High/Low Books to Engage Striving Readers of All Ages

Many students are not reading at grade level. Help striving readers build reading stamina and stay engaged with high-interest low-level content. The more a student reads, the better reader they will become.

This roundup highlights a wide range of dynamic titles for elementary, middle, and high school ­audiences. From graphic novels and celebrity biographies to survival stories and edgy YA fiction, there is something here for every interest.

The Epic Origin of Super Potato

Book 1

From the Series Super Potato

  • Interest Level: Grade 2 – Grade 5
  • Reading Level: Grade 2

Super Max has it all. He’s a superhero with a flashy uniform and a great head of hair. Sure, sometimes the evil Dr. Malevolent pops up to cause trouble. But Super Max has defeated the villain over and over again.

This time is different. This time, Dr. Malevolent’s plan works . . . and he turns the handsome hero into a tiny tuber! But there’s one thing the doctor didn’t count on. The potato still has powers, and justice takes many forms. Super Max may be gone . . . but it’s Super Potato’s time to fly!

★ “A zany, funny selection that will entertain kids and the adults who might be reading over their shoulders.”—starred, School Library Journal

“Laperla’s parody strikes an easy comedic tone from the first page, and its wackiness unspools effortlessly. . . . A promising start to a series with appeal to strong and reluctant readers alike.”—Publishers Weekly

Superstars of Gaming

From the Series The Best of Gaming (UpDog Books ™)

  • Interest Level: Grade 3 – Grade 5
  • Reading Level: Grade 1

The biggest stars of gaming draw in millions of dollars and fans. Some have become online celebrities! Meet the greatest streamers, creators, and players in this high/low look at the superstars of the gaming world.

“The vibrant photographs of highlighted celebrities and champions of the gaming industry paired with shorter snippets of text are sure to attract reluctant readers.”—School Library Journal

Harry Styles: Pop Star with an X Factor

From the Series In the Spotlight (UpDog Books ™)

  • Interest Level: Grade 3 – Grade 5
  • Reading Level: Grade 1

Harry Styles is a music icon! He sings, writes songs, and acts. His star has shone brightly since he rose to fame in 2010 as a contestant on The X Factor. Learn all about this talented British artist.

“[E]ngaging and accessible to striving readers. . . . these titles provide an introduction to today’s superstars in a fun, appealing format.”—School Library Journal

Behind the Scenes with Marsai Martin

From the Series Teen Strong

  • Interest Level: Grade 5 – Grade 8
  • Reading Level: Grade 3

At age five, Marsai Martin started acting in commercials. Before long, she earned a role on the TV show Black-ish, which has earned her awards and national attention. The next steps were to produce her own movie and start her own production company. These accomplishments have forged Marsai into a strong teenager. This title examines Marsai’s life and teaches more about the entertainment industry through narrative text, engaging photos, and graphics. Readers will come away inspired to get creative and be Teen Strong.

“[E]ngaging and accessible to striving readers. . .. these titles provide an introduction to today’s superstars in a fun, appealing format.”—School Library Journal

The Wolf in Underpants Breaks Free

From the Series The Wolf in Underpants

  • Interest Level: Grade 2 – Grade 5
  • Reading Level: Grade 2

In the second tale of The Wolf in Underpants, winter has arrived and the whole forest is freezing! As animals stock up on nuts, bread, and cheese wheels, they notice the Wolf is in a frosty mood. Then smaller critters begin to disappear. Will fear grip the forest once again? Or is another lesson on the way?

★“Lupano’s message of kindness and perception shines. . . . [A] must-read.”—starred, Kirkus Reviews

Timothy Dinoman Saves the Cat

Book 1

From the Series Timothy Dinoman

  • Interest Level: Grade 4 – Grade 8
  • Reading Level: Grade 4

Timothy Dinoman is on the trail of a stolen satellite! To learn what these suspected supervillains want with outer-space tech, the world’s nicest iguanodon will visit a mountain fortress, a giant blimp, and a diner with excellent pancakes. On the way, he’ll even meet a really cute cat. Grab your rocket boots and your fake mustache—it’s time to crack the case with Timothy!

“[U]ncomplicated paneling streamlines the plot, and bold color palettes vividly capture adrenaline-fueled fight sequences in this quirky adventure. “—Publishers Weekly

Sincerely, Harriet

  • Interest Level: Grade 4 – Grade 8
  • Reading Level: Grade 4

Harriet Flores struggles with boredom and an unrequited crush while learning to manage her chronic illness through a long, hot, 1990s summer in Chicago. She uses her imagination to cope, which sometimes gets her into trouble, as she makes up fantastical fibs and wonders if there are ghosts upstairs. One neighbor, Pearl, encourages Harriet to read and write, leading Harriet to have a breakthrough and discover the power of storytelling.

★“Searle tackles Harry’s anxiety about her illness as well as common adolescent concerns about friendships, school, and family with honesty and tenderness that will resonate with readers.”—starred, Kirkus Reviews

“In her middle grade debut, comics creator Searle slowly unspools the story of a middle schooler living with multiple sclerosis.”—Publishers Weekly

The Captain

From the Series Kick!

