Hi-lo (high-interest, low readability) books are designed to engage struggling readers by exploring complex, age-appropriate themes at a lower reading level. They typically feature simple sentences, controlled vocabulary, lower page counts, and short chapters. These attributes, in combination with well-written, fast-moving text, are intended to help struggling readers build their comprehension and fluency skills, ultimately leading to an interest in reading. This roundup includes titles with a wide-range of themes and topics, from nonfiction books on STEM careers to realistic middle grade series to teen fiction focusing on the supernatural and sports. These new and forthcoming series, written between first and sixth grade reading levels, are aimed at elementary, middle, and high school hi-lo readers.
GOTTESFELD, Jeff. Blackout. 63p. ISBN 9781625509560.
HAYES, Vicki C. Stones. 70p. ISBN 9781622509782.
JACOBS, Evan. Clan Castles 2: Upgrade Packs. 70p. ISBN 9781622509775.
SCHRAFF, Anne. The Forever Boy. 62p. ISBN 9781625509577.
ea vol: (Red Rhino Books). illus. Saddleback. 2016. pap $7.95.
Gr 3-6 –With genres spanning from realistic fiction to sci-fi, this middle grade series boasts compelling tale for those reading at a first grade level. In Blackout, Ellie, a social media–crazed girl who is visiting her grandparents for the week, discovers how to have fun without a smartphone after the power goes out. Stones tells the story of Jan, a young girl grieving the loss of her father, who is sent to an underground world filled with creatures called Cherts who need her help. In the action-packed sequel to Clan Castles, Jake and Kyle must beat the video game villain, Norja, again, only this time in the real world. In The Forever Boy, Bruno, a foster child who is thriving under the care of the Brown family, yearns for his forever home but does not want to get his hopes up. In the process, she learns to overcome her own pain. VERDICT These fast-paced books feature doodle-style drawings on each page that will draw in reluctant readers.
NICODEMA, L.M. Big Game Jitters. 95p. ISBN 9781459504295.
––––. Flu Shot Fidgets. 94p. ISBN 9781459504349.
––––. Frantic Friend Countdown. 95p. ISBN 9781459504240.
––––. Hyper to the Max. 96p. ISBN 9781459504196.
ea vol: illus. by Graham Ross. (The Secret Games of Maximus Todd). Formac. 2016. Tr $16.99.
Gr 2-5 –This humorous series focuses on Max, a wiggly third grader with “super fidgets” who develops quirky strategies to control himself and navigate different situations. Max must calm himself down in a soccer game against the school bully in Big Game Jitters. In Flu Shot Fidgets, Max plays a game where he makes animal noises in order to distract himself from a visit to the doctor’s office. In Frantic Friend Countdown, Max desperately wants to befriend the new kid at school and plays a game to make him say his name five times. Hyper to the Max finds Max rhyming with everyone he encounters, including his frenemy Mandy Beth. Each book is written at a second grade reading level and features kid-friendly illustrations and easy-to-read text designed for readers with dyslexia. VERDICT The series deals with the subject of Max’s unnamed disability in a lighthearted, tactful way and will be entertaining to both lower and upper elementary school students.
TADDONIO, Lea. First Dance. ISBN 9781 624021923.
––––. First Date. ISBN 9781624021930.
––––. First Fight. ISBN 9781624021947
––––. First Kiss. ISBN 9781624021954
ea vol: illus. by Mina Price. 48p. (Head over Heels). ebook available. Spellbound/Magic Wagon. Tr $19.95.
Gr 5-8 –This series follows Lola as she experiences first love with her brother’s best friend, CJ. Each entry traces an important step in the development of their relationship, from their first romantic encounter at the high school dance to their first date at a planetarium to their fight over revealing the relationship to Lola’s brother to their first kiss at the park. Lola, a shy but driven girl who loves her role on the school’s drumline team, is a relatable character, and the series features a diverse cast of characters in an urban setting. Warm illustrations are included on each page, and bold use of font makes the text easy to read. VERDICT While these books are written at a second grade reading level, their romantic subject matter and high school setting make them appealing to both upper elementary and middle school readers.
WOLFF, Tracy. Arrival. ISBN 9781624022005.
––––. Crisis. ISBN 9781624021978.
––––. Restoration. ISBN 9781624021992.
––––. Sabotage. ISBN 9781624021985.
ea vol: illus. by Pat Kinsella. 48p. (Mars Bound). ebook available. Spellbound/Magic Wagon. 2016. Tr $19.95.
