When you’re a teacher, you’re constantly on the lookout for ways to engage struggling and reluctant readers. The problem is, the older they get, the less they tend to enjoy books written at their reading level. Plus, no kid wants to be caught reading a “baby book” in middle or high school. That’s where high-low books can be a real lifesaver.
High interest, low readability level books keep readers engrossed page after page, without leaving them feeling frustrated or bored. Some publishers specialize in these books, but you’ll find plenty of them at sites like Amazon too. Here are some of the best high-low books for your classroom shelves.
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Upper Elementary and Middle Grade High-Low Books
So often, easy reading book characters are little kids, which makes older readers less interested in their stories. But there are plenty of good high-low books that will appeal to older kids, including emergent reader picture books with topics that will fascinate older students. Try some of these in your classroom.
Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco
This is one of those picture books that’s excellent for high-low readers. When Trisha’s new school puts her in a class known as “The Junkyard,” she’s miserable at once again being considered one of the weird kids. But her teacher proves that every student has unique talents, and “misfits” can be geniuses too.
The Wall by Eve Bunting
Eve Bunting’s beautiful books often have universal appeal. The Wall introduces the heavy topics of war, death, and family, and older readers won’t feel pandered to, in any way.
Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles
There’s never been a better time for books like Freedom Summer, which explores the relationship between two boys during a turbulent summer in the South in 1964. The reading level is easy, but the subject matter challenges us all.
A Different Pond by Bao Phi
This easy reader is sort of like a combination graphic novel and picture book in one. As Bao and his father wake early each day to fish for the food their family needs, Bao’s father tells him of a different pond in far-off Vietnam.
Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull
Here’s a good one for sports fans about real-life Olympian Wilma Rudolph. Her triumph over incredible odds (poverty and polio to begin with) will inspire any reader.
Smile: A Graphic Novel by Raina Telgemeier
Really, any of Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels are great for high-low readers. Middle schoolers especially will find topics to relate to, like this tale about what it’s like to get braces.
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
The unique style of this book is sure to intrigue readers. Ben and Rose both wish for different lives, though they live 50 years apart. Selznick tells their intersecting stories, one in words and one in pictures, in a lengthy book that will draw kids in and keep them interested.
Pigboy by Vicki Grant
Dan’s field trip to a heritage farm takes an alarming twist when his teacher disappears. The farmer is a strange character who doesn’t seem to know much about farming at all. This easy-reading mystery is ideal for middle grade high-low readers.
The Secret Garden: A Graphic Novel by Mariah Marsden
The classic tale has been reimagined as a graphic novel that’s ideal for high-low readers. Illustrations bring the characters and setting to life, and the story loses nothing of its original charm in a simplified version.
Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac
This Native American-written book is spine-chilling for readers, no matter what age. Skeleton Man is a Mohawk legend, a man so insatiably hungry he eats his own flesh. This is one of main character Molly’s favorite scary stories, but when her parents vanish, she finds herself living a spooky tale of her own.
High-Low Books for Teens
It can be hard to find easy reading books that high school kids don’t consider too “babyish” to get into. Publishers like Saddleback and High Noon specialize in providing high-low books for teens, but you’ll find options on Amazon too. Here are some of our favorites.
Dia’s Story Cloth by Dia Cha
Though it’s written at an elementary level, this story of a family’s emigration from Laos to the United States is moving and engaging enough for even high school readers to enjoy.
I and I Bob Marley by Tony Medina
Bob Marley’s lyric verses hold timeless appeal for older readers and kids alike. The poems tell the story of Bob Marley’s life and are complemented by lush paintings of his Jamaican homeland.
The Space Between by Evan Jacobs
From Saddleback Books, this easy reading novel is really a hard-hitting piece of young adult fiction. Eric’s old girlfriend Danielle has moved back to town, but things have changed: she now identifies as male and goes by Dan. Can Eric overcome his deep-seated prejudices and hang onto an important friendship?
The Awakening Storm: A Graphic Novel by Jaimal Yogis and Vivian Truong
The first book in this new graphic novel series is getting rave reviews and is sure to be a hit with fans of fantasy and anime. Grace is worried about fitting in at her brand new fancy boarding school in Hong Kong, until she’s gifted a dragon egg by a mysterious old woman during a field trip. The dragon’s powers bring Grace and her new friends along on an adventure as they try to save the entire city from destruction.
