What are HiLo books?

HiLo stands for high-interest, low-vocabulary, and are books intended for middle-grade readers who struggle with reading.

Who Finds HiLo Useful?

Anyone who struggles with reading will find HiLo helpful. HiLo authors know that it’s important to keep the plot moving along. HiLo focuses on compelling storylines and believable characters, straightforward plots, simple vocabulary, and issues that a reader can connect with.

HiLo books are not just for native speakers! HiLo is also appropriate for increasing reading skills in second-language acquisition.

Why Do I Write HiLo?

My son is one of those kids who struggled with reading. In grade 4, he read at barely a grade-1 level, but he was mortified that his classmates would see him reading ‘baby books’. While he had a strong desire to learn to read, the shame of not being able to read the same kinds of books his peers were reading prevented him from achieving his goal of becoming a reader.

As a parent, I was desperate to help him. We tried comic books: he loved the stories, but the small print and the busy-ness of the pages were a barrier. We focused on non-fiction books: he loved the topics, but the books aimed at his age level used vocabulary he couldn’t easily decode. And, again, the small print and buy pages were difficult for him to access. A very helpful Learning Resource Teacher suggested HiLo books. An internet search found us some, but — at the time — the stories were mostly in the romance genre. My son wanted aliens, zombies, and some kind of world-wide destruction, and there must not, EVER, be any kind of kissing, thank you very much.

It wasn’t easy to find books that met his criteria. Then I remembered I was a science fiction writer, so I got to work.

Did HiLo Help My Son?

I give full credit to my son for helping himself. He’s very driven to do well, and he continues to work hard. His school, his LRT and his teachers have made every effort to put strategies into place to support his learning.

My son was lucky enough to participate in Empower in Grades 2 and 3. This fantastic programme developed by Dr. Maureen Lovett and her team at the Hospital for Sick Kids was exactly what my son needed. I will be forever grateful that my son had the opportunity to be an Empowered reader.

But did HiLo help him? Let me offer this anecdote: Once I finished the first book in Beast, I gave a printout of it to my son to take to school to read during silent reading time. His teacher asked him what he had, and he showed her. She asked if he wanted to share it with his class. He said yes, and this kid who’d struggled with reading since kindergarten; who’d hidden his ‘baby books’ from his peers; and who wept with anxiety when he had to read aloud; this kid stood at the front of the room and read Beast to the entire class, beginning to end.

What If My Kid is Struggling with Reading?

Your child’s school is your first and best resource for help. Reach out to your school’s Learning Resource Teacher and express your concerns. I always said that I only had direct experience with three kids (my own) the class teacher and LRT had experience with more kids than that, and the training besides.

The first teacher to express concern about my son’s reading asked me if I’d had his eyes checked. Of course we had! But I realised later that she meant not ‘can he see’ but ‘how is he processing what he sees’? We made an appointment with a qualified developmental optometrist (our regular optometrist was able to put us in touch with her) who was able to give him a visual evaluation to assess his ability not just to focus, but to track words on a page, and to remember what he’d already seen. Once he was diagnosed as dyslexic, the doctor was able to provide us with home therapy which helped immensely. The clinic was also able to give us information on local dyslexia centres, which provided further support for both our family and the school. I highly recommend seeing an optometrist if your child is struggling with reading.

Will My Child Ever Succeed?

I asked myself this question so much when we were looking for answers to my son’s struggles. I will never forget the day he came home in tears and said he was stupid. He most definitely isn’t stupid, but he certainly was disheartened.

My son’s dyslexia makes reading difficult for him, but because he does not rely on reading, he has a memory like a steel trap. I once met a lawyer who told me not to worry about my kid. This lawyer, too, was dyslexic: because he didn’t like reading, he committed everything to memory. He was able to pull case studies out of his head rather than take the time to look them up. He said it was a huge benefit to him in court. Stores like this kept my own head above water in the months it took to get my son diagnosed.

Further Reading

Hooking Struggling Readers

College of Optometrists

Empower

Understanding Dyslexia

HiLo Series: BEAST

Beast

Earth died.

Hope Survived.

Abbey and her family crew the spaceship Hope. They’re carrying the last life of Earth to a new, safe planet.

Halfway through the trip, Hope is damaged.

They’re out of fuel, and their cargo is dying.

Abbey’s family is stranded, and there’s no one to help them.

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Beast 2: Into Darkness

No Hope!

Ben and his family, in fact, their entire space ship, have been swallowed by a giant space whale!

Are they passengers, or dinner?

Can they repair their ship and escape?

All life from Earth depends on them!

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