Gr 3-7 –Teens Gabriel, Misty, and Braden are aboard a ship headed to Mars when things begin to go horribly wrong. Because of overcrowding, Earth’s residents have been forced to join a colony on Mars. When the ship malfunctions and the adults on board die, the three teens become responsible for landing the ship safely. Each book outlines a problem that needs to be solved before they successfully land on the far-away planet, including a fellow teen who sabotages the mission and an explosion they need to create to put the ship back on course. Because of the short length, each book feels more like chapters of a larger book and thus won’t work as a stand-alone. With big, readable text and bold use of font on each page, the titles are highly readable, with visually pleasing retro futuristic illustrations. VERDICT The series is written at a second grade reading level and will be of interest to fans of science fiction and action.
Sports and Action
ACTON, Vanessa. Backfire. 112p. ISBN 9781512430943.
––––. Vortex. 104p. ISBN 9781512430950.
JOHNSON, Kristin F. Black Blizzard. 112p. ISBN 9781512430936.
––––. Deep Freeze. 104p. ISBN 9781512430929.
ea vol: (Day of Disaster). ebook available. Darby Creek. Mar. 2017. Tr $19.99. pap. $7.99.
Gr 6 Up –The books in this new high-octane series feature teen characters forced to make life-and-death decisions in the face of natural disasters. In Backfire, the narrative shifts between Elijah, who must determine whether or not to evacuate, and Breanna, who is camping and must help her friends make it to safety. In Vortex, Blair must help her brothers confront a relentless tornado on their way home from a weekend trip. After a speech tournament, Tyler’s team is stranded after their car breaks down in the Arizona desert, and he must help his friends survive during the ensuing dust storm in Black Blizzard. Zach and his dog must fight their way alone through a terrifying blizzard in Deep Freeze, after the electricity goes out in their deep-woods cabin. VERDICT While these books are slim, their relatable characters and fast-paced plots will have a strong impact on teen readers.
HOWLING, Eric. Gang Tackle. 162p. 2016. ISBN 9781459812253.
TATE, Nikki. Deadpoint. 189p. 2017. ISBN 9781459813526.
ea vol: (Orca Sports). Orca. pap. $9.95.
Gr 5-9 –Orca has two new high-quality additions to its adventure and sports fiction series for middle school readers. Gang Tackle tells the story of Jamal, a high school football player from the inner city whose team loses funding. The school accepts the sponsorship of Fort Sports, but they soon realize the owner and new team coach is a racist who thinks the teens have no future. Jamal and his friends discover a solution that teaches Coach Fort a lesson and raises the money they need for their new uniforms. In Deadpoint, Ayla goes on a weekend rock climbing trip to Black Dog Mountain for her friend Lissy, despite her apprehensions about outdoor climbing. When a dangerous accident occurs on the mountain, Ayla is forced to overcome her climbing fears in order to save her friends. VERDICT The fast-paced, fully developed plots are filled with action-packed sports descriptions and relatable characters, making this series a must-read for sports fans.
MOUSSAVI, Sam. Austin. ISBN 9781680764918.
––––. El Paso. ISBN 9781680764932.
––––. Houston. ISBN 9781680764949.
ea vol: 208p. (Texas Fridays). ebook available. EPIC. 2017. Tr $18.99.
Gr 9 Up –This new series explores the fanfare of high school football, following the stories of different players from cities all over Texas. In Austin, Stevie is desperate to attend the University of Texas-Austin, but his short height is a hurdle he must overcome in order to win the state champsionship and get an offer from his dream school. Armando dreams of making it to the NFL in El Paso but must grapple with his dying father, who walked out on Armando when he was a child and is now traveling over the border illegally. In Houston, Darren experiences an unexpected injury that leads to a prescription pill addiction and threatens his chances of using football to get out of the city’s dangerous Third Ward. The diverse backgrounds and authentic struggles of these players, including relationship drama and family pressures, make the characters relatable and the plots engaging. VERDICT These books are written at a sixth grade reading level, though they are longer than most hi-lo books, and some mature content makes them appropriate for high school readers.
COLEMAN, K.R. Truth or Dare. 104p. ISBN
FALLENSTEIN, J. Graffiti. 88p. ISBN 9781 512430974.
––––. S.O.S. 104p. ISBN 9781512431001.
––––. The Witching Hour. 96p. ISBN 9781512431018.
ea vol: (Midnight). ebook available. Darby Creek. Apr. 2017. Tr $19.99. pap. $7.99.
