Suggest Poetry/Short Stories to Read to a 13-Year Old Girl

OK, so I’m back home for a couple of weeks, and I want to spend some time with my sister. She’s still in school, so we don’t get to see each other for most the day. However, she likes to be read to before she goes to bed, so I’ve taken over this duty from my parents. I’m casting around currently for some good stuff to read to her. I’d prefer things which I can get through in a single sitting, so at the moment I’m mostly reading her poetry at the moment, but short-enough stories would also be good.

She is:
-Quite mature for her age; nothing to do with sex (unless it’s subtextual that she wouldn’t get), but most other things like violence/mature emotional situations are ok.
-Nothing too scary; this is just before bedtime, after all! :wink:
-Pretty tom-boyish; she likes the First World War poetry I’ve been reading her, but she seems to prefer the less overtly testosterone-laced ones. “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Sarah Teasdale was a favourite.

Above all, I’m looking for things which sound good when read aloud. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated, either of books of poetry/short stories, particular writers or individual poems. (Btw, so far I’ve been reading her First World War stuff and Now We Are Sick, edited by Neil Gaiman- although leaving out the worst parts).


Both of my older girls really began to appreciate Shel Silverstein in their early teens; a lot of his stuff is marketed for younger kids, and is suitable for younger kids, but once you get a little older, you really start to appreciate just how witty it is.

Holes by Louis Sachar; short, funny, poignant, with almost too much novelistic roundness, but Sachar makes it work.

Thanks norinew- Holes is a really good idea- I read it myself a while ago, and really liked it. I’ll have to try it.

Any other suggestions?

I’m afraid I can’t think of any really short books or short stories right now, but A Wrinkle In Time (L’Engle), The Wind In The Willows, Dicey’s Song (Cynthia Voigt), Calico Captive and The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth George Speare), and The Neverending Story are all good read-aloud books. I discovered Cynthia Voigt when I was 12 or 13, I think.

I love that you’re reading to your sister. That’s awesome. My husband and I read aloud to each other a lot, and it’s one of the nicest bits of togetherness. What poetry have you read her?

Read to her from the Odyssey. Age 13 is certainly not too soon to get to know the classics, and in a few years she might even get it into her head that such things are supposed to be “boring”. Might as well start now, if you haven’t already, and there’s no better place to start than Homer. The Odyssey is stuffed with great adventures and weird and wonderful stories, and should be quite entertaining. And, as it was pretty much supposed to be performed orally, it’s fantastic for reading out loud, even in translation. OK, it’s certainly not short by any means, but break it up into segments and you should be able to get through at least a decent chunk of it in a couple of weeks.

“Sideways Stories from Wayside School” also by Louis Sachar is great if you’re looking for something fun and silly. It’s made up of 30 short stories about the kids at a very unusual school. This was one of my favorite books when I was about her age. I reread it recently and I still got a kick out of it. If she likes it, there are two sequels.

Actually, although you are looking for things you can read in a single sitting, do not dismiss a good novel, either. There’s something to be said for the anticipation of finding out what happens next. It’s really something to look forward to. And she’s a great age: some of my all time favorite books are written for middle school / young adults. You might want to try this site, which not only gives suggestions for read aloud books, but also suggests books based on age, topic, and similar books.

Some personal suggestions:
The Giver by Lowis Lowery
The Watsons go to Birmingham
The Outsiders
Where the Red Fern Grows

(I will warn you that these books do have some heavy content and upsetting parts. A 13 year old should handle them fine, but you’ll know better than me if that’s a good idea for bedtime reading)

Oh, and one more: The True Adventures of Charlotte Doyle by AVI which is a high seas adventure with a female heroine

the Chronicles of Narnia are good
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
some books geared toward younger kids can still be appreciated by older kids. When I’m sick, I like to re-read Pippi Longstocking. Alice in Wonderland or any of the OZ books are great fun (and also on my re-reading them often list)
As for poetry, I liked Old Possum’s book of Practical Cats when I was thirteen… and other TS Eliot poetry, although The Hollow Men etc aren’t really bedtime story material. Spoon River Anthology is also interesting.
hmm… it’s a little harder to find, but I loved the Lost Years of Merlin series (I think it’s only five books. is that still a series?) and anything else by T.A. Barron. I looked it up on and it says ages 9-12, but screw them. I’m 15 and I still like it.

checks bookshelf
Roald Dahl is mostly geared toward like fifth-graders, but is still great fun no matter how old.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Little Altars Everywhere, and Ya-yas in Bloom are all good. I think I read those (except for Ya-Yas in Bloom, which I don’t think had been published yet) when I was thirteen and liked them…
There’s some book a bunch of my friends like about snogging and thongs or something. I’ve never read it, but apparently I should.
Lord of the Flies is good… Where the Red Fern Grows… Hatchet is another maybe-too-young-but-still-good one (my fifth grade teacher read it aloud to us) The Picture of Dorian Grey… Tom Sawyer, Huckelberry Finn, The Witch of Blackbird Pond,

Much Ado About Nothing is good… even with the shakespeare-speak, it’s pretty easy to understand and pretty funny.

and I think that’s enough for one post.

