Hi-Lo Roundup

New and forthcoming titles suitable for elementary through high school collections. These series range from middle grade fiction to teen romances to informational texts, written between a first and fifth grade reading level.

High-interest, low readability books, known as “hi-lo” books, combine engaging, age-appropriate content with texts written at a lower reading level to interest struggling readers. Hi-lo books are highly readable, with controlled vocabularies, simple sentences, and shorter page counts and chapters. These features work in combination with compelling topics, quickly paced narratives, and complex themes. As readers are drawn into books written at their reading level, their comprehension and fluency grow, along with a love of reading. The subject matter, reading level, and genres vary significantly among hi-lo books, allowing readers to find titles that appeal to them. This roundup features a wide variety of new and forthcoming titles suitable for elementary through high school collections. These series range from middle grade fiction to teen romances to informational texts, written between a first and fifth grade reading level.


Middle Grade & Middle School Fiction

ACTON, Vanessa. Next in Line. 103p. ISBN 9781541525719.
DRAKE, Raelyn. Royal Pain. 94p. ISBN 9781541525672.
ea vol: (Suddenly Royal). Darby Creek. Oct. 2018. Tr $26.65. pap. $7.99.
Gr 6 Up–This series follows seemingly typical American teenagers as they discover they are part of the royal Valmont family from the small (and imaginary) European nation of Evonia. In Next in Line, Carly travels to Evonia after learning that she is royalty and in line to someday be queen. While she is initially excited, she struggles with being away from her American family and the newfound attention she receives as a national figurehead. Noah is shocked to learn his mother has inherited the title of Duchess of Rotherham in Royal Pain. When his family travels to Evonia for the summer, Noah begins to develop feelings for Tori, who is not part of an elite family, against his grandmother’s wishes. ­ VERDICT Hi-lo readers at a fourth grade level will enjoy these fish-out-of-water ­stories about ordinary teens grappling with the wealth and formalities that accompany ­unexpected royal duties.

ACTON, Vanessa. Now You See Me. 98p. ISBN 9781512498295.
DRAKE, Raelyn. Picking Up Speed. 98p. ISBN 9781512498318.
----. Stretched Too Thin. 98p. ISBN 9781512498288.
MARTIN, R.T. Stronghold. 92p. ISBN 9781512498301.
ea vol: (Super Human). Darby Creek. Jan. 2018. Tr $25.32. pap. $7.99.
Gr 6 Up–On their 16th birthdays, a group of teenagers develop incredible abilities. Each book, written at a fourth grade ­reading level, follows one super human discovering how to harness these newfound powers for good. In Stronghold, Aisha discovers she has incredible strength after breaking everything around her, but she must decide whether to trust friends with her secret when an earthquake hits. Evan becomes an Internet superstar after his friend Layla films him using his elasticity powers in Stretched Too Thin. When Layla gets in a car accident, Evan must look beyond his fame to save her life. Natalie is a struggling high school runner who begins to move at a preternatural pace in Picking Up Speed. As she excels in ­competitions, her arrogance pushes those closest to her away. In Now You See Me, Tony is pressured to use his invisibility to cheat after a fellow student threatens to reveal his secret to the school. ­VERDICT To a fault, the books tend to focus more on high school drama than heroics and may not appeal to classic superhero fans, but are grounded by approachable ­protagonists.

ADAMS, Karin. Mermaid Warrior Squad. illus. by Janine Carrington. 150p. Aug. 2017. ISBN 9781459411463.
LAM, Adam. The Fake-Chicken Kung Fu Fighting Blues. illus. by Kean Soo. 148p. Feb. 2017. ISBN 9781459412729.
ea vol: (Lorimer Illustrated Humor). Lorimer. Tr $27.99. pap. $8.99.
Gr 4-7–With a humorous twist, this realistic fiction series centers on tweens navigating new social situations. In The Fake-Chicken Kung Fu Fighting Blues, Anthony and his family relocate from Chinatown to rural Ontario, where they are the only Chinese Canadian residents. To connect with his new, hockey-obsessed neighbors, Anthony makes a documentary about the town. In Mermaid Warrior Squad, Dylan and Coral cowrite a mermaid-themed comic book adventure at their summer arts camp. Reserved Dylan enjoys hanging out with the boisterous and larger-than-life Coral, but fears being mocked by a clique of popular kids. The book includes Dylan and Coral’s comics, which mimic the social drama at the camp as Dylan must decide whether to protect her new friend from bullying. At around 150 pages, these titles are quite long for hi-lo materials; however, the comic vignettes interspersed throughout the books effectively break up the text. VERDICT Humor fans will enjoy the relatable characters and comic-strip action scenes in this series, which is written at a third grade reading level.

