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Learning to read is a complex process, one that does not come easily to all children. Some children will struggle to read and become reluctant readers.

Hi lo books can help generate interest in reading and improve these children’s reading abilities. Hi lo books are engaging and easier to read, and they show kids that reading does not have to be a chore.

Somewhere in the Middle
For reluctant readers, reading books that pique their interests, but are too complex for their reading abilities, can be a discouraging undertaking that makes them dislike reading. On the other hand, handing them books with subject matter that isn’t age appropriate, like Clifford the Big Red Dog, will just embarrass them.

Providing hi low books is an important part of improving reading skills and fostering a love of reading in reluctant readers. Hi low books offer highly interesting, age-appropriate stories that grab the readers’ interests, but at lower readability levels that are accessible. For example, some books may be targeted to readers in high school but have a reading level of third or fourth grade.

High interest consists of content that children of that age would want to read on their own and learn more about without intervention from teachers and parents. Some of the topics that tend to keep children captivated include animals, mysteries, adventure, and sports. Low reading level means the children will be able to grasp the story and keep reading the book on their own with little difficulty.

What Makes a Book Hi Lo?
Hi lo books share similar characteristics. First, these books offer realistic characters, convincing text, and age-appropriate subject matter that is interesting and enticing.

The vocabulary used is controlled. The text is non-complex. The sentences are simpler and shorter. The chapters, too, are shorter, and they tend to focus on short episodes in the plot. The plots are usually linear, without difficult structure or flashbacks. Often, the story is told in the first person. Furthermore, you’ll see a lot more dialogue and very little descriptive text to keep engagement high.

Hi lo books are also shorter in length. This increases children's confidence when picking up the book. And if they can read it in its entirety and like what they’ve read, they won’t be discouraged from picking up another.

Design also comes into play. You’ll typically see more white space, a larger font, a cream-coloured paper, and more leading between lines. These design elements are strategically included in order to help reluctant readers focus.

Uses of Hi Lo Books
Hi lo books are most often used in schools, where interventions for reluctant readers are most likely to occur. There is a wide variety of curriculum-related titles as well as teacher’s guides and workbooks to support the titles for their use in schools. In addition, it isn’t uncommon to find these books in school libraries and in book clubs, buddy reading situations, and tutor situations.

And though the school market is the largest for these types of books, they’re also available at bookstores in order to foster a love of reading at home as well. In addition, more and more adults with literacy issues, or those learning English as a second language, are beginning to seek out hi lo books, making them highly valuable in a wide variety of contexts.

Hi lo books can make a significant difference in reading proficiency levels. They can also improve confidence and offer hope for a literate life. And though they’re not a silver bullet, they are an effective resource that should be considered for reluctant readers.