Please welcome my guest blogger, Jim Westcott, an author who writes Hi Lo fiction books for boys.
My fifteen years as a Special Education Teacher influenced what I write and for what audience. I write these kinds of books for these two audiences:
- Hi Interest-Low Vocabulary Books for struggling readers, especially books for boys between 8 and 12
- High Interest Books for Boys that don’t struggle, but fall into what is known as the Reluctant category
I try my best to have a style that is fast and funny and contains some male-introspection. I should probably mention that my writing doesn’t contain much farting and burping.
Don’t get me wrong, we males (including myself) do enjoy a good fart or burp once in a while, or better yet The Furp, the allusive, simultaneous fart and burp (just made that up). Just that I use these elements sparingly.
Writing that also explores what boys may think and feel at specific developmental levels is very important to me-what boys want from life and what life actually serves them, how they view themselves, how they feel about their abilities and weaknesses, their anxieties and insecurities, and their triumphs. This is what I try my best to show in my books for boys. Whether it is a book with controlled vocabulary and word usage or a book at a higher level, it doesn’t matter.
Having said this, I’d like to dive a little deeper into writing Hi-Lo fiction. I’m often asked about these types of books.
In general, a Hi-Lo book contains what is considered highly interesting subject matter with an interesting style, and has language and words carefully crafted so struggling readers can read them independently.
Recently, I wrote a book for Saddleback Educational Publishing, called The Gift.
The Gift by Jim Westcott
Ten-year-old Zeke Easton is getting used to his new life- not having his dad around-until his class has a mysterious new student. Zeke’s life is rocked in unimaginable ways after he finds out why nobody knows about the new kid accept for him. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
I thought it would be interesting to share that writing a children’s chapter book according to strict Hi-Lo guidelines isn’t an easy thing to pull off.
Allow me to show what I’m getting at here:
A sentence in The Gift Before and After some editorial guidance:
Before: The new kid continued to sit next to me and smile where Shafe used to sit, naming his farts all day long.
After: The new kid smiled where Shafe named his farts.
Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, it isn’t lost on me that I chose a part with farts. It’s the only mention of farts in the entire book, I swear … strange, though.
To meet Saddleback’s guidelines, I reconsidered my usual pacing, vocabulary and word choice, overall sentence structure, and my dialogue. Also, my subject matter had to smartly and emotionally resonate with older children (mostly boys) who read between the first and second grade level…Challenging!
Through this experience, I developed a better understanding of and respect for Hi-Lo publishers.
When I taught, I often clamored for good books, especially good books for boys. I needed to consider age appropriateness and reading levels while other teachers didn’t. This took time and effort. I wish I knew more about this kind of publishing at the time. Below are a few great Hi-Lo publishers. Take advantage of them.
• Saddleback Educational Publishing
• Orca Currents
• Ransom Publishing
Jim Westcott is a children’s writer. He can be found at his blog, Resolute not Reluctant, and his website.
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14 thoughts on “Writing Hi Lo Fiction and Books for Boys”
I love that these books move beyond fart jokes to real life subject matter!
Thanks Maryanne:) It’s important to use humor at times, but it is more important to connect with boy readers.
I agree wholeheartedly! I have a friend whose son was a reluctant middle school reader and we used Orca Currents with skateboarding themes to get him reading. It really did work. Her son loves skateboarding! I think matching that up works beautifully!
I’d never heard of hi lo books before. Great concept – I can really see how there’s a need out there.
They work so beautifully for reluctant readers especially in middle school when it starts to become critical to get kids reading. I tried it with my friend’s son in 7th grade and we used the Orca Series to get him reading.
I have a boy 71/2 and despite my best efforts he is slowly picking up on reading. He loves books but finding interesting books for him that are not boring as he says is not easy. Will be checking these out.
7 1/2 is not too worrisome if you son isn’t loving reading yet. Try picture books with him. These Hi Lo fiction books are chapter books and work great for ages 9 and up and especially ages 12 and up.
Here’s some picture book lists that my son liked at your son’s age:
Best Picture Books You’ve Never Heard Of: http://www.pragmaticmom.com/2011/07/favorite-picture-books-youve-never-heard-of/
Top 10 Funny Picture Books to LOL with Your Child: http://www.pragmaticmom.com/2010/05/top-10-picture-books-to-lol-with-your-child/
Thank you for sharing. I was introduced to these kinds of books when I taught. These kinds of books are becoming more known, however you’re certainly not alone. I’m glad that I can help.
Truly, these are great books. And not just because I wrote one of them:) Check out the Red Rhino Series by Saddleback Educational Publishing. The other authors are very good and have been published many times over. Certainly try the nonfiction and graphic book route as well. Bearport Publishing puts out some great ”high-interest” nonfiction for his age level, no doubt. Good luck, and keep at it. You’ll find what clicks:)
The magic connection is both I think: humor and a connection to their interests!
You’re right. I couldn’t agree more:)
Hi-lo is a very ambiguous title. I’m an ENL teacher and need texts that develop along syntax acquisition. Do publishers set complexity guidelines or do you just write based on “feel”?
Hi HSENL Teacher,
Here’s a list that might be what you need: