First things first: the winner of POWER PLAY by Michelle Martin Bossley is Shellflower whose fabulous blog has a fractal as a background. I LOVE FRACTALS! Send me your address Shell, and the book will be winging its way to you in no time.
Now, my giveaway was a little unorthodox. Not a bleak and moody YA like we’ve all been celebrating this month, Power Play is part of a “Hi/Lo” series from Lorimer Publishers for “reluctant readers”. What are “reluctant readers”? David Ward explains it quite well in this interview. The basic gist is this:
- Reluctant readers may or may not have reading or other learning differences such as dyslexia or ADHD
- Most reluctant readers are boys
- Not all delayed or slow readers are reluctant
- “Screen time” is a reader-killer
Yes, you heard me. I would go so far as to say there is no such thing as a reluctant readers in a house with no or severely limited screens. Kids are playing up to EIGHT HOURS of videos games a day people. That’s a FULL-TIME JOB!
So, that’s my rant about that.
Now, onto Hi/Lo books. Hi/lo stands for high interest, low reading level. If you can imagine a Berenstain Bears book about gangs and drugs you get the idea, except without the bears. The aim of hi/lo books is to present stories that will entice reluctant readers without challenging their reading skills and attention so much that they give up. Hi/lo books are typically reading leveled about three to five years below the interest level.
For example, my upcoming book Wicket Season from Lorimer, has a reading level of 3.8 (about 3rd or 4th grade) but the protagonist is 14 years old and the story concerns competitive sports, high school, dating, and family, all issues that resonate with readers in grade six and up.
Hi/lo books can be early chapter books (reading level 1-2, interest 3-4), middle grade (reading level 2-4, interest 5-8) or young adult (reading level 5-6, interest 15 yrs+). Achieving this accuracy in reading level is not as hard as it sounds. Sentence length is a big factor – the shorter the sentences the lower the reading level. Vocabulary is also important. A book like The Children’s Writer’s Word Book can help with this. Finally many word processors, such as Word for Windows, will tell you the “readability statistics” as part of the spell check function.
Many publishers specialize in hi/lo and others such as Lorimer and Orca have hi/lo series in addition to their regular publishing program. The great thing about writing for these series is that some publishers will contract an experienced writer with just an outline and one to three sample chapters. The advances aren’t huge, but public and school librarians are big fans of these books so residuals and public lending payments can be quite lucrative. I’ve had a book like this in school and public libraries in Australia for ten years and I still make just under a thousand dollars a year.
So what are hi/lo books like? I’ve read dozens of them and the quality of writing is no different than many best sellers I’ve read. The expression tends to be simpler and more straight forward, and the stories are almost always completely linear with a single protagonist. Many, but not all are written in first person. The issues tend to be realistic, although I do believe there are some hi/lo lines that focus on fantasy or sci-fi. There are several hi/lo series that focus on sports.
So that’s hi/lo books for reluctant readers, in a nutshell. If you are a bookseller, librarian or parent, get excited about Wicket Season, coming from Lorimer in spring 2012. Reviewers contact me about ARCs.