A Series Of Unfortunate Events. The books are pretty short, and chock full of dark humor.

I’m going to second Tom Sawyer- I appreciated some of the humor at seven, and every time I’ve reread it since then I catch more and more.

I also agree that Shel Silverstein may be a good choice; some of the sillier stuff may not be of interest, but you may find a few that work. Where The Sidewalk Ends, for example.

If she’s tomboyish, you should give serious thought to Casey at the Bat. It’s fun, rhythmic, and sounds beautiful coming off the tongue (Iambic septameter for you nitpickers out there). Also, how scary is scary? The Cremation of Sam Mcgee is, I suppose, a ghost story, but it’s not exactly terrifying. The Highwayman is a quite a sad one, but you might consider it. And anything by Rudyard Kipling will have wonderful rhythm, but you’ll have to wade through the racism. If might be a good place to start for Kipling.

Pick up a good anthology of the works of the divine Dorothy Parker. Witty, thoughtful poetry, superb short stories (when I think “short story” I think “Dorothy Parker”), even her book and theater reviews are charming and witty. And she’s oh so quotable, too.

Emily Dickinson is another good poet for teenagers. So is Edgar Allen Poe; everybody knows “The Raven” and “Bells” but he wrote a lot of humor, too. In fact my favorite poem (scroll down to the Ts and select the 2nd “To …”) is a Poe poem, a love poem, written for an Italien nurse of his acquaintance.

Some essays of Mark Twain might be fun (I love Twain), or some good old-fashioned Grimm’s fairy tales. If you want to get into novels, Jane Austen was meant to be read aloud. Bonus points if you can do it with a posh British accent. If you only have a couple of weeks Lady Susan might be a good choice; it’s an epistolary novel and the title character is like the original evil soap opera matriarch. It’s fun to read.

It’s really cool you’re doing this, by the way. I wish I could get my son interested in reading to his little sister.

Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti.

Does she like comics? 13 is just old enough for Sandman or Love & Rockets. A smattering of sexual content, but generally within a literary context.

You could try “The Lady’s not for Burning” by Christopher Fry. I heard it first as a radio play (it’s a play written in verse) when I was about 15, and remember being entranced by its wit and language.

I can also remember as a teenager being thrilled by some of the old-fashioned lyric poems things like Kipling’s “The Smuggler’s Song” and Alfred Noye’s The Highwayman.

Actually, I think there’s something about Victorian poetry which appeals to adolescents, maybe its the fervent emotional content which sings to people who’s own emotions are so powerful but unfocused. You could try Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, or Christina Rossetti, particularly “Goblin Market”.

Maybe you could look for a second-hand copy of one of those “bits of everything” anthologies they produce for schools, with a couple of poems from lots of different writers and explore them. Who knows what she might love and it would be a lovely way to start learning about poetry.

Pick up a collection of Ogden Nash’s light verse.

Try Hilaire Belloc’s “The bad child’s book of beasts” and “More beasts for worse children”. Skip his religious verse.

Googling will turn up lots of samples of these two poets.

One of my favorite memories as a child is being read to; we were read adult books and I have strong memories particularly of Watership Down. That’s a bit long for your purposes, though. Maybe some Jane Austen? I think her voice lends itself well to reading aloud and the books are relatively short.

As for poetry, John Donne can be a bit much, but I think his stuff is best read aloud. I echo the Dorothy Parker and Odyssey recommendations. If you do the Odyssey, however, make sure you get one in verse, as opposed to a dead-boring translation. (“Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’s son Achilles…” – so much more lyrical than “Achilles was mad.”) I also remember some Elizabeth Bishop poetry that I liked. Maybe Oscar Wilde? Though he can be a bit of a downer. :wink:

Campion, is your name from Watership Down? I always thought it was.

At about that age I loved the poetry of Stephan Crane. It isn’t subtle, but at 13 you aren’t into subtle. I liked O’Henry’s short stories and started my love affair with Checkov.

Thanks for all the suggestions, people. Great ideas! I’ve grabbed some Homer (Odyssey and Illiad), John Donne and a bunch of Victorian poetry (especially Kipling, which she absolutely loves) off the internet. I had the good fortune to borrow a book called “The Rattle Bag” from a friend- it’s a collection of poetry by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney, and it has a tremendously eclectic assortment of poems, especially many from other languages, including several of the options suggested. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

I’ve yet to try “Goblin Market” (although I did print out a copy, and will read it to her some time). Several of the longer stories are also useful suggestions for when she starts to be interested in something more- I’ve a nice collection of Poe’s stories and Gothic horror stories that are just begging to scar her for life. So I’ll try some Twain, Dickinson, Austen etc.

She’s actually already read “A Series of Unfortunate Events”, most Roald Dahl (hell, we got her started on that from before she could read :wink: ), and a couple of others suggested- but she loved them all, so good thoughts.

Heh. Not a problem.

Thanks again for all the great suggestions.

Whoops, meant to say “selected by” Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney- it’s a hit so far.

Whoops, meant to say “selected by” Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney- it’s a hit so far.