Learning to read is a complex process, one that does not come easily to all children. Some children will struggle to read and become reluctant readers.
Hi lo books can help generate interest in reading and improve these children’s reading abilities. Hi lo books are engaging and easier to read, and they show kids that reading does not have to be a chore.
Somewhere in the Middle
For reluctant readers, reading books that pique their interests, but are too complex for their reading abilities, can be a discouraging undertaking that makes them dislike reading. On the other hand, handing them books with subject matter that isn’t age appropriate, like Clifford the Big Red Dog, will just embarrass them.
Providing hi low books is an important part of improving reading skills and fostering a love of reading in reluctant readers. Hi low books offer highly interesting, age-appropriate stories that grab the readers’ interests, but at lower readability levels that are accessible. For example, some books may be targeted to readers in high school but have a reading level of third or fourth grade.
High interest consists of content that children of that age would want to read on their own and learn more about without intervention from teachers and parents. Some of the topics that tend to keep children captivated include animals, mysteries, adventure, and sports. Low reading level means the children will be able to grasp the story and keep reading the book on their own with little difficulty.
What Makes a Book Hi Lo?
Hi lo books share similar characteristics. First, these books offer realistic characters, convincing text, and age-appropriate subject matter that is interesting and enticing.
The vocabulary used is controlled. The text is non-complex. The sentences are simpler and shorter. The chapters, too, are shorter, and they tend to focus on short episodes in the plot. The plots are usually linear, without difficult structure or flashbacks. Often, the story is told in the first person. Furthermore, you’ll see a lot more dialogue and very little descriptive text to keep engagement high.
Hi lo books are also shorter in length. This increases children's confidence when picking up the book. And if they can read it in its entirety and like what they’ve read, they won’t be discouraged from picking up another.
Design also comes into play. You’ll typically see more white space, a larger font, a cream-coloured paper, and more leading between lines. These design elements are strategically included in order to help reluctant readers focus.
Uses of Hi Lo Books
Hi lo books are most often used in schools, where interventions for reluctant readers are most likely to occur. There is a wide variety of curriculum-related titles as well as teacher’s guides and workbooks to support the titles for their use in schools. In addition, it isn’t uncommon to find these books in school libraries and in book clubs, buddy reading situations, and tutor situations.
And though the school market is the largest for these types of books, they’re also available at bookstores in order to foster a love of reading at home as well. In addition, more and more adults with literacy issues, or those learning English as a second language, are beginning to seek out hi lo books, making them highly valuable in a wide variety of contexts.
Hi lo books can make a significant difference in reading proficiency levels. They can also improve confidence and offer hope for a literate life. And though they’re not a silver bullet, they are an effective resource that should be considered for reluctant readers.
Social justice is a tricky topic to approach, especially when it comes to teaching children. Some people think that it’s best to leave the past in the past—to let it go. Others think that children should learn about social issues on their own, when they’re older.
Is social justice really something that should be taught to young children?
Injustices Are All around Them
Though teachers may have some part in controlling the culture within their classrooms, and parents have control of the culture in their homes, no one can control the world that children face when they walk outside, or when they turn on a TV, or when they turn on their computers.
The fact is that injustice is all around them. They face social issues all of the time. They will see it and some will live it, too. Some might wonder why they can’t find television shows with characters that look like them. Some might notice assumptions made about them based on their looks, their sexual orientation, or even their names. They see, and feel, unfairness all around them—even if they don’t realize exactly what they’re seeing and feeling. Children are actually quite the keen observers of the outside world. They experience struggles regarding privilege, power, and identity.
Ignoring social issues isn’t the answer. Even if you don’t talk about it, others will. And children might get a skewed perception of power, privilege, racism, sexism, and other social justice issues if teachers and parents don’t step in to explain—and to teach.
Social Justice as a Tool
Instead of ignoring social issues and avoiding social justice, we should be using it as a teaching tool to help children better understand themselves, better understand others, and better understand the world they live in.
It can help those struggling with identity crises to feel more comfortable with themselves and to understand why they’re being picked on, why they’re being hurt, why things just don’t seem “fair.” It can help those who come from power and privilege to ally with those who are disempowered. It can teach context and empathy for minority groups.
Furthermore, it’s an opportunity to create future social justice warriors who can question, challenge, change, and improve the status quo. It’s an opportunity to empower children to stand up for what they believe in.
By listening to and reading stories of injustice, progress can be actualized.
