High/Low Books for Children
High/low books offer highly engaging age-appropriate subject matter at a low reading level for struggling readers. High/low books can help build reading fluency, vocabulary, background knowledge, and interest in reading. Learn more about where to find quality high/low books.
It can be challenging to find a book that will appeal to a third or fourth grader who reads at a first grade level. High interest/low reading level books can motivate struggling readers by providing books on topics that their peers are reading, but targeted toward their reading level.
High/low books can help build reading fluency, vocabulary, background knowledge and interest in reading.
Effective high/low books provide supports for struggling readers, including illustrations to support the text, carefully chosen vocabulary, simple sentences, compelling stories, and characters that interest the reader.
The very best high/low books materials provide these supports invisibly, so that young readers don't feel that they are reading "books for babies."
Learn more about selecting high/low books in this article, Hooking Struggling Readers: Using Books They Can and Want to Read.
Similar to comic books, graphic novels weave rich, lively visuals with a limited amount of text to drive the narrative. Graphic novels can be especially appealing to readers who are reluctant to pick up a more traditional book. Graphic novels are a great way to help struggling readers strengthen vocabulary, build reading confidence and stamina, and develop a deeper appreciation of storytelling.
Take a look at our booklist, Graphic Novels: Read the Pictures, for recommended reads. Popular authors in this genre include:
- Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid series)
- Jarrett Krosoczka ( Lunch Lady series)
- Jon Scieszka (Time Warp Trio series)
- Matt Holm and Jennifer Holm (the Babymouse and Squish series)
- Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret has been described as an "illustrated novel")
- Cece Bell (El Deafo)
"But there was like this sense of satisfaction for readers who maybe have a little bit of difficulty reading. Here are these pictures that help propel me through. It doesn’t take very long to get through a page. Suddenly you read a 220-page book, and you’ve never read a 220-page book in your life. It’s like this gateway to reading maybe things that are more difficult down the road ..."
— Cece Bell
Biography and informational books
Children are naturally fascinated by the lives of real people and the world around them, so nonfiction and informational books are a good place to start with books for struggling and reluctant readers. Start with what a child is already interested in – sports, space travel, dinosaurs, bugs, inventors.
Biographies have a way of inspiring kids. The best ones introduce famous presidents, inventors, educators and scientists in a way that helps kids identify with the person. Try some of the picture book biographies by David Adler, Deborah Hopkinson, Elizabeth Rusch, or Kathleen Krull.
Books with lots of visuals (photographs, charts, diagrams, illustrations) and short text (including infographics and captions) are especially appealing and packed with information. Seek out books by Seymour Simon (“the dean of science writers”), Sneed Collard, Gail Gibbons, and conservationist Sy Montgomery.
DK and National Geographic also publish wonderful informational books for children that are chockfull of detailed visuals and engaging text.
If you know a child who loves the Magic Tree House books, you might want to explore Fact Tracker, nonfiction companion books for that series.
Chapter book series
Chapter books feel like “real books” to kids when picture books can sometimes seem “too young.” Popular chapter books reintroduce familiar and beloved characters in new stories, in a writing style that feels familiar – these features can be reassuring to struggling and reluctant readers and make them eager to dive into the next book in the series.
Try the Cam Jansen series by David Adler, the Judy Moody and Stink series by Megan McDonald, the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne, the Hank Zipzer series by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver, and of course the Beezus and Ramona books by Beverly Cleary.
Poetry just isn't as widely read as it should be. Several children's poets have collections that will make children laugh out loud. Poetry is often shorter too, which makes the task of reading less overwhelming for struggling or reluctant readers. With poetry, a lot of ideas can be packed into a few well-chosen words, so the form offers parents and teachers an opportunity to guide kids in discovering the deeper layers of meaning.
Jack Prelutsky and J. Patrick Lewis are wonderful poets to start with. Or dip into the "reversible poems" by Marilyn Singer (Mirror, Mirror) — familiar fairy tales retold in an intriguing new format.
Recommended high/low books
This list from the Seattle Public Library offers high/low books for reluctant readers in grades 3 to 6 and includes graphic novels. The titles are recommended by the Association for Library Service to Children.
The children's librarians at the Logan (Utah) Library developed a High Interest/Low Reading Level Book List for children in grades 3-12. The list indicates both the independent reading level (by grade) and the interest level (by grade).
How else can you find good books? Search the School Library Journal for their reviews of quality "hi/lo" books. And don't forget to ask your public or school librarian to help guide you to great high/low titles!
Publishers of quality high/low books
The book publishers and distributors listed below offer a wide range of high/low titles for struggling and reluctant readers.
I have recently discovered the Branches Series from Scholastic. It offers a wide selection of very engaging High/Low books. They are right on target for capturing the interest of my reluctant readers.