High Interest Low Vocabulary Books

Finding age appropriate material for struggling readers has been a topic of concern for decades. The first bibliographies of books for struggling readers appeared in the late 1940s and efforts to adapt literary classics and create series of books for struggling older readers can be seen as far back as the mid 1930s (Mason, 1981). The use of the term “high interest/low vocabulary” to refer to such books was coined with the publication of Durrell and Sullivan’s High Interest-Low Vocabulary Book List in 1950 (Mason, 1981). This term is still in use today, although it is common to find it shortened to “hi/lo books.” The popularity and belief in the effectiveness of such books fell off during the 1990s, but efforts to improve reading have lead to a resurgence of interest in these types of materials in the last few years (Graves and Philippot, 2002).

Advocates of high interest/low vocabulary books argue that getting reluctant or struggling readers to practice reading is essential for the continued development of reading skill, and that the best way to do so is to provide them with materials that match their interests as well as their current reading level. In creating such materials careful attention must be paid to constructing a work that will not only keep the readers interests (and not appear too babyish) but also present the material in a format that will not further frustrate or confuse a struggling reader. Kenneth Schatmeyer has compiled the following list of essential characteristics of a good high interest/low vocabulary book (Schatmeyer, 2007):

– Compelling storyline and credible characters
– Topics and issues with which readers can make personal or emotional connections
– Supportive formatting that includes illustrations and appropriate text placement on the page
– Careful introduction and reinforcement of difficult vocabulary and concepts
– Straightforward plot development
– Simple sentence structures

Graves, Michael F. and Raymond Philippot. (2002) “High Interest Easy Reading: An Important Resource for Struggling Readers.” Preventing School Failure, 46(2), pp179-182.

Mason, George E. (1980) “High Interest-Low Vocabulary Books: Their Past and Future.” Journal of Reading, 24(7), pp603-607.

Schatmeyer, Kenneth. (2007) “Hooking Struggling Readers: Using Books They Can and Want to Read.” Illinois Reading Council Journal, 35(1), pp7-13.
Locating High Interest Low Vocabulary Books
You can find series of books from a single publisher that focus on hi/lo reading. Below are just two examples that may be found in the UIUC Library’s collections.

Orca Soundings (Orca Publishers) Reading level Gr 2-4, Interest level age 10-14
Keystone Books (Capstone Press) Reading level Gr 2-3, Interest level age 10-14
The sources below will assist you in locating additional books and Web sites related to hi/lo reading materials.

LiBretto, Ellen V.
High/Low Handbook: Best Books and Web Sites for Reluctant Teen Readers. (2002)
[Education S-Collection S.016.027 L616h]

Committee to Revise High Interest Easy Reading (National Council of Teachers of English)
High Interest Easy Reading: An Annotated Booklist for Middle and Senior High School. (1996)
[Education Juvenile Reference: S.026.81 E53h1996]

Ammon, Bette DeBruyne
More Rip-Roaring Reads for Reluctant Teen Readers. (1999)
[Education: 016.8108092 Am64m]
UIUC Online Catalog

In a subject heading search, enter the following phrase:

High interest low vocabulary books

Hi/Lo Books at UIUC

The following is a sample of the high interest low vocabulary books that can be found in the Education and Social Science Library’s S-Collection. Reading levels and recommended ages are drawn from the Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database.

Jimenez, Francisco.
The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child (1997).
A collection of stories about the life of a migrant family.
Reading Level (5.1)
Interest Level (Age 10+)
[Education S-Collection: S.J564c]

Shan, Darren
Cirque du Freak. 2001.
Two boys who are best friends visit an illegal freak show, where an encounter with a vampire and a deadly spider forces them to make life-changing choices.
Reading Level (4.8)
Interest Level (Age 10+)
[Education S-Collection: S.Sh181c2001]

Woods, Brenda
Emako Blue. 2004.
Monterey, Savannah, Jamal, and Eddie have never had much to do with each other until Emako Blue shows up at chorus practice, but just as the lives of the five Los Angeles high school students become intertwined, tragedy tears them apart.
Reading Level (3.5)
Interest Level (Age 12+)
[Education Storage: S.W861e]

Johnson, Angela
First Part Last. 2003.
Bobby’s carefree teenage life changes forever when he becomes a father and must care for his adored baby daughter.
Reading Level (4.7)
Interest Level (Age 12+)
[Education S-Collection: S.J632f]

Yep, Laurence
Hiroshima. 1995.
Describes the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, particularly as it affects Sachi, who becomes one of the Hiroshima Maidens.
Reading Level (4.9)
Interest Level (Age 9+)
[Education S-Collection: S.Y43H]

Foon, Dennis
Skud. 2003.
Will Shane, who is a gangsta, help Andy “act tough” when Andy gets a part in a gangster film?
Reading Level (3.4)
Interest Level (Age 14+)
[Education S-Collection: S.F739s]

Trueman, Terry
Stuck in Neutral. 2005.
Fourteen-year-old Shawn McDaniel, who suffers from severe cerebral palsy and cannot function fully, relates his perceptions of his life, his family, and his condition, especially as he believes his father is planning to kill him.
Reading Level (5.7)
Interest Level (Age 12+)
[Education S-Collection: S.T768s]

Janeczko, Paul
Stone Bench in an Empty Park. 2000.
An anthology of haiku accompanied by photographs reflects nature in the city.
Reading Level (3.2)
Interest Level (Age 8+)
[Education Storage: S.811 St72]

Mac, Carrie
Crush. 2006.
Exiled to New York City with her obnoxious older sister while their hippie parents visit Thailand, seventeen-year-old Hope lands a babysitting job with a lesbian couple. She starts to question her sexuality when romance blooms with a nineteen-year-old biker chick (summary from Horn Book Guide Spring 2007)
Reading Level (3.9)
Interest Level (Age 12+)
[Education S-Collection: S.M115c]

Henry, April.
Shock Point. 2006.
Fifteen-year-old Cassie Streng is determined to expose her stepfather after learning that he is giving a dangerous experimental drug to his teenaged psychiatric patients, but he sends her to a boot camp for troubled teens in Mexico in order to keep her quiet.
Reading Level (5.2)
Interest Level (Age 12+)
[Education S-Collection: S. H396sh]