Hi-Lo Books for Middle Graders

Hi-Lo… what? Is this some type of game?

No, we are not talking about basketball scores.  We are talking about High interest books written at a Lower reading level.  And with more of these titles available, everyone wins – especially reluctant readers.

It’s a game that’s getting bigger all the time.  Publishers have seen the need for these books and have responded with specific series, lines, and in some cases whole divisions devoted to Hi-Lo books.

Would you like to meet some of the major players?


HIP Junior novels have been created for students in grades 4-6 who read at a grade-2 to grade-3 level. Characters are young teens; plots involve high action but no real violence; themes are appropriate to middle school and senior elementary grades.


Keystone Books from Capstone Press are for the students with reading levels of grades 2-3 and interest levels of grades 5-9. They include science fiction, sports, horror, suspense, humor, and other adrenaline-soaked subjects that will turn struggling skimmers into excited book lovers.


James Lorimer’s sports stories series is for middle school students aged 10-13 with a reading level of grade 3-4.  The books in this series are geared toward kids who would rather spend their time playing sports than reading.


Orca Currents, middle school fiction for reluctant readers, is published by Orca Book Publishers. Their hi/lo books are designed for an interest level of 10-14 years and a reading level of grades 2.0 to 4.5.


Sadleback offers a wide range of Hi-Lo books including an entire series of hip-hop biographies, urban middle school fiction for boys, graphic novels based on Shakespeare titles, and Hi-Lo adaptations of classic titles such as Dracula.

Some companies that provide reading programs, such as High-Noon Books, Perfection Learning, and Don Johnston also publish titles for reluctant or struggling readers.  Each publisher labels and markets Hi-Lo books in a slightly different way.  And not all agree on what constitutes “high interest”.  In general, sports, mystery, adventure, animals, and natural disasters are considered hot topics for reluctant middle grade readers.

There are also marked differences in the way publishers define “low reading level.”  For some, it refers to measured grade reading levels and lexile scores.  For others, it’s more about controlled vocabulary, simple sentences, short chapters, and a lot of dialogue.  And in some cases it just comes down to style; first person narratives and linear plots that make complex and mature subject matter easier to follow.

A huge factor in the success of a Hi-Lo book is getting the reluctant reader to crack the cover.  Publishers are aware that these books, perhaps more than any other, will be judged by their cover.  And it’s not just the package that counts.  Design elements such as increased white-space, larger type size, clear visual images, and cream colored paper can all help struggling readers focus.

At some time in our lives, we’ve probably all been reluctant readers.  Hi-Lo books keep us all in the game.  Whether it’s a publisher with a full line of Hi-Lo books or a book list for reluctant readers From the Mixed-Up Files (see below) this is one score that should be easy to settle.

RELUCTANT READERS: Our kid experts put in their two cents

I JUST WANT HER TO READ SOMETHING: Learn how “-ology” books attract reluctant and distracted readers


From the Mixed-Up Inbox: Hi-Lo Recs

Yolanda Ridge is the author of two middle grade novels; Trouble in the Trees (Orca Book Publishers, 2011) and Road Block (Orca Book Publishers, 2012).  She is not a reluctant reader but she does like cream coloured paper and high interest books (or blogs!)



3 responses to “Hi-Lo Books for Middle Graders

  1. Great topic! I’m going to have to remember to come back to this one in the future.

  2. Eek! 🙂 Never mind, just found your post here: http://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com/for-writers/book-categories/

    good stuff! Maybe another one sometime soon with even more recent examples,, but that post is great . I need to search before asking next time, oops!

  3. Good topic! I need to learn so much. Can you give more recent examples of hi-lo books on shelves today? Maybe you can do a post soon also informing more about all the differences between chapter books, hi-lo, lower-grade, easy readers, etc…typical word counts and examples, etc…I find I get so boggled by all this! Thanks.