Teaching children about social issues is, no doubt, a difficult task. It can be uncomfortable and awkward. And it can raise difficult questions that you might not feel ready to answer just yet. But it’s so important. Children need to be able to understand the society they live in as it is—not as we wish it to be. They need our honesty and openness.
We cannot deny that injustices exist, and thus, we cannot deny kids the opportunity to learn about social justice. It should be taught both at home and in the classroom. And diverse books can help start the conversation about social justice.
Teachers are increasingly seeking new ways to teach their students about global awareness. Including more global issues into the curriculum is vital in today’s multicultural society. It can help students grow into global citizens, prepare them to live in the global society, and teach them how to navigate and succeed in this increasingly interconnected world that we live in.
Students are part of something bigger than themselves, and giving them the opportunity to understand this can ignite a passion to become more culturally responsible and sensitive.
However, with classes that are always short on time, it can be tough to add global learning activities on top of all the other learning objectives you already have. If you feel strongly about global awareness, however, you can prioritize these activities without taking up too much time.
Here are seven easy ways in which teachers can incorporate more global issues during class time.
1. Multicultural Books
One of the easiest and most effective ways to teach children about global awareness is to encourage them to read multicultural books, in which characters of different ethnicities, religions, and cultures can transport them on a global adventure.
Multicultural children’s books can not only help children learn about their cultural heritages, but it can also teach respect, dispel stereotypes, and showcase universal human feelings.
Multicultural books can teach children about the world that exists beyond their communities.
2. International Sports
Different countries play sports in different ways (such as European vs South American soccer), and others may have sporting events that aren’t readily seen in Canada. Exposing your students to international sporting events, such as the World Cup or the Olympics, or having them play different international sports during gym or recess can help them get excited about the differences that exist in the world.
What better way to allow your students to explore different cultural experiences than through food? Having a class potluck, where each student brings a dish from his or her cultural heritage, can be an excellent opportunity to teach kids about cultural diversity and sensitivity.
4. Field Trips
Taking a class trip to another country to expose your students to local cultures and foods around the world may not be possible. However, they can still encounter new cultures through field trips to nearby ethnic restaurants or heritage museums.
5. Online Programs
Children from kindergarten to high school can participate in the collaborative Worldwide Book Club project, in which students can connect with other students from around the world to discuss books.
Skype in the Classroom is another excellent program that allows classrooms to connect with other people around the world for free.
6. Google Field Trip App
The Google Field Trip app can allow your students to explore new geographies from the comfort of the classroom. Students can zoom in to specific locations using the map feature, or search for areas of interest, and find a wealth of information about interesting sites in the area, such as monuments, museums, haunted hotels, and theme parks.
7. Global Games
Exposing children to games that are played around the world can make global awareness teachings a lot of fun. Global games like Cat and Mice from the Philippines, Wee Bologna Man from Scotland, Kukla, Hit the Can from Turkey, and Crab Race from Japan can keep global awareness teachings engaging for younger children in particular.
Creating characters with disabilities in fiction books for kids can help you step out of your writing comfort zone, reach a unique audience, and help children relate to others who are differently abled. However, when writing these characters, it’s easy to fall into common stereotypes that can alienate your readers.
Here’s how not to write characters with disabilities in fiction books for kids.
Avoid These Top Two Stereotypes
More often than not, when it comes to writing characters with disabilities, authors tend to gravitate towards two tropes: the bitter character and the inspirational character.
A common narrative for the inspirational stereotype: the characters struggle with being accepted (or accepting themselves), but throughout the story, they start to successfully overcome challenges, and then, by the end of the story, they end up embracing the disability. These inspirational characters are often seen as saints that can do no wrong, which opens the hearts and changes the attitudes and pre-conceived notions of those around them.
A common narrative for the bitter stereotype: The character cannot accept the disability, and in turn, becomes angry and self-loathing.
These two stereotypes can be difficult to avoid. As you build your character, you naturally address the disability as well as the character’s internal feelings. These feelings might gravitate towards anger, especially if the disability is new. In order to avoid this, you might avoid feelings of anger and accidentally jump into the inspirational stereotype instead.
Addressing disability in fiction books for kids isn’t easy. The most effective way to avoid these two stereotypes is to remember that people with disabilities are not solely defined by their disabilities nor do they fit into nice, neat boxes. Some days they’ll be frustrated. Some days they might be inspirational to others. And other days, they’ll be neither. The same goes with characters with mental disabilities. Mental disabilities can be incredibly subtle and complex.
