Hi-Lo stands for “high interest, low reading level.” With simple vocabulary and syntax, short chapters, a slim page count, and gripping storylines, hi-lo books are designed to help struggling and/or reluctant readers strengthen decoding and comprehension skills, build confidence, and spark a love of reading. In this roundup, you’ll find new and upcoming titles for middle to high school readers, written at first through fifth grade reading levels. Whether tackling serious issues like teen depression and emerging sexuality or presenting supernatural fantasy with vampires and werewolves, hi-lo offerings can be as diverse and varied as any other format.
Bach, Mette. Femme. 176p. ISBN 9781459407688; ISBN 9781459407671; ISBN 9781459407695.
Loughead, Deb. Beyond Crazy. 184p. ISBN 9781459407183; ISBN 9781459407176; ISBN 9781459407190.
Sherrard, Brent R. Fight Back. 144p. ISBN 9781459408593; ISBN 9781459408586; ISBN 9781459408609.
ea vol: (SideStreets). Lorimer. Sept. 2015. Tr. $16.95. pap. $9.95. ebk. $7.95.
Gr 9 Up– Lorimer’s “SideStreets” series continues with Femme, the story of Sofie, a struggling student who values free time and her boyfriend Paul more than academic success. When she is paired up with smart, driven, out lesbian Clea, Sofie is nervous about her reputation. However, as the two grow closer, Sofie begins to question herself and her relationships. A short hi-lo title that explores the complex topic of sexuality at an accessible, third grade reading level. Teenage Stelle uses music to escape the challenges of an unhappy home life in Beyond Crazy, only to find that her bandmates have challenges of their own. Her only chance at resolution seems to lie in the convoluted conversations she has with her grandmother at her nursing home. An unflinching look at mental health issues and family dysfunction, written at a fifth-grade reading level. In Fight Back, angry teenager Tyler Josten has always used his fists as his outlet, battling whoever gets in his way. When trouble with the law sends him to foster care, Tyler is welcomed with compassion, and his violent impulses are transformed with the art of boxing. A novel aimed at high schoolers, written at a fifth- grade reading level.
Choyce, Lesley. Off the Grid. 120p. 2015. ISBN 9781459809260.
Deen, Natasha. Sleight of Hand. 144p. Nov. 2015. ISBN 9781459811201.
Tullson, Diane. Foolproof. 120p. Oct. 2015. ISBN 9781459810341.
ea vol: (Orca Soundings). Orca Bks. pap. $9.95.
Gr 8 Up– Focusing on protagonists confronted with difficult choices, these slim novels pack a punch. Off the Grid involves Cody, whose parents raised him in the wilderness. When the family must return to civilization, Cody finds himself the ultimate square peg in a round hole and contemplates abandoning his parents in order to go back to the world he knows. Sleight of Hand centers on Javvan, whose criminal record makes finding a job impossible, until he meets Kevin. Now he faces a dilemma: help Kevin with a criminal scheme or go back to jail. In Foolproof, 17-year-old Daniel thinks that beautiful Cyn is the girl of his dreams, but he soon learns that he’s no more than a means to an end: a way to help her move drugs. Written at a third-to-fourth-grade reading level but focusing on tough themes and subjects that will resonate with adolescents, these titles will immerse readers; the writing is to the point and immediate, the print size large, and the covers darkly enticing.
Jones, Patrick & Brent Chartier. Collateral Damage. ISBN 9781467780919.
Jones, Patrick. Freedom Flight . ISBN 9781467780926.
––––. Always Faithful. ISBN 9781467780520.
––––. Combat Zone. ISBN 9781467780940.
ea vol: 112p. (Support and Defend). Darby Creek. Nov. 2015. pap. $7.99.
Gr 6 Up– This series broaches the complex subject of teens with parents and guardians in the armed forces. Rising basketball star Tyshawn is excited to have his sergeant father home in Collateral Damage, but he was not prepared for his father’s severe injury. Suddenly he has a host of new responsibilities in addition to his busy life as a teenager. Paige also has to adjust to her parent’s trauma in Freedom Flight, when she quickly realized her mom has returned from service addicted to pain medication. In Combat Zone, Justin is determined to be a Navy SEAL like his father, until his role model betrays him with a secret. His aggression spins out of control, eventually threatening his lifelong dream. Always Faithful’s Rosie also finds her life and anger spinning out of control when her former Marine Corps father announces he is reenlisting. These short novels clock in under 120 pages, but higher-level language and mature concepts make them a good fit for late middle grade and high school readers.
McGill, Leslie. Gearhead. (Bk. 4). 168p. ISBN 9781680210446.
