High Interest/Low Readability Books for Struggling and Reluctant Readers
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Reading is the ticket to gaining knowledge, sparking children's imagination, and personal growth. However, it is a challenging journey for all children. For reluctant readers or struggling readers, we must find books at the appropriate reading level AND that capture their interest.
In this blog post, we will delve into the world of high-interest, low-reading-level books and uncover how they can enable elementary readers to discover their love for reading. First, we will gain a deeper understanding of struggling and reluctant readers, then go into the types of high-interest books and how to find the right books for your child, and I will provide a low-reading level book list where you can find specific books at your child's level!
Understanding Struggling and Reluctant Readers
These two types of readers often go hand in hand because they usually face reading struggles that affect their reading development. These students often need more confidence because they need help with answering comprehension questions, fluency, and decoding skills (to name a few). In turn, this can lead to a disinterest in reading.
Imagine being in third, fourth, or fifth grade and reading at a first-grade reading level. Reading at a lower reading level for your age increases the risk of books feeling too little kiddish, and dull, which can be embarrassing or shameful for older readers and create a negative association with reading overall.
I see it repeatedly with my tutoring clients that they are reluctant to read when they first start with me because they struggle to read. It feels complex and foreign, and the fact that they aren't getting it isn't enjoyable. Kids often begin to act like they don't care, act out, or become class clowns when reading time comes because it is easier to turn their attention to something else rather than show that they are behind their peers. Then once they start to click with their reading, their confidence goes up, and they don't want to put a book down!
It's vital to build up the confidence of reluctant and struggling readers. These children require special instruction, modified resources, and gauging their interest level in a book before giving them any old book to read. High-interest low-level books captivate their attention and motivate them to read.
Types of High-Interest Books
Hi-lo books are books that are specifically designed for struggling readers who are working towards improving their reading skills. They have age-appropriate and very engaging themes, but the books are written at a lower reading level. Hi-Lo books spread across many genres, including adventure, mystery, realistic fiction, sports, and more.
Picture books engage young readers because they have relatable stories and bright, colorful, and captivating illustrations. Picture books are a great way to spark the interest of young readers!
Comic Books and Graphic novels have become very popular, especially among older, struggling readers. The blend of fascinating artwork and concise text in graphic novels like "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" and "Dogman" deliver an accessible format that appeals to visual learners.
Poetry: Children love reading poetry because it is out of the ordinary and fun. Who didn't love to read Where the Side Walk Ends by Shel Silverstein growing up? When I read poetry with my students, they usually sit up in their chairs, their faces light up, and they laugh aloud. It's enjoyable and often shorter, making it more manageable to low-level or reluctant readers. They are also a great way to help children to develop their critical thinking skills and dive into the meaning of the text. Another fun poetry book to check out is Giant Children by Brod Bagert.
Chapter books and series: Chapter books are an exciting stepping stone for readers who have outgrown picture books. It's lovely that chapter books have varying reading levels, and these books offer relatable characters and stories, engaging topics, and exciting adventures. Series are great because they keep children wanting more and excited to explore each subsequent book.
Informational or nonfiction companion books: Nonfiction books can be a great way to find high-interest topics for children to read and provide an excellent opportunity to merge learning with enjoyment. Books like National Geographic Kids provide captivating visuals, exciting topics, fun facts, and true stories that indulge children's curious minds.
Historical Fiction: Reading stories about social studies topics is a fun and engaging way to build knowledge about history!
**For example, author Eve Bunting writes picture books about more mature topics in history. So, selecting low-readability books with more advanced topics can be an excellent option for older struggling students!
Finding the Right Books for Reluctant and Struggling Readers
Let's explore the following key considerations and tools to help you discover the perfect high-low books for Elementary students:
Present them with books at their independent reading level: Knowing this level ensures that the books they choose are engaging and appropriately challenging, allowing for growth in their reading skills rather than frustration and defeat. It's also essential to use their Lexile levels (or whatever other reading level measurement their school might use besides the Lexile measure, such as AR, Fountas, Pinnell, or DRA) to help you find books at their reading level. If you aren't sure of your child's independent reading level, talk to their teacher to get an idea, or visit my recent blog titled, How to Find Books at My Child's Reading Level at Home: A Guide for Parents.
Vocabulary: The vocabulary level of books is so essential to consider. We want to challenge children with new words. However, many unfamiliar terms can hinder comprehension and decline their engagement.
Their interests and preferences: Another critical consideration is choosing books that fit your child's interests. Engaging stories with familiar subjects will foster a love for reading and capture their interest.
Resources and tools to discover high-interest, low-reading-level books
Free resources and online platforms offering book recommendations:
Scholastic Book Wizard: This online tool allows you to search for books by grade level, reading level, and or genre, providing an extensive selection of books appropriate for reluctant and struggling readers.
Epic! Books: This is another online platform with a vast digital library offering a range of books across different reading levels. It provides recommendations based on a child's reading preferences and progress.
Kids Book Series: This website allows you to search for books at their reading level. They can search by grade level, DRA level, Lexile level, AR level, and more.