Creating dichotomy can help you avoid writing two-dimensional characters, avoid stereotyping, and in turn, avoid alienating and frustrating your readers who may have disabilities and be unable to connect with your characters.
Don’t Romanticize the Issue
Another common pitfall that authors of fiction books for kids often fall into (particularly in novels) is the romanticizing of the disability. In the majority of books currently on the market, the character with a disability is paralyzed from an accident and permanently in a wheelchair. The story is then turned into a romance, where the character finds hope—and true love. This story, quite honestly, has been done to death.
Apart from not wanting to repeat the same stories over and over again, it’s also a good idea to stay away from this narrative simply because of the fact that there are innumerous disabilities. Paraplegia is not the only disability that you can write about. Get creative.
Note: The same argument can be applied to romanticizing mental illnesses and learning disabilities.
Don’t Write Unrealistic Characters
All too often, authors want to add characters with disabilities into their stories, but fail to do their research beforehand. This can lead to unrealistic portrayals of accessibility, adaptation, comfort, and even sexual practices when the disability is romanticized. Making a paraplegic a master at maneuvering a wheelchair the moment he sits in one is, for example, quite unrealistic. If your details don’t ring true with your target audience, you haven’t done your job effectively. Research is a critical part of writing outside your comfort zone.
And remember, just because you want to include a character with a disability in your story doesn’t mean the entire story has to revolve around the disability!
Many children’s book authors want to be more inclusive when writing fiction books for kids. In particular, they want to include LGBTQ characters in their stories for many reasons. Some want to challenge themselves to get out of their comfort zones when writing. Others want to write books that an underrepresented group can identify with in order to help more kids relate to the books they read, see themselves reflected in the media, and feel less alone. Some writers want to add these characters in their stories because it’s simply realistic for them to be there. And most writers know that the world needs more LGBTQ representation in the media and more variety when it comes to the current selection of LGBTQ fiction books for kids.
However, they’re also afraid of misrepresenting the community. So instead, they don’t try.
If you want to include LGBTQ characters in your fiction books for kids, don’t be discouraged. Here are some tips for avoiding LGBTQ stereotypes in your stories.
Know What Stereotypes to Avoid
In order to effectively avoid writing LGBTQ stereotypes that hinder equality, you need to know what to avoid in the first place. Here are the major stereotypes to steer clear of.
The effeminate gay man: Though flamboyant gay men certainly exist, not all gay men are effeminate, so it would be a poor choice to portray all gay men like this. In some media representations, the effeminate gay man is also seen as something to laugh at, dismissed at a joke. And sometimes, being labelled as such can lead to abuse and assault. If you’re describing your character as such, ensure that you’re not doing so just so he can be a young woman’s best friend or a diva for entertainment purposes.
The manly lesbian: Similarly, another LGBTQ stereotype to avoid is the manly lesbian. Mainstream society tends to only recognize lesbians as butch women who are unnatural or threatening. For these women, walking in society as a butch lesbian is difficult as they often get verbally abused for their lack of femininity, and many have to battle for their right to wear what they want to in a world of “girls should wear pink.” If you are going to use this type of character in fiction books for kids, remember that being butch is simply a different way of being a woman, that there’s nothing wrong with it, and that it doesn’t necessarily mean that she wants to be a man.
The promiscuous or confused bisexual: There are many myths about bisexuality. Bisexual men and women are both often seen as promiscuous simply because their dating pools are doubled. Bisexuality shouldn’t automatically be associated with infidelity or having many partners, though. Keep this in mind when writing bisexual characters in your stories. In addition, stay clear of writing bisexual characters who are “just confused” about their sexuality.
In addition to avoiding stereotypes, it’s important to avoid writing clichés if you want your stories to resonate with the LGBTQ community. Some storytelling motifs in fiction books for kids have recurred too many times, including the unattainable best friend, the homophobic friend, the gay football player, or the lesbian cheerleader.
Writing the same motifs again will bore or frustrate the readers that you’re trying to connect with, and it may even make you seem like a lazy author (which, of course, you’re not).
Do Your Research
When stepping outside of your comfort zone in your writing, it’s always important to dedicate enough time to researching your subject. The same is true for writing LGBTQ characters in a way that avoids stereotypes. If you know anyone in the community, talk to them. If not, go online and ask your questions in a respectful way.
When performing your research, keep an open mind and be honest with yourself about the beliefs you hold about gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. Be open to the possibility that what you believe may be outdated and wrong.
