High Interest-Low Reading Level Books for Reluctant Readers

Encourage reading with books that combine readability with interest levels

Books for middle-readers and teens
Getty Images/Sean Gallup

It's been proven that kids reading below grade level are more likely to read a book that's at their reading level as well as their interest level. If your young children or teens are reluctant readers, they may be frustrated because they read below grade level and can’t find books that interest them. If this is the case, the answer to the dilemma might be "hi-lo books" (“hi” stands for “high interest,” “lo” stands for “low readability,” "low vocabulary," or "lower reading level") specifically geared to encourage reading. Hi-lo books and reading lists focus on titles that engage readers' interest level but are written at a lower reading level.

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Hi-Lo Books for for Reluctant Readers in the Upper Elementary Grades

This list from the Seattle Public Library offers ALSC School-Age Programs and Services Committee offers hi-lo books for reluctant readers in Grades 3 to 6 and has been expanded to include graphic novels and a wide range of subject matter such as comedy, sports, the arts, and science-related topics, to name only a few. (Note: The list doesn't currently provide specific information about either the reading or interest levels for each book other than that they are for students in Grades 3 to 6 who read below grade level.)

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Multnomah County Library Kids Picks and High-Interest Books for High School Students

Formerly titled "Shorter Books for Taller Readers," this list from the Multnomah County Library in Oregon offers a list of 30 hi-lo books for kids in Grades 6 to 8 (reading levels for each book are cited). The library's annotated booklist for high school students reading below grade level includes fiction and nonfiction titles.

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Bearport Publishing

Bearport Publishing offers educational and nonfiction books for readers from kindergarten level through the 8th Grade. An adjustable slider on their site's search function allows you to select the appropriate reading and interest levels for your young reader.

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Books for Reluctant & Struggling Readers from HIP

High-Interest Publishing (HIP) publishes novels for reluctant readers from grade school through high school. HIPSR is the publisher's flagship series, offering 20 novels serving a wide range of readers, aged 9 to 19. HIPJR is geared toward students in Grades 3 to 7 who are reading at Grade 2 level, while HIP Hi-School books are tailored to senior high school students who are reading below grade level. Other imprints include Hip Quick Read, a series of chapter books for upper elementary grade children reading below Grade 2 level; Fantasy-Fantasy, for readers Grades 5 to 10, and HIP XTREME for Grades 6 to 12.

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Capstone Press

Capstone has numerous imprints that encompass a range of grade levels. Browse by brand or by genre. Keystone Books, a five-title illustrated set offers dynamic reading experiences for students with Grades 2 to 3 reading levels and interest levels from Grades 5 to 9. Other popular Capstone brands include American Civics, Girls Rock!, Sports Heroes, That's Disgusting!, Making Movies, and You Choose. Be sure to check out their Stone Arch imprint for older readers.

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Orca Book Publishers

Orca Hi-Lo offers more than 400 books. Click on the catalog title to see the reading and interest level for each title. Orca Currents, middle-school fiction for reluctant readers, are hi-lo books designed for interest levels from 10 to 14 years and reading levels from Grades 2 to 5. If you're looking for short, high-interest novels, these fit the bill. Orca Soundings, teen fiction for struggling readers are designed for an interest level of 12 years and older with reading levels of Grades 2 to 5. You’ll find numerous titles in this contemporary series, including some Accelerated Reader selections.

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High Interest-Low Reading Level Book List

Download a PDF from Schools on Wheels, a tutoring program for homeless children with several annotated recommended reading lists. The reading levels range from Grades 2 to 5, and the interest levels spans Grades 2 to 12.

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High-Interest Adapted Classics

Familiar children’s, young adult, and adult classics have been adapted and targeted to the interest levels of Grade 3 to adult and reading levels of Grades 3 to 6. Titles include "Little Women," "Heidi," "Moby-Dick," and "War of the Worlds." Just click on the appropriate reading level for an array of books.

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High Noon Books

Emphasizing the most common words in the English language, High Noon's hi-low catalog specifically targets students reading below grade level. By increasing readers' exposure to everyday words, its designers believe that readers can enhance their ability to learn and retain common words, as well as begin to be able to read and comprehend more complex sentences. (For this reason, High Noon's hi-lo titles are sometimes cited as appropriate material for people learning English as a second language.)

High Noon also offers a wide variety of genres and imprints across a range of age-appropriate reading and interest levels. Be sure to look for their high interest-low vocabulary versions of six of Shakespeare's plays, including "Romeo and Juliet," as well as other adapted classics of literature.

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For Parents of Hi-Lo Adolescents

For parents (and teachers) who want to better understand the reading challenges underperforming teens face, a 2008 study " 'I Hate to Read—Or Do I?': Low Achievers and Their Reading" from the American Association of School Librarians offers valuable insights into the behaviors, needs, and motivations of low-achieving high school readers.