5 Books to Get Kids Reading (That You Never Heard Of)

The Secret of the Snallygaster
by Rishi Piparaiya

Rishi Piparaiya’s Cities of Adventure series, which includes The Secret of the Snallygaster, set in Washington DC, is a brilliant concept. Each story is packed with adventure, mystery and sometimes even a little supernatural magic. At the same time, they serve as excellent travel guides for kids, an idea that should be hokey but in Rishi’s hands is not.

Why It Gets Kids Reading

What kid doesn’t love adventure and treasure hunts?

Rishi taps directly into the vein that gave us Indiana Jones, National Treasure, and The Da Vinci Code. His stories are fast-moving tales of adventure that also happen to educate, but never in a way that comes off as dull or plodding. Snallygaster takes place in Washington DC and revolves around the brother-sister duo Tara and Neil, who have ventured to the nation’s capital for a little sightseeing.

What they get instead is the discovery of a long-buried family secret and a race against time to save the mysterious creature, the Snallygaster. Their adventure swings through the Smithsonian, the White House, the National Zoo and Arlington Cemetery.

Tara and Neil are an entertaining duo, total opposites whose bickering and teasing adds plenty of humor. Chapters are short, and the book is illustrated throughout.

For any kid who likes globetrotting adventure, Snallygaster is a winner.



“Perfect for middle-grade readers who shy away from nonfiction. It is an easy read with short chapters for reluctant readers.”
Barbara Mojica

“An excellent adventure story for middle grade readers. Succinct chapters and an accessible design keep readers engaged in the narrative while history and cultural information are easily absorbed through the cleverly executed delivery.”


“If you haven’t picked up a book by Rishi, an urban trendsetter for children’s fiction…you are in for a treat. His books are curious and filled with subtle lessons for a mind which enjoys adventures. I wish more people wrote like Rishi.”

“Gives great insights about the city WASHINGTON DC and the places to cover all blended into a great going story.”

Discover More About the Author

Hide and Don’t Seek by Anica Mrose Rissi

Anica Mrose Rissi displays an impressive range of styles and a mastery of the short form in her fun, creepy collection Hide and Don’t Seek. Short story collections for kids are rare. Good ones are even more so. Fantastic ones — which is what Rissi has delivered here — arrive once in a blue moon.

Why It Gets Kids Reading

Rissi keeps her stories short and concise, which means she gets things moving quickly and never lets up. She excels at little twists and turns that keep readers guessing but never feel cheap or forced.

For lovers of the genre, there are stories here from across the board: creepy dolls, zombies, vampires, haunted cemeteries, the works.

And Rissi gives the reader a wide range of approaches to telling her twisted tales: an ominous story of supernatural cyberbullying told entirely in text; another told in completely in letters home from a camp where things have gone very, very wrong; even a haunting urban myth presented as a play written and performed by kids. Added into the mix are a number of eerie poems that put one in the mind of Shel Silverstein by the way of Edgar Allan Poe.

There’s enough here to please any kid, both reluctant readers and literature lovers alike.



“Lovers of all things that go bump in the night will devour this diverse, original collection of spooky short stories, creepy poems, and even a tale told through text. A must-read for fans, old and new, of Alvin Schwartz’s classic Scary Stories series. Lots of fun!”

“Creepy stories that middle grade kids will love!”


“I absolutely recommend it to anyone who enjoys MG horror short stories! I see collections frequently compared to the ever-coveted status of Scary Stories, but they rarely live up to the parallel for me; however, Hide and Don’t Seek absolutely gave me ALL the Scary Stories vibes.”
destiny ♡⚔♡ [howling libraries] 

“Often, books are billed as such but are too mild for young horror fans. In fact, I would argue that many of my 8th grade students will be just as freaked out by these stories as my 6th graders will be.”
Michelle Glatt

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The Heroic Truths of Neil Peel by Ben Dixon

Ben Dixon’s Neil Peel adventures update a rich, longstanding British storytelling tradition: the comic coming-of-age novel. Reminiscent of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole and Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School, Dixon’s Heroic Truths captures the absurdity of adolescence with cheeky good humor that will delight young readers and adults alike.

Why It Gets Kids Reading

Dixon excels at presenting flawed, relatable characters in ridiculously funny situations. Any reader who enjoys a good laugh will find plenty to laugh about here. Writing comedy is always challenging, but very few writers truly understand how to write humor for middle grade readers. Dixon is one who does.

Whether born out of Neil’s naive dedication to always telling the truth or the evil manipulations of his older sister, Lemony, trouble is always brewing and Neil is always in the thick of it. How he navigates the travails at home and the brutal social scene at Titfield School will keep readers flipping pages.

Dixon utilizes short chapters, breezy dialogue that is spot-on, and an honest perspective on adolescent life born of his years as an educator. Reluctant readers especially will find Neil Peel irresistible.