  • Interest Level: Grade 6 – Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 4

Malik’s senior soccer season is off to a great start. He’s the team captain, he plays with his best friend, and Coach Washington treats him more like a coach than player. But everything changes when several other teammates—including his best friend—and Coach Washington are accused of participating in a cheating scandal. As Malik struggles to come to terms with what they have done, he must learn how to work with a new coach and lead his new teammates to victory.

“These short, well-written stories will pull any reader—reluctant and avid—into the series.”—starred, VOYA

Riptide

From the Series To the Limit

  • Interest Level: Grade 6 – Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 4

Big waves and competition with other surfers send friends Maya and Paige out to surf the notoriously dangerous and secluded Rippers Cove. Soon the big waves turn into a big storm, and a bad fall leaves Paige too injured to make it back to shore. The friends can ride out the storm on a sandbar, but Maya knows that she needs to get help for Paige right away. To make matters worse, they realize that shark-infested waters stand between them and the safety of the beach!

“Reluctant readers who like survival stories will go along for each adventure.”—Kirkus Reviews

No Known Address

From the Series Lorimer SideStreets

  • Interest Level: Grade 8 – Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 3

Teen homelessness is not always connected to poverty and crime. Sometimes there’s more to the story. Tyler comes from a privileged family. When he’s blamed for bringing prescription narcotics to a party, his abusive dad kicks him out of his home. This novel brings to light the serious nature of verbal and emotional abuse and how difficult it is to be understood and access support in such circumstances.

“The story is unusual for its sensitive treatment of a victim whose abuse is entirely emotional and psychological, making his situation largely invisible to classmates and teachers . . . An engaging, relevant, and realistic story, recommended for middle and high school collections”—School Library Journal

“A thought-provoking problem novel about a teen’s journey to find a safe place to call home.”—Kirkus Reviews

Off Course

From the Series Road Trip

  • Interest Level: Grade 6 – Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 4

When their road trips takes a turn for disaster, these teens must rely on their instincts to survive.

Nora and her twin sister Livi are road tripping down the Pacific coast—Livi to interview at her dream school, Nora to finish her film school application. When Nora learns her favorite director may be shooting a monster movie nearby, she takes them more than a little off course. After an accident leaves their car in a river, can a group of friendly vampires help them survive?

“The entertaining plots pack a punch and are an excellent choice for striving readers in middle and high school, particularly adrenaline seekers.” —School Library Journal

“[A] quick-paced read . . .”—Booklist

Open Secrets

From the Series Lorimer SideStreets

  • Interest Level: Grade 8 – Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 3

Seventeen-year-old Ana Santos has ambitions to make it big in music. When she signs a contract with the owner of a music café, she has no idea there are sexual strings attached. This book looks at the darker side of the music industry, including sexual harassment, lyrics that degrade and demean women, and social media trolling as backlash for speaking up. Ana is a strong, realistic main character who overcomes her feelings of shame to find a voice for herself and her music. The #MeToo movement has revealed the prevalence of sexual assault in society, and an issue that also affects the lives of teen girls.

★“Highlighting the important and under-discussed issue of grooming against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, this novel deftly deals with a difficult and timely topic. Highly recommended for high school hi-lo collections.”—starred, School Library Journal

The Perfect Shot

  • Interest Level: Grade 6 – Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 6

Someone murdered Brian’s girfriend, Amanda. The police think it was her father. Brian isn’t so sure. But everyone he knows is telling him to move on, get over it, focus on the present. Focus on basketball. Focus on hitting the perfect shot. Brian hopes that the system will work for Amanda and her father. An innocent man couldn’t be wrongly convicted, could he?

“With basketball action, a murder mystery, a compelling story from history, adolescent angst, racial and parental tension, Alphin offers something to please most young readers.”

Kirkus Reviews

★“This novel will resonate with readers long after the final page.”

Starred Review, School Library Journal

Prom Kings

From the Series Lorimer Real Love

  • Interest Level: Grade 7 – Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 4

When the queer prom committee asks Charlie to join them, Charlie figures it’ll be a good way to get closer to cute new guy Andre. The only problem is that Charlie has competition for Andre’s attention in rich, good-looking Chad. Charlie and his pal Luis come up with a plan to get Andre’s attention: to woo Andre as a secret admirer and then reveal Charlie’s true identity with a spectacular promposal that Andre can’t refuse. But, Charlie begins to realize how much fun he’s been having with Luis and thinks maybe he’s been going after the wrong guy. How will Charlie decide which guy to go to prom with? Discover the answer in this light-hearted, high/low YA

“These texts stand out for their authentic depictions of LGBTQ+ teens; recommended for high school collections.” —School Library Journal

“For reluctant readers looking for a quick, light, romantic read.”—Kirkus Reviews

If I Go Missing

  • Interest Level: Grade 7 – Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 4

If I Go Missing is derived from excerpts of a letter that went viral and was also the basis of a documentary film. In her letter, Jonnie calls out the authorities for neglecting to immediately investigate missing Indigenous people and urges them to “not treat me as the Indigenous person I am proud to be” if she were to be reported missing. Indigenous artist Neal Shannacappo provides the artwork. Through his illustrations, he imagines a situation in which a young Indigenous woman does disappear, portraying the reaction of her community, her friends, the police, and media.

★“Jonnie, Shingoose, and Shannacappo train a poignant spotlight onto the difficulties Indigenous women face. Every library should have a copy of this potent work.”—starred, School Library Journal

We have a book for any reader! See more booklists on the Lerner blog.

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