No doubt, learning about injustice and oppression is important. Teaching kids about social justice matters. We should be sharing these stories with children. However, when all we focus on is injustice, we fail to create characters that all children can identify with, and we fail to help other children learn about the similarities that are present among other races, cultures, communities, and marginalized groups.
Not all LGBTQ books should be coming-out stories or bullying stories. Not all stories with black characters should focus on slavery. Diversity in children’s books is growing; however, many of these stories still focus too heavily on oppression and injustice, on “the problem.”
White characters in children’s books deal with a wide variety of issues that have absolutely nothing to do with their race. They grapple with heavy personal issues and they go on fun, exciting adventures, too. So why do we continue to focus on oppression in diverse books? Black characters, Latino characters, characters with disabilities, gay characters and all other characters should be created in such a way that they are more than just their races, their disabilities, or their sexual orientations.
The Risks of Focusing Solely on Oppression
Focusing solely on oppression and injustice or on the struggles of having a disability, for example, doesn’t allow children to see others around them as people similar to themselves. It reduces the complexity of their lives to a teaching lesson, to a life of suffering, or to a source of pity.
Oppressive narratives are often restrictive and inadequate, and sometimes, even stereotypical. And they’re often void of creativity and imagination. Non-fiction children’s books about black historical figures, for example, can help teach black children about their history; but children also want to find aspects of their ethnic heritage and their culture outside of their history books. They want to see characters like themselves having adventures in space, fighting zombies, and having typical days at school. Ethnic-themed lists appeal to parents, but children want more. They want diverse characters they can identify with in fun, exciting stories. Focusing solely on oppression often sacrifices the cultivation of wonderment that embodies high-quality children’s books and prevents children from being able to identify with characters and better understand themselves and those around them.
Books featuring diverse characters in myriad situations doesn’t just benefit the marginalized groups reading the stories, either. It also benefits all children, allowing them to understand those around them much more than books on ethnic traditions or historical figures could ever allow.
A Healthy Mix of Diversity in Children’s Books
There needs to be a healthy mix of diversity in children’s books. Some books should celebrate the differences between groups, and others should speak out about injustice. But we also need diverse children’s books that teach inclusion.
There needs to be more books with diverse characters without focusing on problems, struggles, and injustices. Culture and race, disabilities, and sexual orientation can be organically weaved through stories in a way that isn’t so forced. These aspects of the characters’ lives can be part of the story, without being the story. Authors of children’s books should be depicting characters of colour, characters with disabilities, and other marginalized groups doing many things, in all sorts of places. And just as importantly, teachers and librarians must commit to reading and promoting these types of books to children.
Books can—and should—act as both mirrors and windows for kids. In some books, children may find characters who look, sound, and feel emotions just like they do, mirroring their own thoughts and actions and helping them connect to the stories and putting them on a path of self-discovery.
In others, the stories act more like windows, allowing them to learn about new life experiences or cultures and helping them build understanding and empathy for the lives of those around them. Diverse books can also be windows as mirrors. By reading about diverse characters who, on the outside, seem nothing like them, children can see that others are actually very similar to them in many ways. They can find parts of themselves in these characters.
Many people are underrepresented in children’s books, though strides are being taken. Diverse books can help kids relate, not only to the characters, but to those around them.
Relating to Characters Who Are Like You
When reading, we all want to be able to relate to the characters in the book. Unfortunately, there are many people who have trouble finding books that allow them to do so due to a significant lack of diversity, from characters with disabilities to characters of different sexual orientations, religions, and races.
There’s no doubt that we need diverse books. All children should be able to identify with the stories, the characters, and the communities that are represented in the books that they read. All children deserve to find books that help them build images of who they are and who they could be.
Diverse books aim to place marginalized and underrepresented persons and communities in stories, so more kids can find themselves in the books they read.
Relating to Those Who Aren’t Like You
Diverse books don’t just help more children relate to characters who are like them, however. They also help kids relate to people of other races, cultures, and communities. They help kids learn what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, such as what it’s like to have a different culture or a physical or mental disabilities. Diverse books allow children to expand their horizons, which is something everyone can benefit from.
By exploring diverse characters in children’s books, kids can better understand others in the world around them. They can better understand that people who are different from them are still full and complex human beings, and they can better realize that these seemingly different people are actually quite similar to them in many ways.
Helping to Start Discussions
Diverse children’s books are important tools for starting conversations with children about differences and disabilities, both inside of the classroom and out. They provide a starting point for teachers and parents to teach children about global awareness and inclusion. They can also provide positive messages and images about those who are different, help develop understanding and awareness, and help promote positive attitudes, acceptance, and respect for those differences.