BERMUDEZ, Cyn. Taken Away. 72p. Oct. 2018. ISBN 978153832301.
----. This Place Is Not My Home. 70p. Jun. 2019. ISBN 9781538382325.
ea vol: (Brothers). Enslow/West 44 Bks. Tr $14.20. pap. $9.95.
Gr 5-8–Brothers Isaac and Victor get taken from their family after their mother commits a crime in this realistic look at life in the foster care system. The story is told through emails exchanged between the siblings, who are in different foster homes, as they grapple with being apart. While Isaac is placed with a loving foster family, he encounters bullying and social difficulties in a new situation. Victor cycles through several homes as he gets involved with ill-conceived schemes that get him in trouble. The engaging page layouts feature doodle-style drawings, representing images the two brothers are sending to each other in their emails, and the book covers are eye-catching. The series presents a realistic yet accessible look at a family encountering stressful circumstances. VERDICT Written at a second and third grade reading level, “Brothers” is an unflinching exploration of a family navigating foster care.

DAHL, Michael. Crush Hour. ISBN 9781496562692.
----. Dead End. ISBN 9781496562685.
----. The Squeals on the Bus. ISBN 9781
ea vol: 40p. glossary. (School Bus of Horrors). Capstone. Aug. 2018. Tr $17.99.
Gr 3-7–Riders take nightmarish journeys on the School Bus of Horrors in this new middle grade series from the author of the popular “Library of Doom” titles. Each book follows a different student in a new hair-raising situation, including a bus that keeps shrinking (Crush Hour), an unexpected detour to a graveyard (Dead End), and riders who have horns and lizard tongues that disappear once they get off the bus ( The Squeals on the Bus). The series has a highly appealing layout, with bright, graphic illustrations on each page. The readable text features short sentences, and there are typically no more than six sentences per page. The back of each title includes a glossary, discussion questions, and writing prompts based on the text. VERDICT Written between a first and third grade reading level, these books, with enticing covers depicting ghouls, beasts, and other terrors, are sure to attract fans of horror and the supernatural.

LYNN, Jenna. Archer. ISBN 9781532133794.
----. Hoodnapped. ISBN 9781532133787.
----. Metropolis Orphanage. ISBN 9781532133763.
----. Rivals. ISBN 9781532133770.
ea vol: illus. by Abigail Dela Cruz. 48p. (Robyn Hood). Spellbound/Magic Wagon. 2019. Tr $19.95.
Gr 2-8–Robyn Hood is a 13-year-old master thief who steals from a cast of seedy characters to help those in need in this play on the classic tale. She and her friends, known as the Hoods, live in an abandoned warehouse where they solve crimes. Each title in the series follows a different case, from a failing orphanage whose endowment is stolen (Metropolis Orphanage) to a gang of thieves causing neighborly in-fighting (Rivals) to the abduction of the Hoods by an angered ex-police chief ( Hoodnapping). In the final volume, a mysterious girl reveals herself and joins the crew after helping Robyn master her archery. Large, bold fonts makes the text, written at a second grade reading level, easy to read. Colorful, comic-inspired illustrations on every page help relay the action. While each entry is slim, the self-contained cases are complete and compelling. ­VERDICT This series features a relatable heroine for middle grade fans of mystery and action.


Sports and Action Stories

DRAKE, Raelyn. Lockdown. 91p. ISBN 9781541525764.
MOORE, Stephanie Perry. Getting Home. 93p. ISBN 9781541525757.
ea vol: (Attack on Earth). Darby Creek. Aug. 2018. Tr $26.65. pap. $7.99.
Gr 5-8–When an alien spaceship invades Earth and renders all technology useless, teenagers must use their survival instincts to reunite with their families. Each book focuses on the drama that unfolds as people react to the arrival of the “Visitors.” In Lockdown, Sanjay is in school when the invasion occurs. When a mysterious group known as CAPP separates teachers from students and holds them hostage, Sanjay and his friends must figure out whom to trust. After their bus breaks down during the attack, Bailey and her injured brother must make their way on foot in Getting Home. Bailey develops feelings for another survivor, Colby, and the two of them learn from their past mistakes while realizing that life will go on after the invasion. These fast-paced survival/sci-fi stories weave in relatable themes about families, friendship, and romance. VERDICT An engaging series that will appeal to fans of science fiction and action, written at a fourth grade reading level.

