readers (the HUB) — a good list for your keen readers who have exhausted the traditional titles of your collection for this upper-primary age group.
The ultimate backseat bookshelf (NPR) — 100 must-reads for kids ages 9 to 14 years.
Tween (ages 9 to 12 years) — Brightly — this Penguin Randon House website aimed at parents has information and book suggestions for a range of age groups, including tweens.
Find out more
The Online Reading Habits of New Zealand Intermediate School Students and the Significance of Web-Based Fiction (Otago University Research Archive) — thesis by Michelle Harnett.
Benton and Fox (1985) referred to in Sainsbury, M. and Schagen, I. (2004). 'Attitudes to reading at ages nine and eleven', 'Journal of Research in Reading', volume 27, issue 4, pages 373 to 386.
Lesesne, T. (2006). 'Naked Reading: Uncovering What Tweens Need to Become Lifelong Readers'. Stenhouse.
Merga, K. Margaret. (2018). 'Reading Engagement for Tweens and Teens: What Would Make Them Read More?'. ABC-CLIO.
Strommen, L., & Mates, B. (2004). 'Learning to love reading: Interviews with older children and teens'. 'Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy', page 188.