Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 23, 2010

Writing for the Reluctant Reader

I am told reluctant readers are three times more likely to be boys than girls.  Thus the reason why publishers are looking to Hi/Lo Books –high interest, low reading level (also “low vocabulary” or “low ability”). These books are aimed at children in the intermediate grades, middle through high school. 

They are short, usually running from 400 to 1,200 words, with many illustrations.  They and are packaged to look like traditional chapter books so that struggling readers are not further stigmatized–especially important since struggling readers are probably already suffering self-esteem problems due to their reading difficulties.

Works for reluctant readers share many of the qualities that works for fluent readers do. They have strong characterization, featuring realistic protagonists that readers truly care about, with exciting storylines about interest topics. The best Hi/Lo books will appeal to both fluent readers as well as reluctant readers; the fluent readers will simply be able to get through them quicker.

Here are some thing you must consider if you want to write for this market:

  • Characters, in addition to being compelling and three-dimensional, must also be immediately distinct from each other. No long, descriptive passages in Hi/Lo books or you will risk losing your audience. Don’t use similar names.

  • Harder vocabulary items should be introduced within contexts to help make their meaning clear. Make sure these vocabulary words are repeated in order to reinforce their recognition. Remember, longer words and sentences and less commonly used vocabulary words increase reading difficulty level.

  • Style needs to be consistent throughout the text. Sentence structure should be short, simple, and clear. Break longer sentences into multiple sentences, and use tight, concrete writing.

  • Your plot and storyline must be presented in a straightforward way, without point of view switches or non-linear chronologic progressions. You want to push the reader swiftly through the story, so flashbacks, plot twists, and red herrings should be avoided. Tight, fast pacing is essential.

  • Subject matter for Hi/Lo books must be geared to children – particularly boys.  It should be something readers have an easy time becoming emotionally invested in. They must be able to connect their own experiences to the text.
  • You need to stay up-to-date with what kids at that age are interested in, such as funny situations, sports, disasters, teen conflict, family/friend problems, and street kids/gangs (rebellious boy saves the day).
  • Some popular topics include Genres include science fiction, mystery/spy, and adventure. Nonfiction is especially appealing to boys, because the reader doesn’t need to read the entire text in order to obtain benefit.
Capstone Press
Publishes material for grade 2-4 level reading ability students with content that appeals to grade 5 students and higher.



Capstone is keenly interested in meeting authors and illustrators. In fact, they play an integral role, connecting with our young readers and often deepening the reading experience by interacting with them online. Most of our titles are conceptually developed in-house and written and illustrated by freelance writers and artists. However, we are interested in receiving writers’ manuscripts and reviewing artists’ portfolios.

Fiction Author Submissions

Send your submission via email. Include the following in the body of the email, not as attachments:

  • Sample chapters
  • Résumé
  • List of previous publishing credits, if applicable
  • We will respond only if your writing samples fit our needs.

    Fiction Illustrator Submissions

    Send your submission via email. Include the following in the body of the email, not as attachments:

  • Sample Artwork
  • Résumé
  • List of previous publishing credits, if applicable
  • We will respond only if your art samples fit our needs.

    Nonfiction Author Submissions

    We accept nonfiction submissions through the U.S. mail only. Include the following:

  • Résumé
  • Cover letter
  • Up to three writing samples
  • Mail to:Editorial Director
    Capstone Nonfiction
    151 Good Counsel Drive
    P.O. Box 669
    Mankato, MN 56002-0669
  • Please note: manuscripts and writing samples will not be returned.

    Nonfiction Illustrator Submissions

    Contact us to make an appointment for us to review your illustrations.

    Of course there are many publishers who are looking for Hi/Lo Books from authors who can write them well.

    Talk tomorrow,



    1. HI/lo reader describes me as a child. I would have benefited from these types of books. There is a need for hi/lo books. Let’s get more out there. Great post! Thanks, Kathy!


      • Laura,

        I agree. Hook them anyway we can.



    2. This concept, to assist reluctant readers, is a much needed product. As an illustrator, I would love to see more chapter type books with lots of illustrations to help carry the text of the story. And in the end, the “story” is the most important thing. Great article!!


    3. Decades ago I designed a Hi-Lo magazine at Scholastic called Action. I see it is still published. I didn’t know much about the hi-lo book market, so thanks Kathy for posting.


      • Mary,

        I’ll have to keep an eye out for it. You know I never heard back from you about what you want for lunch on Saturday.



    4. It’s funny, Kathy—the first email I got from you on this didn’t include a picture, and I was thinking, “Boys are reluctant readers ’cause they want to play video games, watch TV or play sports—not because they have trouble reading.” Then you posted this with the pic, and it’s right there! lol

      I think that TV, movies, video games, etc. ALL keep kids (and adults) from reading as much as they otherwise would have. I know that when I was working full-time, raising my son, etc., TV was the “quick” way to get in stories. I’m not that way now, ’cause I’ve allowed myself the luxury of reading, and of course, I’m a writer lol

      But I really think the reluctant readers have less to do with how WELL they read, and more to do with all the things they PREFER doing than reading.


      • Donna,

        The reason you got an e-mail that didn’t include a picture was I hit the wrong button. I had just started working on the post and it went out way before it was ready. Like pushing send, when you haven’t attached what you wanted.

        It’s true, before we had TV, radio, videos, movies, etc. people had to read if they wanted to be entertained. The world is a better place because of technology, so parents need to encourage books when ever they can.

        My cousin’s son just discovered the joy of reading and he graduated from high school last year. He was addicted to video games, so there is always hope.



    5. Hi Kathy I wrote a self published book Horny Toads and Waspers several years ago – may I submit it for consideration to this project? These are my peeps. It is a humorous look at life “Back in the Day”. My brother and I and our shenanigans. Thank you Naomi


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