GRANT, Joyce. Sliding Home. 132p. Feb. 2018. ISBN 9781459412842.
SANDOR, Steven. Stick Pick. 125p. Aug. 2017. ISBN 9781459412637.
TAEKEMA, Sylvia. Bad Shot. 126p. Aug. 2017. ISBN 9781459411616.
TRIFUNOV, David. Free Runner. 119p. Feb. 2018. ISBN 9781459412804.
ea vol: (Sports Stories). Lorimer. Tr $27.99. pap. $8.99.
Gr 5-8–Contemporary issues, including bullying, disabilities, or immigration are explored in each title of this series—while also focusing on a different sport. In Free Runner, Patrick agrees to train in parkour to avoid getting charged for shoplifting, but he must learn to work with a rival to have a successful demonstration. After getting in an accident that paralyzes her from the waist down, former hockey star Janine discovers sledge hockey, a form of the sport for people of all abilities, in Stick Pick. She learns to advocate for others with disabilities by setting up a website to share her experiences. In Sliding Home, Miguel must figure out a way to help his father leave ­
El Salvador, where he is terrorized by gang members. His baseball team coordinates a fundraiser to bring him to Canada, and self-reliant Miguel learns to accept help when he needs it. Basketball-loving Cody makes the team in Bad Shot, but must deal with constant bullying from a teammate. VERDICT Appropriate for readers at a third grade reading level, these books effectively combine high-impact action scenes with sophisticated social themes.


Issue-Based Fiction

BACH, Mette. Charming. 175p. Mar. 2019. ISBN 9781459413894.
----. Cinders. 166p. Mar. 2019. ISBN 9781459413856.
HARWOOD-JONES, Markus. Just Julian. Aug. 2018. ISBN 9781459412927.
----. Romeo for Real. Aug. 2018. ISBN 9781459412989.
ea vol: (Real Love). Lorimer. Tr $27.99.
Gr 9 Up–This series continues with LGBTQ+ modern-day retellings of classic tales. Ash, a contemporary Cinderella in Cinders, is harassed by her stepsiblings while trying to win a coding competition at school. In Charming, Char is mercilessly cyberbullied for her music. Each book follows the story of how the two of them meet and fall for each other online while using Ash’s anti-cyberbullying app. Romeo and Juliet is retold in Romeo for Real and Just Julian. Romeo is a high school sports star who begins to explore his sexuality after meeting Julian, though his openly homophobic friends and family make him fear coming out as gay. Through his relationship with Romeo, artist Julian becomes involved in LGBTQ+ activism. While these story lines relate only loosely to their source material, the narratives pack a punch. VERDICT These modern romances, written at a fourth grade reading level, effectively tie in contemporary themes like bullying and social media while presenting relatable characters embracing their sexuality.

BROUWER, Sigmund & Cindy Morgan. True Blue. 116p. Jan. 2018. ISBN 9781459815803.
SHIPLEY, Jocelyn. Raw Talent. 138p. Aug. 2018. ISBN 9781459818347.
ea vol: (Orca Limelights). Orca. pap. $9.95.
Gr 6-9–The “Orca Limelights” series, which tells the stories of young adults exploring their passions for the performing arts, is back with two new titles. Raw Talent centers on Paisley, an aspiring singer-songwriter. When she decides to perform for a fundraiser, she has to overcome her mother’s skepticism, her classmate’s jealousy, and her own stage fright. In True Blue, Elle is struggling during a tour with a famous country music star, dealing with the pitfalls of fame and fighting for her musical integrity. While this series will have particular draw to readers interested in music and performance, the appeal will reach beyond, with heavier themes like family drama, new romance, and disordered eating. Book covers featuring performers with guitars and microphones reflect the edgier, more mature nature of the series. VERDICT Written at a fourth and fifth grade reading level, this series is on the longer side for hi-lo books targeted toward middle school readers; however, their authentic story lines will keep realistic fiction fans engaged.

