High Interest Books for Struggling Readers: Boys Who Want to Read Like Middle Schoolers
This year my struggling reader in fifth grade wants to read The Hunger Games and The Lightning Thief by himself. As I watch him sit in his comfy chair, it is easy to see that he does not find the interest that he felt during the exciting book talk or the positive review from his peers. He is neither connecting with the text nor is he understanding what is going on after the first chapter which was read to him.
While he is making gains on his reading ability, he is socially and emotionally moving away from the books that were comfortable for him. Picture books have beautiful illustrations that help with the comprehension, but the stories are becoming too elementary for someone who is starting middle school in another semester. What does he do when a book's readability level does not match his interest level?
The market for high interest books for struggling readers is growing and it is rewarding for the boys and girls who want to read like their peers and enjoy reading. As we hunt our library catalog and ask our support team of educators, we find a number of books and publishers who are meeting the need of these readers who just want to read a good book.
What are Considered High Interest Books?
High interest books are books that appeal to the interest of many types of interests. Today's publishers will promote books as "high interest" or even "high interest low vocabulary". High interest books for struggling readers in middle school need to be more than just 50 words in a book like you may find in easy readers. They are high interest because of the content or the subject, such as sports, current events and people, or a genre of interest like mystery, sci-fi, or humor.
A book's presentation attracts struggling readers. More sophicated themes that are not as easily understood by students in third grade or younger can be developed in a high interest books. The format is non-threatening to an older reader who loses confidence at the sight of all text while using literary skills that all readers need such as plot, character development, vocabulary, and context clues, to name a few.
Visual readers who enjoy comics are likely fans of graphic novels. These full-length novels are complete stories that are illustrated in which the pictures are important to the telling of the story.
Superhero comics such as Marvel Comics have created hardcover stories to read out to this kind of audience. Other superheros have come in other forms, such as the lunch ladies behind the cafeteria counter. Jarrett J. Krosoczka created The Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute and has a complete series. This books with a second grade readability is still popular up to fifth grade.
The Bone series by Jeff Smith is another example of graphic novel that entice struggling readers who want to read within their interest level. Easy reading for middle school interests, this nine-book series even earns high reviews from other parents of struggling readers.
The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series does not necessarily fall under the graphic novel category, but its illustrated format does not automatically categorize it with regular novels. It is still an enjoyable read, especially for middle schoolers who can relate to the main character Greg Heffley's adjustment to school or anyone who wants a fun perspective of school and family life. The same is true for James Patterson's Middle School or I Funny series. Characters deal with middle school topics but the reading level is lower, around fourth grade.
One of the many subjects that fall into the category of high interest books for struggling readers is sports. Easy reader books may have team sports as part of the story, but older readers want to read more about sports and athletes they admire. Some high interest sports include extreme sports such as skateboarding and bicycle stunts.
Matt Christopher filled the sports niche early in his writing career with fast-paced stories that are easy to read. He has books for at least 14 sports including lacrosse, golf, and hockey as well as athlete biographies.
Capstone Press has their own sports author in Jake Maddox. His sports series has the high interest topics that motivates readers to do the right thing whether or not they are athletes.
Struggling readers will gravitate to books by genre as well as popular recommendations.
Non-fiction books are popular because readers can connect to the topic easily if it is a hobby, favorite subject in the sciences, or fascinating career. High interest non-fiction books still have detailed pictures or photos and are organized with many subheadings or with one idea per page. Books that list facts such as the Guinness Book of World Records are frequently checked out in school libraries because of the high interest in the remarkable and the bizarre.
Biographies about celebrities and star athletes feed the desire to keep up with current events and talents of their favorite idols. It can be challenging to keep up with today's hottest stars, but they can still read up on notable individuals in history. Boys who enjoy hands-on activities may get inspired by Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, or even Leonardo DaVinci. Those who crave the outdoors can relate to the observations of explorers of the New World or unchartered areas of the globe.
Historical fiction takes what could be a dry textbook subject and put it in a format that is both interesting and at an independent reading level. One example is The Bombed House by Jonny Zucker. This perspective of boys living in London during World War II during German air raids was written for the middle school audience but with a low reading level. Though the average third grader could read the words, the topic is mature enough for middle schoolers to understand what may have occurred to a British family in the 1940s such as the loss of their neighbors as civilians in a war zone.
Realistic fiction is the real-world stories that can take place in modern time. Often these stories take place at school or at home, and the characters deal with social situations and other real-world problems. Many sports books are realistic fiction, but so are stories in other cultures and societies. The connections readers make with international or intercultural stories open their eyes to other perspectives.
Find High Interest Books for Your Struggling Reader
As a parent, you have a support team to find the right high interest book for the struggling reader in your life.
- Teachers: All of the teacher's manuals have a list of books that relate to the topic or theme in all subjects. If your boy has an further interest in one of the science or social studies topics, work with your child's teacher to see which books are recommended for that reading level. While they may not have the book in their classroom, the title and author can be enough to start the search. Educators must focus on teaching to the whole class, so they may not always use these low-level resources even if they have struggling readers in their class.
- Reading specialists: A reading specialist has furthered their education in the area of reading, literature, and the education of students who are working on improving their reading strategies. They may also be referred to as reading coaches, reading coordinators, or reading interventionists. They are likely to understand trends in books and may even have access to high interest books specifically for struggling readers.
- Special education teachers: If your child is already receiving special education services, they know your child, his interests, and his reading ability. They are more likely to have the low-level reading materials that are connected to the textbook series. They also have access to other high interest/low level reading books that motivate struggling readers.
- Librarian: The school and public library staff know what books they have and which books are of interest to that age range. It is their job to match a book to the child. School librarians are a great resource, but public librarians or children's librarians have even more resources such as inter-library loan. I have been able to find more books in a series by requesting books from other libraries in their system.
- Your child: Children are more likely to read if they select the book themselves. If they are a struggling reader like my son, they are more likely to choose by the size of the book, the cover artwork, or the title they recognize their peers talking about. When we go to the library, we look together -- favorite authors, favorite topics, or anything related to what he is learning in school. He wanted to learn more about Native Americans when they were studying it, so we looked for a variety of books that were content-rich but at his reading level. I will also do my own research to find the high interest books for struggling readers, but the one with the final say is the child who picks up the book and reads it cover to cover.