Primer by Jennifer Muro and Thomas Krajewski
Graphic novels like this one are proving that books written at an upper elementary level can tackle topics that are meaningful to high school readers. Ashley is a foster kid, bouncing around from home to home, with a father in prison. One day, she discovers a set of body paints that give her superpowers, and everything changes.
Expecting by Shannon Freeman
Three girls from completely different backgrounds meet at a school for pregnant teens. Saddleback Books published this elementary-level reading novel that’s sure to appeal to today’s teens.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Though this book has become an elementary and middle school staple, it’s engaging enough for high schoolers too. Chapters told by Augie’s sister and her boyfriend will especially resonate with older readers, as they consider how they themselves might react to a boy like Augie.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
This beloved book written from the point of view of a captive gorilla has entranced readers since it was first published. Ivan the gorilla lives in a display in a shopping mall, where he thinks of himself as practically human. But when he meets a baby elephant, his whole worldview changes.
Chess Rumble by G. Neri
Marcus has always fought his battles with his fists, in school, at home, and on the streets. But when he meets CM, an unlikely chess master, he starts to realize the game can inspire strategic moves in his own life as well. This elementary level book can have a big impact on teen readers.
Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Perhaps best described as a magical Mexican re-telling of The Odyssey, this novel is written at a fifth grade level but will enchant teens and adults too.
High-Low Book Series
Finding a series that a reader loves opens up a whole new world for them to explore. These are some of the most popular series of high-low books.
The thrilling tales in this series are set during real-life events, like the sinking of the Titanic, the Great Chicago Fire, or Hurricane Katrina. Reading levels range from grades 2 through 5, but the topics and gripping tales will interest readers of any age.
Strange But (Mostly) True
This series is written at an elementary level, but the eerie true tales will engage middle and high school readers too. Be warned: you’re likely to feel a little unsettled after reading some of these stories!
Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
Every Tuesday, Princess Celie’s castle adds a new room, turret, or even entire wing. Celie carefully maps each new change, and her skills come in handy when her parents, the King and Queen, suddenly disappear! This charming series is easy enough for elementary kids, but interesting enough for middle and even high schoolers.
Dragon Masters by Tracey West
Dive deep into a world of dragons, kings, wizards, and magic with these high-low books! The illustrations bring the stories to life, while the tales themselves are fast-paced and full of adventure that will appeal to older readers reading at a first- through third-grade level. With over 20 books in the series, this one will keep them busy for a long time to come.
Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne
Every kid loves the Magic Treehouse books! The topics are wide-ranging, the stories are engaging, and the text is ideal for those reading at an early to mid-elementary grade level. For readers who find chapter books overwhelming, try the new Magic Treehouse graphic novel series.
Dog Man by Dav Pilkey
The incredible popularity of these graphic novels proves that they appeal to all readers, regardless of age. Written at a second grade level, this series follows the adventures of the crime-fighting Dog Man. The hilarious stories emphasize positive themes like empathy and kindness, too.
The Year of The … (Anna Wang) by Andrea Cheng
Friendship is a universal theme at every age, so the Anna Wang books will strike a chord with many readers. In the first story, fourth-grade Anna turns to books when she feels like her friends have left her behind. Bonus: readers who enjoy the story may want to seek out the books that Anna herself enjoys! This series is fantastic for upper elementary kids reading at a lower elementary level.
Who Would Win? by Jerry Pallotta
Let’s face it: you don’t have to be a kid to want to know who would win in a battle between a komodo dragon and a king cobra. That’s what makes this series of non-fiction high-low books so popular.
The Baby-Sitters Club Graphix by Raina Telgemeier
This staple of the 1980s has gained popularity with a new generation and even spawned a series of graphic novels. These are terrific for middle grade kids who read at an elementary level since they can explore the same stories their friends love in a way that’s easier to read.
Carter High Mysteries by Eleanor Robins
Set in a high school but written at a third grade level, this high-low series from High Noon Books is for all the mystery lovers out there. The students tackle everything from a missing teacher to a coded message to a secret admirer.
What are your favorite high-low books? Come share your suggestions in the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
Plus, we shouldn’t let reading levels define our students .