Gr 6 Up –This new series follows the separate stories of teens living in a town called Middleton who have eerie and sinister experiences with which they must grapple. Trey and his friends have a suspense-filled camping trip at Lake Helen, where teens have been mysteriously disappearing, in Truth or Dare. In Graffiti, a series of unexplained accidents lead couples to believe that they will be haunted by a ghost if they break up, and Lucia must solve the mystery before something tragic happens. The Witching Hour centers on new girl Rosie, who must help a boy who believes he is being haunted by the former star of the football team after being blamed for his death. Tyrell begins seeing a mysterious light signaling to him and a phantom girl after a near-death experience in S.O.S. VERDICT The slim volumes, written at a fourth grade reading level, have somewhat predictable plots but will be intriguing to middle and high school readers interested in suspense and the paranormal.
DAKERS, Diane. Strings Attached. 131p. Feb. 2017. ISBN 9781459809703.
FLORENCE, Melanie. He Who Dreams. 137p. Jan. 2017. ISBN 9781459811027.
RIVERA, Raquel. Show Mode. 135p. Mar. 2017. ISBN 9781459812048.
ea vol: (Orca Limelights). Orca. pap. $9.95.
Gr 6-9 –Orca’s “Limelights” series, which focuses on teens involved in art, music, and dance, continues with three new volumes. In Strings Attached, Brielle is a cellist who reluctantly takes over as first chair in the City Youth Orchestra after her best friend Tawni is injured in a sports accident. When Tawni returns, Brielle must decide whether to support her friend or follow her dreams. In He Who Dreams, Josh is a half-Irish, half-Cree soccer player who unexpectedly discovers a passion for Aboriginal dance. Though he faces derision from both his friends and fellow dancers, he must learn to accept himself and embrace his heritage. The ambitious Adina wants her team to be the best at their school’s annual fashion show in Show Mode, but her perfectionism pushes her friends away. Each book has authentic, high-interest teen drama and deals with issues such as friendship, cultural identity, extreme dieting, and teamwork. VERDICT Written at a fourth grade reading level, this series will be particularly appealing to hi-lo middle school readers interested in the performing arts.
HIGGINS, M.G. Rebel. 90p. ISBN 9781 680211092.
JACOBS, Evan. Scratch N’ Snitch. 103p. ISBN 9781680211047.
MCGILL, Leslie. Break and Enter. 92p. ISBN 9781680211085.
ea vol: (White Lightning). Saddleback. 2016. pap. $8.95.
Gr 5-8 –The books in this series, which deals with teens finding themselves in tough situations, are all written at a first or second grade reading level and are targeted specifically to a middle school audience. Rebel centers on Koji, a boy from a small African village who is kidnapped by a violent rebel group, forcing him to make difficult decisions to ensure his survival. Scratch N’ Snitch focuses on Mia, a spoiled and self-centered popular girl whose life is turned upside down after a picture of her kissing a less popular classmate is posted to Instagram. While she initially hates her diminished social standing, she eventually feels freed by not caring what others think. In Break and Enter, Dwayne begins breaking into houses to escape his own troubles in a new city. When he accidentally steals from his mother’s friend, he sees the consequences of his theft. VERDICT While the plots and characters can feel oversimplified, these slim books are very accessible and have bright covers that will draw in readers.
MCGEHEE, Laura. The Royal Birthday. Bk.1. ISBN 9781680764772.
––––. The Royal Queen’s Reign. Bk. 3. ISBN 9781680764796.
––––. The Royal Weddings. Bk. 2. ISBN 9781680764789.
ea vol: 208p. (American Royalty). ebook available. EPIC. 2017. Tr $18.99.
Gr 9 Up –This satirical series imagines a world where George Washington drunkenly made the decision to become king rather than president. The books follow his descendants in the royal family during the modern era as they tussle to be crowned the next king. The players in this fight include gluttonous King Jonathan, scheming Queen Donna, irresponsible party animal Prince Trevor, vain Prince Kyle, and calculating Princess Emma. The series humorously integrates details about George Washington and the times in which he lived (for example, each royal needs fake teeth). The appearance-crazed, technology-absorbed royals are used to cleverly critique modern culture through, for instance, their obsession with their GlassPhones and the social networking site RoyalChatterStream. Each entry in the series has an eye-catching, pop-art style cover that will appeal to teen readers. VERDICT This is a uniquely clever hi-lo series for high school readers, and the titles are written at a sixth grade reading level.
CASTELLANO, Peter. Chupacabras. ISBN 9781482440843.