We Need Diverse Books is more than just an organization; it’s a movement. People of colour and people who have been historically underrepresented in books are taking a stand. And thankfully, some publishers have listened. They understand the many reasons to create—and to read—multicultural books for children.
Here are just a few of those reasons.
1. Society Is Diverse
We live in a global society. People emigrate from all over the world to live in Canada. Cultures, races, and religions are all mixed together. We are all living as one. Only creating white characters in books simply isn’t representative of the diversity that exists in society today, especially in Canada where diversity plays an important role. Multicultural books for children with characters of different ethnicities present a realistic picture of society.
2. Understanding Those Around Us
Diverse books also enhance our understanding of different cultures, ethnicities, and experiences. This can help us relate to those we interact with. Because we live in a multicultural society, reading diverse books to children can help them develop empathy and acceptance towards their peers and nurture meaningful relationships in classrooms, on playgrounds, and beyond.
3. Taking Us Back to Our Roots
Ethnic-centric children’s books are valuable. They can help open up conversations with children about their roots—their ancestors, their heritages, and their family traditions. It can help children better understand why they dress a certain way or eat certain foods when others in their classes do not, for example.
4. Linguistic Diversity
Diverse books also allow for linguistic diversity. Multicultural books for children that are set in a cultural backdrop, like Missing Nimâmâ, often have words scattered in the text or have a glossary in the back in the affiliated language. Bilingual books are not only fun for children, but they also offer a great way to introduce children to new languages.
5. Global Awareness
Although we’re certainly advocates of Canadian literature, we also understand the importance of reading books from around the world. Multicultural books for children that are set in other areas of the world offer informative historical and geographical details. They also improve global awareness for kids. Plus, these types of books can also take children to faraway places that they may never be able to visit, expanding their horizons while they read in the comfort of their own homes.
6. Abolishing Stereotypes
Stereotypes, skewed images, and clichés of different cultures abound in the media. High-quality multicultural books for children can abolish stereotypes and dispel common myths and misconceptions, helping children learn facts and see real portrayals of marginalized groups.
7. Identifying with Characters
All kids deserve to read stories with characters, cultures, and communities that they can relate to. It’s only natural that we would want to relate to the characters in a book. But mainstream books make it very difficult for marginalized groups to be able to do so. Diverse books can help more children, from varying backgrounds, find stories that they can relate to and characters that they can identify with. This can foster a love of reading and put children on a path of self-discovery.
Children’s reading diets should be well balanced. Multicultural children’s books can open up the world, help kids identify and relate, and help them become more prepared for anything that life brings them.
On November 17th, 2016, at a gala hosted by TD and the Canadian Children's Book Centre, Missing Nimâmâ was awarded the TD Canadian Children's Literature prize. Held at The Carlu in downtown Toronto, the gala is a celebration of the best in Canadian children's books with $145,000 in prize money awarded in 7 categories.
Congratulations to all the nominees and the winners!
Missing Nimâmâ, written by Melanie Florence and illustrated by François Thisdale, won the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award ($30,000)
Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox by Danielle Daniel won the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award ($20,000)
Sex Is a Funny Word: A Book About Bodies, Feelings, and You, written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth, won the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction ($10,000)
Uncertain Soldier by Karen Bass won the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction For Young People ($5,000)
The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands won the John Spray Mystery Award ($5,000)
The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow won the Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy ($5,000)
The Truth Commission by Susan Juby won the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award ($5,000)
Leading up to the event, Melanie Florence and Francois Thisdale were on the move, sharing their book with audiences across the country. Below are a few pictures from their adventures and from the big night.
Following in the footsteps of its older sibling, Born With: Erika & Gianni has also been nominated for the OLA Forest of Reading Red Maple Award! This means that author Lorna Schultz Nicholson will be heading back to Toronto, Ontario, twice in the new year: first, to hand out advance copies of the newest One-2-One novel, Bent Not Broken: Madeline & Justin at the OLA Superconference at the end of January; and second, to attend the festivities in May for the Trees! (Want to book a school visit while she's in town? You can - click here!)
Missing Nimama by Melanie Florence and Francois Thisdale has also had some great news on the award nomination front. It's been nominated for the OLA Forest of Reading Golden Oak award.
Not only that, but we are SUPER proud to announce that this, our first picture book at Clockwise Press, is also a finalist for the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award!
Check back for plenty of press coverage in the coming weeks leading up to the big day on November 17!