––––. The Game. (Bk. 5). 168p. ISBN 9781680210453.
ea vol: (Cap Central). Saddleback. Sept. 2015. pap. $9.95.
Gr 9 Up– This YA series, written at a third-to-fourth-grade reading level, is set at Capital Central High School in the northeast quadrant of Washington, DC, where the students struggle to better themselves in the face of crime and poverty. In Gearhead, Marley and Hector take classes at a technical school. In The Game, Cecilia, a new member of the Stepperz dance team, is horrified to discover that mean girl Brennay and her minions are bullying a classmate with autism. Teen relationships and resolutions are portrayed with authenticity, and though each book can stand alone, most readers will want to read the previous installments.
Braun, Eric. Fatal Faults: The Story of the Challenger Explosion. ISBN 9781491470770.
Doeden, Matt. Impact: The Story of the September 11 Terrorist Attacks. ISBN 9781491470794.
Gunderson, Jessica. The Wound Is Mortal: The Story of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln. ISBN 9781491470763.
Otfinoski, Steven. Day of Infamy: The Story of the Attack on Pearl Harbor. ISBN 9781491470787.
ea vol: 112p. (Tangled History). bibliog. chron. further reading. glossary. index. photos. Capstone. 2015. pap. $6.95.
Gr 5 Up– A highly attractive design featuring crisp photos, colored text boxes and sidebars, and clearly labeled chapters and subsections sets this series apart. Four American tragedies spanning the late 19th through early 21st centuries are described and examined. With a smooth narrative style, each title jumps into the action while providing historical context. Interspersed with the informational and background chapters are firsthand accounts from various eyewitnesses, providing different points of view on each event. Though not as simple as other hi-lo series (these texts are written at about a third-to-fourth-grade reading level), the appealing visuals, strong writing, and solid nonfiction features make this of interest to both middle schoolers and struggling high school readers.
Brignall, Richard. A Police Mr. Big Sting Goes Wrong: The Story of Kyle Unger. 136p. ISBN 9781459408623. Sept. 2015.
Swan, Bill. Jailed for Life for Being Black: The Story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. 144p. ISBN 978-1459406667. 2015.
ea vol: (Real Justice). Lorimer.
Gr 6 Up –Engaging true crime for hi-lo readers. Despite the odd-sounding title, A Police Mr. Big Sting Goes Wrong is a fascinating look at police tactics, wrongful convictions, and the inner workings of the criminal justice system. In 1990, Kylie Unger and his friends spent a night drinking and partying. In the morning, a 16-year-old girl was dead. The police used a tactic known as a “Mr. Big Sting” to trap the teen into making a false confession. The book details these events, his conviction, and fight to be acquitted. Jailed for Life recounts the story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the middle-weight boxer who was wrongfully convicted of a triple murder, spent 20 years behind bars, and advocated against racist police practices. Written at a fourth-grade reading level with short, straightforward sentences and simple syntax that fits the true crime tone, these titles are ideal for sparking conversation on choice, prejudice, corruption, and social justice.
Dr. Dre. ISBN 9781622509287.
Beyoncé. ISBN 9781622509270.
Pharrell Williams. ISBN 9781622509263.
Sean Combs. ISBN 9781622509294.
ea vol: 48p.(Hip-Hop Biographies). glossary. chron. photos. Saddleback. 2015. pap. $10.95.
Gr 6 Up– Top hip-hop stars are profiled in these eye-catching, photo-filled biographies written at a fourth-grade reading level. Each entry in the series features information on the particular musical style of the artist and describes their childhood and family life, struggles they had to overcome on the path to superstardom, their signature fashion and inspirations, how they give back to their communities, and any relevant rivalries in the hip-hop world. Highlighted vocabulary words are defined in a glossary at the back. Though these books may get dated rather quickly, the high-interest subject matter and slick design will ensure they circulate widely in a short period of time.
Haney, Jill. Area 51. ISBN 9781680210316.
Henneberg, Susan. Cloning. ISBN 9781680210347.
––––. Drones. ISBN 9781680210293.
McHugh, Arianne. Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. ISBN 9781680210354.
Perritano, John. Fault Lines. ISBN 9781680210538.
––––. Monsters of the Deep. ISBN 9781 680210286.
––––. Monsters on Land. ISBN 9781 680210309.
––––. Wormholes. ISBN 9781680210330.
––––. Virtual Reality. ISBN 9781680210361.
Pizer, Carol. Witchcraft. ISBN 9781 680210323.
ea vol: 72p. (Red Rhino Nonfiction). photos. Saddleback. Sept. 2015. pap. $9.95.