CARTER, Brooke. The Unbroken Hearts Club. 153p. ISBN 9781459820616.
DEEN, Natasha. Thicker Than Water. 137p. ISBN 9781459821989.
RODMAN, Sean. The Bodyguard. 120p. ISBN 9781459822016.
ea vol: (Orca Soundings). Orca. Jan. 2019. pap. $9.95.
Gr 8 Up– This continuing series follows teenagers dealing with transitions. Logan is a photographer reeling from the recent death of her mother in The Unbroken Hearts Club. When she and her best friend Cole begin attending bereavement meetings hosted by her father, she is forced to confront her loss, as well as her possible feelings for Cole. Aspiring criminologist Zack’s best friend goes missing in Thicker Than Water—and all signs point to Zack’s father being involved, all while his parents’ marriage falls apart. In The Bodyguard, Ryan, known as “Replay,” is a star football player who dreams of becoming a filmmaker. To raise the money to apply to film school, he begins working as a bodyguard to Markus, an Estonian exchange student with dark secrets tied to online gambling. Readers will be enticed by the edgy themes and compelling stories of adolescents following their dreams. VERDICT Written at a third and fourth grade reading level, these novels are distinguished by multidimensional characters and briskly paced plots.

JEANETTE, Kat. Wild Boys. 109p. Oct. 2018. ISBN 9781642614756.
KIRCHNER, Brian. The Syrian Drummer and the Cactus Crimson Paint. 38p. Feb. 2017. ISBN 9781973471073.
WINTERS, Kelly. Jacob and the Bee Man. 58p. Feb. 2015. ISBN 9781973365334.
ea vol: (Relevant Reads). Story Shares. pap. $9.95.
Gr 7 Up–This new series comes from Story Shares, a nonprofit organization that allows aspiring authors to write and share content for struggling young adult readers. Through a series of journal entries, Wild Boys explores the experiences of Max, a 14-year-old sent to military boot camp. Each entry traces his journey as he learns to overcome his anger, confront his mistakes, and embrace his Latinx heritage. In Jacob and the Bee Man, Jacob begins working for his neighbor after destroying his beehive in a fit of rage. Through hard work and his newfound friendship, Jacob begins to cope with the recent death of his father. A band is searching for a new drummer when they meet Yusuf, a new-to-town Syrian refugee with a talent for drumming in The Syrian Drummer and the Cactus Crimson Paint. The bandmates must clear Yusuf’s name after an anti-immigrant bully frames him for a crime. VERDICT While the stories occasionally feel unpolished, possibly owing to the unconventional publication process, these books, written between a first and third grade reading level, examine authentic issues as teens learn to relate to those different from themselves.



FAUST, Daniel R. Ancient China. ISBN 9781538230046.
----. Ancient Egypt. ISBN 9781538230053.
----. Ancient Greece. ISBN 9781538230060.
----. Ancient India. ISBN 9781538230039.
----. Ancient Mesopotamia. ISBN 9781538230077.
----. Ancient Rome. ISBN 9781538230084.
ea. vol: 32p. (A Look at Ancient Civilizations). chron. further reading. glossary. Gareth Stevens. 2019. Tr $19.95.
Gr 3-7–Ancient civilizations, from Egypt to India to Mesopotamia, are explored in this new nonfiction series. Each title delves into the civilization’s origins, geography, culture, and religion, with an emphasis on how these cultures evolved throughout time. While these topics are complicated and involve thousands of years of history, the books effectively distill the content down to the most important information. Though the approach is broad, the material is accessible. There are three to four sentences per page; this, in combination with a controlled vocabulary written at a second grade reading level, makes the sometimes lofty subjects approachable for struggling readers. Keywords, highlighted throughout the text, are featured in a glossary, along with a time line and resources for further information. Each cover features a bright, attractive photograph of an iconic ancient landmark. VERDICT An excellent resource for upper elementary and middle school hi-lo readers studying ancient and world history.