“In keeping with the short attention span of most 11+ students, the action flows swiftly with short chapters and the language is appropriate for the age group since it does not patronise or confuse.”
— Write on Ejaleigh Blog

“I bought this book for my 12 year old son, who despite my best efforts, is a very reluctant reader. However, this book worked its magic and for once my son read without me having to prompt him. When it came to finishing the book, he couldn’t put it down and crept downs stairs a couple of hours after bed time, proudly announcing he had finished the lot!”
— Victoria


“This book had me laughing out loud in parts and was so relatable in ways too to growing up and times at school.
This book is perfect for children especially boys, aged 12+.”

“It’s a perfect read for 11-13 year old girls or boys and parents too will find much to enjoy. The action packed second half is especially good and has moments of “laugh out loud” humour as well as some genuinely touching momentswhere themes of family, friendships, trust and responsibility are beautifully resolved.”
Catherine Strange

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My Corner of the Ring by Jesselyn Silva

Jesselyn Silva’s memoir, written at the age of 12, about her goal to become an Olympic boxer is an inspiring tale of the power of dreams, how hard work can overcome innumerable roadblocks, and a testament to breaking down barriers wherever you find them. Few books live at the intersection of middle grade memoirs and compelling sports writing.

Why It Gets Kids Reading

First and foremost, the obvious: this is a heck of a tale. At the age of seven, a young girl dreams of becoming an Olympic boxer and sets out to fight her way into one of the most male-dominated sports in history. She overcomes not only outside ridicule but inner doubt and eventually does make a name for herself as one of the finest boxers in the world.

Why hasn’t Disney made a movie of this?

To top it off, Silva is not only on par to achieve her dream of reaching the 2024 Olympics, but she managed to write a book about her journey that peers honestly and unflinchingly into the world of boxing. Boys and girls both will connect with Silva’s insights into the travails of amateur sports and how dedication to excellence bleeds into every aspect of your life.

Told in a simple, fluid style that kids will engage with, My Corner of the Ring is a winner.



“My 8 years old son read it in 2 days. He couldn’t stop reading. It is a captivating read and it was also funny, according to him. It’s a very honest story.”
Mohamed Hichem Lamouchi

“It is a great book very inspiring for all ages to never give up remain focused and follow your dreams.”
Vanessa Alvarez


“Must buy for all elementary and middle school libraries! I predict this will fly off my biography shelf.”
Laura Gardner

“I learned a lot about not only the sport but also the history of women in boxing. I liked seeing that there are so many role models for young girls…”

Discover More About the Author

We would like to make special note that Jesselyn Silva, now 15, is currently battling Glioblastoma, a non-curable aggressive form of cancer that affects the brain and/or spine. You can help raise money for her medical bills through the GoFundMe link above.

The Wheatstone Pond by Robert Westall

Robert Westall, winner of two Carneige medals, is one of the great masters of horror. Wheatstone Pond (which is most readily available in the collection Spectral Shadows) is a masterpiece of slow-building suspense. Best for slightly older readers, this is a tale that delivers plenty of chills and is told in Westall’s inimitable style.

Why It Gets Kids Reading

Westall’s gift is for building stories that slowly become creepier and creepier, like a noose tightening until the reader cannot escape. Much of what passes for horror in the young adult field today reads like poorly executed slasher knockoffs. Westall, however, is genuinely scary, and he has an expert understanding of how to build suspense.

He doesn’t talk down to his readers or attempt to mimic the trendy talk of the day. He doesn’t need to. His novels take teen readers seriously and expect that they can handle not only his use of the language but the adult subject matter he writes about.

While not ideal for readers with very low ability, Wheatstone Pond is an excellent choice for reluctant readers who simply find most of modern YA dull and pandering.



“Westall does an amazing job at keeping the wretched atmosphere continuously building…”

“Westall…was a treasure that I somehow missed and I’m glad he was finally brought to my attention. His stories are usually genuinely creepy and family friendly. I like that and find it refreshing.”


“The Wheatstone Pond is a richly layered masterpiece of supernatural horror…a fully-fledged supernatural thriller, wonderfully shaped and executed.”
Jay Rothermel

“It does a good job of building a kind of decaying atmosphere…it’s not talking down to a perceived younger audience.”

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Plus One More for the Road

We Bury the Living by Tyler Miller

Arriving in the summer of 2022, We Bury the Living is the first in a new series aimed specifically at reluctant readers. Every aspect of the novel, from the writing to the production design, has been geared towards connecting with kids who hate to read. Learn more about our books.

Why It Gets Kids Reading

Miller hits readers with a fast-paced story told in a simple and accessible style. Short chapters with cliffhanger endings pull readers along, and kids connect with relatable characters that think, talk and behave like real kids.

Finn and his sister, Jamie, are sent to spend the summer with an aunt and uncle they’ve never met. Their relatives just happen to own a funeral home. Next to a cemetery. They drive a hearse. And sleep in coffins.

Then things really get weird.

Miller balances a swift plot with plenty of macabre twists and turns that keep kids flipping pages from start to finish.

What Real Kids Are Saying About the Series

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