A Simple Guide to Reading a Novel with Your Upper Elementary Kid


No matter what your family’s plans are for this school year, we can all agree that developing a love of reading is an important – albeit challenging – skill for our children to continue to learn. But how do we do that, especially in a totally bizarre year like this one? Short stories and reading comprehension passages are…fine. However, as a teacher of upper elementary students (grades 3-5) for almost a decade, I have never had more success in getting students into reading than when I introduce … a novel!

Oh, novels. I love them so much. In a world that is ALL about short-form writing (Yes, I’m looking at you, social media!), novels are an opportunity to dive deep into another world. It’s an opportunity to wonder and think and discuss. It’s an opportunity to look at a piece of reading from several different angles and to watch a character learn and grow, and do it over a period of time rather than in just a few moments. Novels are fantastic.

But reading a novel with your child can be intimidating. Are you wondering, like, what to do exactly? 

No fear! I’ve created this simple guide to help get you into reading a novel with your child. This guide will help you in THREE ways!

  • Teacher tips to help you get started
  • A recommended reading list that has twelve teacher-approved novels for children, ages 9-12 
  • A free Guided Reading Questions and Literary Term Reference Sheet Printable, which includes ten guided reading questions and explanations of common literary terms to help you through your book discussions with your child

(Also, if you’re at a loss as to how to get your child into reading to begin with, check out my other post “Your Child is a Reader. I promise.” where I outline tips and tricks to help your child develop a love of reading.)

Here we go!


A Simple Guide to Reading a Novel with Your Upper Elementary Kid:

1. Do some research, then let them choose.

Take a look at the recommended reading list below and narrow down your novel choices to 2-3 options that you feel confident in reading. Then, let your child make the final choice. This is for two reasons: if you’re not into it, they won’t be into it; and, allowing them the final decision will give them the sense of control that many kids at this age crave.

2. Have a plan.

Look at the amount of pages or chapters in the novel and make a game plan for how long it will take to read and what chapters you and your child will read each week. Typical novels last about 3-4 weeks in the classroom, start to finish, so try not to let it drag on for longer than that, as interest will naturally wane. In addition, decide if you’ll be reading independently, reading together, or a combination of both. For reluctant readers, I suggest either reading together or a combo of independent and together-reading time.

3. Be consistent.

Schedule in discussion time with your child 2-3 times a week and treat it like a meeting. Keep it concise; 10-15 minutes of discussion time is perfect! If you’re consistent, your child will realize that this is something you’re taking seriously, and it’ll become important to them, as well.

4. Use the free Guided Reading printable included in this post to help guide your discussion time with your child.

Print them out, cut them out, shuffle them up, and choose them randomly. As a teacher, I always, always model the behaviors I want my students to show, so if your child doesn’t know how to answer one of the questions, answer it yourself first. It’ll give them examples of how to respond without making them feel insecure.

5. Celebrate reading milestones! 

This one is important, especially for reluctant readers. When you get through your first chapter, the midway point, or the end, celebrate! Show them that you are proud!

(Also, if you’re at a loss as to how to get your child into reading to begin with, check out my other post “Your Child is a Reader. I promise.” where I outline tips and tricks to help your child develop a love of reading.)


Recommended Novels for Guided Reading with Older Kids*:

Stories about Personal Growth and Perseverance:

  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo


Stories Involving Fantasy:

  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
  • The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin


Stories Involving Animals:

  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell


Stories for Reluctant Readers:

  • The (Fairly) True Tale of… (Book Series) by Liesl Shurtliff
  • Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon
  • Bernice Buttman, Model Citizen by Niki Lenz

*Remember, not all of these books may suit every child. The books on this list I would recommend for children 9-12 years old, but I strongly suggest doing a quick online search of the book to read the synopsis, or heading over to commonsensemedia.org to learn more about the book before committing to it.

Guided Reading Questions and Literary Reference Sheet Printable: 

Sometimes getting our kids to talk to us is easier said than done. So use these cards to get the novel discussion going. Many are open-ended and each one has a “Take it One Step Further” part that extends the conversation! Click here to print: Guided Reading Questions and Reference Sheet!

Finally, remember, even if it feels awkward or bumpy at first, keep going with your plan! When I read a novel with my students, I don’t have every kid on board with me from page one; however, by the time we reach the end, every student always wishes it wasn’t over and begs to learn what our next novel will be.

And that is how we make readers for life.


Happy (novel) reading!


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An educator and freelance writer, Laurie has a love of connecting with people through her words. She has a degree from UConn in History and Native American and Indigenous Studies and had the plan of working in a museum, but ended up teaching for nearly a decade instead! In addition, Laurie was a barn rat growing up, and has fifteen years of experience riding and training horses. While Central Florida has been her home for ten years (and loves it - hello, Disney!), she proudly identifies as a New Englander and will forever root for the Patriots and Red Sox. She’s a wife of a lawyer, mom of an almost kindergartener, stepmom of a high schooler, and dog mom to a quirky Shepherd mix named Eleanor. Connect with her on Instagram @laurieannwriter


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