QuickScan Book Leveler App: This allows you to scan the barcode on the back of the book to quickly find the book's reading level (shows DRA levels, Lexile, and Fountas and Pinnell).
Benefits and Strategies for Engaging Reluctant and Struggling Readers
Reading should be a fun, joyful experience for all readers, including reluctant or struggling readers. By implementing specific strategies and finding appropriate high-interest, low-reading-level books, we can engage these children and ignite a love of reading. Let's explore some benefits and strategies that can significantly impact their reading journey.
Hi-low books allow readers to gain a better understanding and increased comprehension through short chapters and easy readers.
Visual aids through picture books, graphic novels, comics, and more can help enhance understanding and engagement.
Incorporating comprehension activities and comprehension questions can help deepen their understanding and build upon their critical thinking skills. Click here to download a FREE list of questions to engage your young reader before, during, and after reading.
Hi-low readers or choosing books that children are interested in reading encourages independent reading and foster a love for books.
Book Recommendations for Reluctant Elementary Readers
Below is a short list of high-interest books by approximate grade level and interest level. I did my best to gauge what grade level and interest level would apply to most, but be sure to make your judgment on this because you know your child best. If your child is a little older or younger than my recommendation but is dying to read the book and is very interested in the topic. Give it a shot! All kids are into different things and learn their way at different times, so I always hate shoving them into categories or levels.
I hope you find these books exciting for your child and they ignite a spark for reading in your struggling or reluctant reader!
First grade level recommendations:
Bink and Gollie (1st grade Reading Level. Interest level grades 1-4)
Notebook of Doom: The Rise of Balloon Goons (1st Grade Reading Level. Interest level grades 1-3)
Owl Diaries Books (1st Grade Reading Level. Interest level K-2)
Dragon Book Series by Dav Pilkey (1st Grade Reading Level. Interest Level K-3)
Second grade reading level recommendations:
Bird & Squirrel on the Run (2nd Grade Reading Level. Interest Level 2nd-5th grade)
Dogman Series by Dev Pilkey (2nd Grade Reading Level. Interest Level 2nd-5th grade)
Magic Tree House Series by Mary Pope Osborne (2nd Grade Reading Level. Interest Level 1st-4th grade)
Judy Moody Books by Megan McDonald (1st-2nd Grade Reading Level. Interest Level 1st-4th grade)
Third grade level recommendations:
Fudge Book Series by Judy Blume (3rd Grade Reading Level. Interest Level for 3rd-5th Grade)
Captain Underpants Series by Dav Pilkey (3rd Grade Reading Level. Interest Level for 3rd-5th Grade)
The Ramona Collection by Beverly Cleary (3rd Grade Reading Level. Interest Level for 3rd-7th Grade)
Fourth grade level recommendations:
I Survived Graphic Novel Series (4th Grade Reading Level. Interest Level for 3rd-7th Grade)
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (4th Grade Reading Level. Interest Level for 4th-8th Grade)
Fifth grade level recommendations:
Smile by Raina Telgemeier (Interest Level for 3rd-7th Grade)
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick (5th Grade Reading Level. Interest Level for 4th-8th Grade)
Sixth grade level recommendations:
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (6th Grade Reading Level. Interest Level for 3rd-7th Grade)
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (6th Grade Reading Level. Interest Level for 5th-9th Grade)
Websites to find Other Well-Done Hi/Low Readers
High Noon Books: These are books for those reading below grade level. They have the appropriate vocabulary and high-interest-level stories. You can search books on their website by reading level or interest/genre. They have so much to choose from and quality stuff!
Simple Word Books: One of my students with dyslexia found these books and loved them! Their website states, "Traditional chapter books can frustrate struggling readers who work hard to learn phonics skills their peers master easily. Our decodable books use words taught at early levels so striving readers can enjoy ‘big‐kid’ books with engaging and fun stories that build vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension."
Hip Books: Amazing books for struggling readers! Their website states, "HIP novels appeal to teen and preteen readers at all levels, but they are particularly helpful as literacy support and reading intervention for struggling and reluctant readers in Grades 4-12. Whether your students have reading difficulty or not, HIP novels are an excellent addition to any school or classroom library."
In conclusion, high-interest, low-reading-level books are vital in creating a love for reading in reluctant and struggling readers. By selecting books that align with reading abilities and interests, we can boost their comprehension, excite them, and ignite an enthusiasm for reading. Parents, educators, and caregivers must explore these books and provide young readers with the necessary support and resources. When we help children find engaging books, they empower them, build their confidence, foster critical thinking, and open the doors to a new world of knowledge and imagination.
About the Author
Janay Neufeld is an online reading specialist and confidence coach for kids. Her unique approach can help children worldwide increase their confidence and reading skills with positive mindset training, helping them reach their full potential.
She has her multiple-subject teaching credential, almost a decade of experience helping children learn to read, and a Master of the Arts in Education. She is also certified as a life coach for kids through Adventures in Wisdom and trained in Orton Gillingham through the Institute of Multisensory Education.
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