Until fairly recently it was difficult to find texts that had suitable content for older children with a younger reading age.  Now, a variety of publishers have created ranges of “high-low” (short for high interest age/low reading age) books specifically to cater for this market.

Barrington Stoke have been “cracking reading for over a decade” and include works by popular authors among their wide range of high-low books, and have a very useful device for helping determine a child’s reading age.

Ransom Publishing produce a range of high-low series including Trailblazers which combine fiction and non-fiction in a single book, and the comic-style format Boffin Boy. 

Badger Learning also produce a variety of series covering both fiction (e.g. First Flight, Full Flight) and non-fiction (e.g. Brainwaves), graphic novels and short stories (e.g. Travellers).

Some of the basic principles employed by these publishers will also allow you to select material published without the ‘high-low’ tag that is nevertheless more likely to be successful.

  • Look at the relative thickness of chapter books: thinner chapter books still look like ‘proper books’ but are less daunting and often tend towards having illustrations and relatively easier words too, and their shorter length increases the chance that children will experience the achievement of finishing a whole book.
  • Choose titles with plenty of illustration (to aid understanding) but where photographs or more ‘grown-up’ styles of illustration are used as these, even when the words are relatively straightforward, don’t appear as ‘babyish’ as those with a more childish design style.
  • Look at the relative number of words on a page and the relative complexity of those words: a statement of the obvious, but it can be tempting to judge a book by its cover and books that look ‘grown-up’ don’t necessarily contain loads of hard words (any more than books that seem designed to appeal to very young people only contain easy ones)!
  • Choose titles with lots of ‘breaks’ between chunks of text. Lots of chapter breaks in stories, short story collections, joke books, books of poetry… can all give children the satisfaction of completing a recognisable section and then chance to  ‘have a rest’ before tackling the next.   Factual books are also often deliberately designed and structured around short, manageable bits of text in ‘different boxes’.
  • Look at the size and style of the text i.e. the font. Just as some styles of illustration look more or less ‘babyish’ some types of font just look more ‘grown up’.  Compare this font to this font to this font. Be careful to avoid font styles that look too serious or difficult though!
  • Choose stories with realistic characters in them: there is something intrinsically more childish about the same story of a football match played between a team of hamsters and a team of Guinea pigs, than between a team of children from one school and children from another

Easy readers are titles (including very popular titles like Horrid Henry) that have been re-edited so they tell the same story as the original but in a way more accessible to someone with a younger reading age.  Used carefully, these can feel to a child like they are reading ‘the same’ book as their peers… but you do need to be careful as children can notice badges like ‘early reader’ or ‘stories for six year olds’ and take understandable umbrage if they are 11… even if they would find the reading manageable!

Recommended reads

The answer to the question “what is the best book to engage a child in reading?” is “whichever the child wants to read” and that is hugely dependent on the aptitudes and interests of the individual.

However, even though there is no guarantee that they will ‘work’ for every individual child, there are some ‘modern classics’ that continue to prove to be a hit with many children and the following websites contain various lists and search criteria which will allow you to view recommendations.

Love reading 4 kids

Book Trust

Good Reads

Toppsta

Broadsheet newspapers also periodically run lists of ‘the best books’ of the year, of ‘all time’ etc. (usually sorted by age group) and a Google search of ‘recommended books’ for children will highlight these.  

Bookselling websites, like amazon.co.uk, have the facility to search by ‘most popular’ and this can give a useful insight into what current trends in children’s interests are.

If you have any more great tips on how to engage reluctant and struggling readers, then speak to us as we'd love to hear them. Or why not put your tips into action by becoming a Beanstalk trained reading helper?