GOLKAR, Golriz. Jason Reynolds. ISBN 9781543541311.
----. Laurie Hernandez. ISBN 9781543541342.
----. Meghan Markle. ISBN 9781543541274.
WATSON, Stephanie. Colin Kaepernick. ISBN 9781543541281.
ea vol: 32p. (Influential People). chron. further reading. glossary. illus. index. photos. Capstone. Aug. 2018. Tr $21.49
Gr 4-7–This new series profiles a wide range of prominent people, from athletes to authors to royalty. The titles present the obstacles their subjects overcame and spotlight their positive impact on the world. The series benefits from a diverse, contemporary set of subjects who will spark reader interest. Any controversy, particularly in regard to Colin Kaepernick, is addressed evenhandedly. The text, written between a second and third grade reading level, is easily digestible for struggling readers, with about six sentences per page and four chapters in total. Though the volumes are short, each one packs in extensive biographical information. Attractive page layouts feature vivid, often full-page photographs, along with doodle-style drawings. Each book contains nonfiction text features like bold words, captions, a glossary, time line, index, and a list of further resources. An interactive activity, such as writing a poem or organizing a sports day, is also included, which serves as a way for readers to take action and make a difference like the inspiring figures they are reading about. VERDICT This series, directed toward middle graders, is an excellent choice for biographical research.

GRAY, PJ. Cousin Trouble. 47p. ISBN 9781680216240.
SCHLESINGER, Emily. Social Skills. 63p. ISBN 9781680216233.
ea vol: (Go! Welcome Newcomers). Saddleback. 2019. Boxed set $749.95.
Gr 4-8–A new series designed to help recent immigrants to the United States through paired high-interest fiction and nonfiction texts. Social Skills describes how to greet others, show respect, interpret body language, and understand emotions. Key words and phrases like eye contact, therapist, body language, and gesture are highlighted throughout the text. This same set of vocabulary words relating to social skills are presented in a narrative form in Cousin Trouble, a fictional story about a teen named Grace and her cousin, Calla, who is visiting from Greece. Calla struggles to adjust to life in the United States, and encounters some social difficulties at the mall and at a party. Both books, written at a first grade reading level, feature engaging, full-page photographs, along with short sentences and a controlled vocabulary. The layout makes the text highly readable and easy to digest, particularly for readers still learning English. VERDICT Intended to help teens transitioning to life in the United States, corresponding fiction and nonfiction texts effectively convey new social skills by highlighting important vocabulary words.

HAMILTON, S.L. Animal Robots. ISBN 9781532118227.
----. Explorer Robots. ISBN 9781532118234.
----. Household Robots. 9781532118241.
----. Humanoid Robots. ISBN 9781532118258.
----. Industrial Robots. ISBN 9781532118265.
----. Rescue Robots. ISBN
ea vol: 32p. (Xtreme Robots). glossary. index. photos. ABDO. Tr $18.95.
Gr 3-8–This tech-focused series provides an in-depth exploration of modern robotics, from robotic pets to household cleaning robots to surgical robots, and shows how these technological advancements can benefit those who use them. Each book offers detailed descriptions of several different types of robots, bolstered by many fascinating real-life examples, including a frog-inspired device used during stomach surgery, as well as a robot used for mapping wrecks at the bottom of the ocean for archaeological purposes. Vivid photographs, along with “Xtreme Facts” about each specific robot, help readers understand how they operate and assist people in everyday situations. Each title includes a glossary with relevant STEM terms (sensors, open platform, tether) and an index, along with a link to additional online resources. VERDICT Written at a fourth grade reading level, these informational texts are ideal for middle school hi-lo readers but could also be used by general upper-­elementary audiences.

LAWRENCE, Ellen. Becoming an Astronaut. ISBN 9781642801743
----. Investigating Asteroids. ISBN 9781642801781.
----. Living on Mars. ISBN 9781642801774.
----. Looking for Another Earth. ISBN 9781642801798.
----. Surviving in Space. ISBN 9781642801750.
----. Working in Space. ISBN 9781642801767.
ea vol: 24p. (Space-ology). glossary. index. photos. Bearport. Tr $18.45.
K-Gr 4–This unique series provides a comprehensive look at space exploration, with topics ranging from the features of the solar system to the life of an astronaut to a hypothetical look at life on Mars and finding an Earth-like planet. Each title effectively conveys an immense topic in an accessible and entertaining way, relying on a controlled vocabulary and five to six simple sentences per page. Appealing page layouts, featuring full-color ­photographs, as well as labels and fun facts, are eye-catching and support comprehension. Each entry contains a relevant science experiment, such as designing a tiny spacecraft and building a Mars habitat. Text features include bold words highlighting important vocabulary (orbits,satellites), an index, and a visual glossary. VERDICT Written at a second grade reading level, this is an excellent STEM series for early elementary students in a general collection, as well as for older ­hi-lo readers.

Kathryn Justus is director of library ­services at the Renbrook School in West Hartford, CT

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