––––. Dragons. ISBN 9781482440881.
––––. Sea Creatures. ISBN 9781482440935.
––––. Vampires. ISBN 9781482441130.
––––. Werewolves. ISBN 9781482441000.
––––. Witches. ISBN 9781482441048.
NAGLE, Francis. Bigfoot. ISBN 9781482448573.
—–. Frankenstein. ISBN 9781482448610.
––––. The Loch Ness Monster. ISBN 9781482448658.
––––. Medusa. ISBN 9781482448696.
––––. The Minotaur. ISBN 9781482448733.
––––. Zombies. ISBN 9781482448825.
ea vol: 32p. (Monsters!). further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. Gareth Stevens. 2016. Tr $19.95.
Gr 2-6 –This series explores eerie monsters and creatures from around the globe, from vampires to sea creatures to Medusa, and examines their cultural development. Emphasizing the distinction between truth and fiction, the titles investigate the origins and history of these myths, different cultural perspectives, and how these creatures are represented in popular culture and include engaging infographics such as maps and survival guides. “Beyond the Myth” fact boxes debunk common beliefs and help readers evaluate the truth. These volumes use a controlled vocabulary and are written for those reading at a first or second grade level. While these offerings are grounded in reality, the ominous covers and full-page photographs are eye-catching and will encourage readers to use their imagination. VERDICT This series will be particularly appealing to upper elementary students interested in mythology and the macabre.
CASTELLANO, Peter. Longboard Skateboarding. ISBN 9781482429787.
––––. MMA. ISBN 9781482429824.
––––. Motocross. ISBN 9781482429855.
JACKSON, Demi. Paintball. ISBN 9781 482429916.
––––. Parkour. ISBN 9781482429947.
––––. Roller Derby. ISBN 9781482429992.
ea vol: 32p. (Daredevil Sports). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. Gareth Stevens. 2016. Tr $19.95.
Gr 2-6 –High-octane extreme sports, such as longboarding, paintball, parkour, and roller derby, are explored in this series, which is written at a first grade reading level. Marked by edgy, appealing covers and full-page photographs, these books feature simple language and engaging “risk factor” fact boxes. For each thrill sport, the history, rules, gear, and moves are described in detail. Specific facts pertaining to the sport are also covered; for instance, roller derby players give themselves nicknames. While these action sports are growing in popularity, the titles do not feature many current examples of athletes in these sports, which will keep them from getting dated. Safety tips and a list of relevant sources for more information are also included for those interested in pursuing the sport. VERDICT Both adrenaline seekers and casual readers will be captivated by these materials.
MARKOVICS, Joyce. Ecuador. ISBN 9781 944102715.
––––. Peru. ISBN 9781944102739.
ea vol: 32p. (Countries We Come From). diags. ebook available. further reading. glossary. maps. index. photos. Bearport. 2016. Tr $19.95.
K-Gr 4 –Countries around the world are celebrated with bright, eye-catching photographs in this series. Short, simple sentences with controlled language make the books easy to digest and approachable. The appealing page layouts feature large, often full-page photographs, along with captions, diagrams, maps, relevant vocabulary words, and a section of engaging “Fast Facts.” Each book covers various aspects of the country, including geographical information, history, daily life, traditions, and animals that live there. Several words in the country’s native language are also explained. Employing a positive tone, the volumes invite readers to appreciate diversity across nations. VERDICT Written at a second grade reading level, this attractive series will appeal to older hi-lo readers as well as to early elementary students.
OWEN, Ruth. Creating Visual Effects for Movies as a CGI Artist. ISBN 9781910549896.
––––. Master Blasters: Working with Explosives in Demolition and Construction. ISBN 9781910549933.
ea vol: 32p. (Get To Work with Science and Technology). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. Ruby Tuesday. 2016. Tr $19.95.
Gr 3-8 –A wide array of STEM careers are explored in this new series. Each book offers a step-by-step description of how a different job is done, including making CGI movies and working in building demolition. This, along with photographs, allows readers to get an authentic look at what each career is like. Relevant examples, such the tools needed for CGI in the recent Jungle Book reboot and how tunnels must be blasted with explosives to build subways, are provided to help make the subjects come alive. Interactive activities and steps on how to pursue a job in each field are also presented. This engaging series is written at a third grade level and will be appreciated by upper elementary and middle school hi-lo readers. VERDICT With the recent push toward STEM education, this is a must-have series for many libraries.
Kathryn Justus is director of library services at the Renbrook School in West Hartford, CT