High Interest-Low Vocab Books: You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

BookendsLynn:  A gazillion years ago when I started in my first school library, I bought some high interest-low vocabulary books at the request of my teachers. Frankly, they were awful! They had dull, plodding stories and were afflicted with orange, blue, or pea green covers that shrieked BOOKS FOR BAD READERS for all to see. No kid wanted to check one out and the things were read only under duress.

Like every school librarian, I’ve had to scramble over the years to find books that appeal to kids who were struggling readers, and it was hard to find things that appeal to a 13- or 14-year-old with a 3rd grade reading level. Recently I was asked to give some presentations on reaching reluctant readers and it pushed me to read a flock of new books aimed at the struggling reader. I’m here to tell you that those things have come a long way!

While most aren’t yet candidates for the Printz award, there are many books that happily are appealing, interesting, and attractive books for middle and high school readers with 2.0 to 4.5 grade reading levels. My hat is off to the publishers and authors working hard on this difficult challenge. Thanks! A big thumbs up from Bookends!

Hi-lo books—you’ve come a long way and we’re delighted!

Here’s a sampling of a few I’ve recently read:

eye soreFirst up is a shoutout to Canadian publisher Orca that has been turning out excellent hi-lo books for many years and continues to expand its offerings. The Orca Currents and Orca Soundings series offer some of the best titles for teens reading below grade level. New titles for this spring include Chick: Lister, by Alex Van Tol, about a boy who deals with his father’s demanding expectations by making lists. Topics of romance, OCD, and family relationships will make this appealing to readers at all levels. Also new for spring is Eye Sore, by Melanie Jackson, about a teen suffering from vertigo who takes on a mystery involving his father’s Eye, a Ferris wheel with glass bottom gondolas that soars over Vancouver.

Pick and rollPick and Rollby Kelsey Blair, is from Lorimer’s Sports Stories Series. Jazz Smith-Mohapatra is the star player on her middle school basketball team and she’s determined to help her team win the league championship. School and especially math is a challenge to Jazz, but she focuses on her sport, her best friend Cindy, and a crush on a gorgeous boy. Then, in a critical game, Jazz sets a screen and an opposing player suffers a severe concussion. Suspended from the team, Jazz finds herself rejected by her best friend, avoided by her team, and desperately unsure if she deliberately hurt the other girl. Jazz’s story is fast-paced and compelling. The basketball scenes are especially well written and Jazz is a sympathetic character readers will cheer for. The series features both boys and girls and a variety of sports including hockey, baseball, volleyball, and more. I also appreciate the very attractive covers that feature characters of color.

Lerner’s high interest-low vocabulary imprint Darby Creek has a number of series including these books from new or recent series:

MooreMake Something of It, by Stephanie Perry Moore, is from the Sharp Sisters series. Four sisters in an upper-middle class family pursue career goals, cope with high school and their father’s mayoral campaign, boyfriends, rivalries, and issues of race. I frequently had requests from African-American students for books that reflected middle class families and I’m really happy to find this series. There were definitely some plot issues in this first book, but I know readers will welcome the concept and follow the series. It has an attractive cover as well.

Also from Stephanie Perry Moore is the new Swoop List series. I read the first book, Give It Up. Four girls find themselves on the Swoop list—a list boys create of girls who in my day were labeled “easy.” The stories chronicle how the girls ended up on the list and how they band together and turn their lives around. This series, with its suggestive titles, is for high schoolers. There are sexual situations, but most are described either off scene or in terms that aren’t too graphic for high school collections. The topic, appealing packaging, simple sentences, and fast pacing are well designed for the target audience.

JonesAuthor and library-world icon Patrick Jones has written several series for Lerner, including first book Out of the Tunnel from The Red Zone series. In Troy, Ohio, football is everything and Brian Norwood, son of a legendary Troy player, has finally realized his dream. He’s the starting tight end on a team bound for glory but Brian discovers life inside the dream is not what he imagined.

Hi-lo books—you’ve come a long way and we’re delighted!





About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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