Gr 4-8– Tackling everything from supernatural creatures and cryptids to government conspiracies and futuristic technology, this series is perfect for upper elementary and middle school students reading at a first-to-second grade level. These slim titles are chock-full of color photos that feature large, easy-to-understand captions and labels. Additional illustrations, concise sidebars with fun facts, and the short chapters will keep struggling readers engaged.
Lanser, Amanda. The American Revolution by the Numbers. ISBN 9781491442944.
––––. The Civil War by the Numbers. ISBN 9781491442951.
––––. World War I by the Numbers. ISBN 9781491442968.
––––. World War II by the Numbers. ISBN 9781491442975.
ea vol: 32p. (America at War by the Numbers). chron. further reading. glossary. maps. index. photos. websites. Capstone/Edge Bks. 2015. Tr. $27.32.
Gr 4-8–– This clever take on American history hooks readers with compelling statistics, often presented as infographics. For example, readers discover that 92,000 pounds of tea was tossed into the harbor during the Boston Tea Party, that 33 percent of the South was made up of African American slaves, and that 250,000 U.S. troops were sent to Europe each month in 1944. Short introductory paragraphs provide background and context, while smart graphics, including pie charts, bar graphs, and maps, illuminate the impact of these wars in terms of economics, government action, and human losses. Written at a third-to-fourth-grade reading level, these books will appeal to upper elementary and middle school students looking for something a bit different with their history.
Bates, Sonya Spreen. Off the Rim. 168p. 2015. ISBN 9781459808881.
O’Connor, Heather M. Betting Game. 216p. Oct. 2015. ISBN 9781459809307.
ea vol: (Orca Sports). Orca Bks. pap. $9.95.
Gr 4-8– Orca’s excellent and long-running sports fiction series adds two new installments. In Off the Rim, Dylan, a high school baller, is pleased to finally be added to his team’s starting lineup for the play-offs. But his girlfriend Jenna becomes the victim of some disturbing cyberbullying as well as some scary real-life threats. The teens must figure out who’s trying to scare them and why. In Betting Game, Jack, a star soccer player, finds himself mixed up in an illegal betting scheme, with the trust of his brother and his teammates on the line. Tight and authentic sports action combined with engaging characters make these titles great for sports fans as well as readers who enjoy action and drama.
Howling, Eric. Red Zone Rivals. 136p. ISBN 9781459407152; ISBN 9781459407145.
Trifunov, David. Ice Time. 112p. ISBN 9781459408555; ISBN 9781459408548; ISBN 9781459408562.
Whyte, Janet M. Shot in the Dark. 104p. ISBN 9781459408517; ISBN 9781459408500; ISBN 9781459408524.
ea vol: (Sports Stories). Lorimer. Sept. 2015. Tr. $16.95. pap. $9.95. ebk. $7.95.
Gr 6-9– In Red Zone Rivals, starting quarterback Quinn’s got a new coach who doesn’t quite get him, a rival jockeying for his position, and a nerdy peer tutor. Ice Time’s Paul wants more than anything to join a hockey team, but his mother can’t afford the fees or equipment. When Paul’s best friend has a concussion, the boy has a shot at the team—and an opportunity of realizing his dream. Micah, the protagonist of Shot in the Dark, is up against something more challenging than a fierce opponent: the eighth grader lands a spot on the goalball team, but he’s got a degenerative eye condition—and some understandable anger issues—to contend with. Featuring covers clearly labeled with the sport in question, action-packed stories, and characters with diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, these books are written at a third-grade reading level but are sure to hook sporty middle school students.
Mysteries and Action
Anderson-Dargatz, Gail. Playing with Fire: A Claire Abbott Mystery. 120p. Oct. 2015. ISBN 9781459808409.
Tierney, Ronald. The Blue Dragon: A Peter Strand Mystery. 168p. Sept. 2015. ISBN 9781459809048.
Wan, Michelle. I.O.U. Dead: A Keno Kalder Mystery. 144p. Sept. 2015. ISBN 9781459809086.
ea vol: (Rapid Reads). Orca Bks./Raven Bks. pap. $9.95.
Gr 10 Up –Natural sleuth Claire Abbott returns in Playing with Fire. With her “radar for crime,” she thinks she knows the identity of the town arsonist but encounters doubt and danger at every turn. In I.O.U. Dead, Keno Kalder runs into trouble while working as a slumlord’s rent collector. What started as blackmail escalates quickly when someone is murdered. Peter Strand intends to stay out of the murder that got him hired at The Blue Dragon apartment building. When he finds out one of the tenants is the killer, however, Peter unlocks the Blue Dragon’s secrets, and some of his own. This gritty Orca series provides entertaining, accessible mysteries for teens 16 and up who are reading at elementary levels.
Brouwer, Sigmund. Unleashed. 168p. ISBN 9781459807303.
Deen, Natasha. Burned. 168p. ISBN 9781459807266.
Graves, Judith. Exposed. 144p. ISBN 9781459807228.
ea vol: (Retribution). Orca Bks. Oct. 2015. pap. $9.95.
Gr 9 Up Wealthy trust-fund baby Jace seems to have it all in Unleashed, but trouble brews under the surface; he is constantly trying to protect his brother from their father’s abuse, and their mother’s neglect. As he trains to defend himself, he gradually learns trust through two girls who are also working toward retribution. In Burned, Josie is scraping by as a homeless teen after a dirty cop set her house ablaze. She has to team up with unlikely partners in order to exact justice for her family. Raven survives as the protégé of a car theft boss in Exposed, training new recruits. But when her boss reveals himself to be a murderer, Raven is determined to bring him down. Falling on the longer side of hi-lo spectrum, these titles boast an average of 150 pages. However, large text and middle grade reading levels make the series accessible to struggling teen readers.
Horror and Fantasy
Bracken, Beth & Kay Fraser. The Hidden Things: Vol. 9. ISBN 9781434291851.
––––. The Seventh Kingdom: Vol. 10. ISBN 9781434291868.
––––. Return to the Crows: Vol. 11. ISBN 9781434291875.
––––. Promise: Vol. 12. ISBN 978434291882.
ea vol: illus. by Odessa Sawyer. Capstone. 96p. lib. ed. $22.65.
Gr 6-9– The epic fantasy saga continues. As in the previous installments, the stunning, photorealistic artwork enhances the atmospheric storytelling, which will engage struggling readers. Soli is trapped in Faerieground while her friends Lucy and Kheelan fight to save her and Faerieground. She begins to align herself with the Crows—the dark faeries—and eventually must choose sides. Themes of first love, identity, friendship, and family are explored in this series for middle schoolers reading at a first-to-third grade level. Magical works for fantasy fans.
Hueller, P.W. The Wish. ISBN 9781632350596; ISBN 9781632351197.
––––. Wolf High. ISBN 9781632350558; ISBN 9781632351159.
Troupe, Thomas Kingsley. The Dark Lens. ISBN 9781632350541; ISBN 9781632351142.
Welvaert, Scott R. The 13th Floor. ISBN 9781632350565; ISBN 9781632351166.
ea vol: 96p. (Tartan House). ebook available. Grand Central/Twelve. 2015. Tr. $28.50. pap. $9.95.
Gr 6-10– new addition to the “Tartan House” series, The Wish features scrawny high schooler Robert, who has found himself in a fight with the biggest kid at Grove Park High. When his wish to win the fight is miraculously granted, strange things start happening. Alex triggers strange events of his own in The Dark Lens, opening a world full of ghoulish creatures with a mystical lens. When Sam and his friends find a dangerous video game called The 13th Floor, they are so entranced by the violence and gore that they are unable to stop playing, even when bad things happen in real life. In Wolf High, Alex Hughes is on his way to becoming a violent werewolf with no recollection of his old identity, unless his mom can find the cure for the drug she created in the first place. All titles have center-justified text with plenty of white space per page, along with a “Questions to Think About” section for further discussion. With enough gore and chills to satisfy middle and high schoolers, the text is at a fifth grade reading level.
Hulme-Cross, Benjamin. The Marsh Demon. ISBN 9781467757249; ISBN 9781467780872.
––––. The Red Thirst. ISBN 9781467757256; ISBN 9781467780889.
––––. Ship of Death. ISBN 9781467757270; ISBN 9781467780902.
ea vol: illus. by Nelson Evergreen. 64p. (Dark Hunter). ebook available. Darby Creek. Sept. 2015. Tr. $17.32. pap. $4.99.
Gr 5-9 –In these slim volumes written at a third grade reading level, Edgar and Mary are two young hunters in training assisting Dark Hunter Mr. Blood. The Marsh Demon sees Mary and Edgar in peril, when a demon begins stealing children. Can Mr. Blood defeat the demon before Mary and Edgar become its victims? In The Red Thirst, the hunters go after a vampire; when she attacks, it’s up to Edgar to vanquish the monster. Mr. Blood and his protégés must defeat a ghost ship that’s taking lives in Ship of Death. Attributes include large typeface, frequent black-and-white illustrations, and pages with sparse amounts of text suited for struggling readers.
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