Reluctant Readers: Engage kids with humor, great graphics, and focused topics

The child literacy crisis in the United States, Canada, and around the world is not new, but the pandemic has severely worsened it. The good news is that children’s publishers are expanding their offerings for students of all ages who read below grade and struggle to achieve reading fluency.

These publishers are committed to improving children’s literacy. They strive to not only inspire children, middle schoolers and young adults to open a book, but also to fully engage with what’s on offer between the covers – to enjoy the reading experience. To this end, the publishers have dedicated themselves to understanding and providing what children really to like.

As Derek Zobel, President of Bellwether Media, Inc. says, “the ultimate end customer is the child.”

Reluctant and struggling readers come from all walks of life and walks of life, and publishers create books for everyone. From adorable hardbacks and action-packed adventures, to gross-out insects and dinosaurs, to realistic teenage situations, publishers want every child or teen to close a book with renewed confidence in their ability to reading, but the most important thing is to say “this book was so great”. as Kennedy Cullen, marketing manager at Orca Publishing, puts it.

The publishers represented here are passionate about improving children’s literacy, as evidenced by the assortment of books they bring to every reader. Here are some of the highlights of their new and recently released titles and series.

BellwetherMedia, Inc.

Bellwether Media, based in Minnetonka, MN, was founded in 2005 by John Bellwether, who was himself a reluctant reader in his youth. The company publishes non-fiction series for the school and library market for K-4 readers, across three imprints: Torque, Epic and Black Sheep. Half of the list is for beginning readers and the other half for reluctant readers. But all titles are written, edited and produced to “excite kids to read,” says Zobel.

Beyond rigorous editorial and production standards (all books are edited and designed in-house for quality control), Bellwether consults with teachers and literacy experts to ensure that each title can be understood and enjoyed by its target readers. All titles are available in eBook format, and many are in paperback format.

From Epic is Giganotosaurus by Rebecca Sabelko, illustrated by James Kuether, August 2021, ISBN 9781644875445, a title from one of Bellwether’s best-selling series, “World of Dinosaurs”. Illustrated by a paleo-artist, it explains to preschool readers and more everything about the dinosaur and its habitat. Illustrations show its size compared to things children would know, such as a school bus; the maps show where giganotosaurus might have lived.

Each book in the “World of Dinosaurs” series includes a “dino dossier,” featuring fascinating facts that help readers understand the vast timeline of the age of dinosaurs. For example, he points out that we live closer in time to T. rex that T. rex made to stegosaurus!

The “True Survival Stories” series from Bellwether’s Black Sheep imprint uses primary sources such as newspapers, radio transcripts, and diaries to tell of astonishing real-life escapes, for readers in 3rd grade interest up to grade 8. Shark attack! Bethany Hamilton’s Story by Blake Hoena, illustrated by Tate Yotter, August 2021, ISBN 9780736867764, quotes from Bethany enrich the tale of her harrowing experience when she lost an arm in a shark attack – and was only back on her surfboard only a few weeks later.

praying mantis vs black widow spider, written by Kieran Downs, January 2022, ISBN 9781644876251, is part of Torque’s “Animal Battles” series for 3rd grade readers, with interest levels from 3rd through 8th grade. Through four-color photographs, the books in the series explain various animals. “secret weapons” like sharp talons, poison, and bite force, as well as their habitats and what they eat. The stories pit vicious predators against each other, encouraging the reader to find out which one will be left standing in the end.

Orca publishing company

Based on Vancouver Island, Canada, Orca specializes in books for Hi-Lo readers across three lines: Orca Soundings for young adults ages 12 and up, leveled 2nd through 5th grade; Orca Anchor, also for YA readers but leveled below a grade 2; and Orca Currents for middle-level students ages 9-12, grades 2-5. Each line knows how to engage its readers: “All of our books are action-packed, with something new happening every page,” says Kennedy Cullen, Marketing Director of Orca. “Our characters don’t walk, they run!” She adds.

All Orca books are also produced with low contrast cream colored paper, easy to read fonts and generous line spacing, to help children with dyslexia and other children with learning difficulties. Orca aims to make its books gateways to further reading by giving students the confidence to proudly declare, “I can read an entire book,” Cullen says.

From Orca Anchor is serious message by Mary Jennifer Payne, February 2022, ISBN 9781459828643, a specialist teacher who works with dyslexic students. Protagonist Jaylin, a 16 or 17-year-old high school student, is dyslexic; she has to work harder and longer on her homework than her friends. While studying, she receives a message from a friend who died a year ago, asking Jaylin to investigate his death. Does Jaylin hear of a ghost? Readers will identify with Jaylin’s academic struggles and will be thrilled to be part of her paranormal quest.

Intermediate level readers will be in the grip of Bollywood Project by Orca Currents, written by Mahtab Narsimhan, April 2022, ISBN 9781459832114. The story centers on a young filmmaker who strives to recreate a favorite Bollywood film for a school project and recruits classmates to help him. But he’s obsessed with everything, including all the things he loves. He fails to work with his team, who get angry and abandon the project. Fast and a bit wacky, this fun book explores the themes of friendship and working together.

Xiste Edition

In 2011, Calee Lee, founder of Xist Publishing, couldn’t find any content for her four-year-old daughter on her old Kindle model. So she decided to create her own version of an e-reader. Now, the Houston-based publisher has more than 1,000 titles to offer new and reluctant readers in all formats, from kindergarten through third grade, with the goal of “inspiring discovery and enjoyment,” says Lee. . “We like to make children laugh.”

The big launch this spring is a new series, “We Can Readers,” featuring a diverse group of four neighborhood friends: Nat, Cat, Raj and Sue. Aimed at beginning and reluctant readers in kindergarten through grade 2, the books are written and designed to engage children and allow them to feel a sense of mastery in reading. All 32 books in the series are written and illustrated by Brenda Ponnay and were released in March 2022.

In A bath for bandits, ISBN 9781532430343, a short and catchy book, Bandit the cat can’t clean himself. Sue puts him in the tub, then dries him off: “Sue is going to dry off Bandit. Bandit doesn’t like to be dried out,” reads the simple, humorous text that builds vocabulary.

raj cleans, ISBN 9781532430428, tells the story of every child whose mother asked him to do housework. While Raj is told ‘toys go in the box’ and ‘clothes go in the closet’, his facial expressions and shenanigans will have readers laughing!

Nat visits the museum features quoted text, introducing young readers to in-text conversation in a non-threatening and accessible way. “Look at the statues, Mom,” Nat said. The book also weaves its way into cultural development while keeping it funny.

Another new series launching in late 2021, “Would You Rather” is aimed at K-4 readers and helps with critical thinking and generating conversation. But, most of all, it’s silly and fun, says Lee. She reports that college teachers have also found it a great resource to attract reluctant readers.

The first title in the series is the eponymous Do you prefer: fun questions, conversation starters and situations by Stephanie Rodriguez, illustrated by Adam Price, December 2021, ISBN 9781532432071. This collection of silly “would you rather” montages like “would you rather have a pig snout or a pig tail?” or “Would you rather be able to fly or breathe underwater?” will have children reading, laughing and thinking. Illustrations provide visual cues to the most difficult words.


Ray Montgomery, creator of the Choose Your Own Adventure concept, was an educator before becoming a writer and editor. He called his innovative series a “stealth reading program”. But CYOA’s sales were anything but stealthy. The original series has 270 million books in print and is published in over 40 languages. When the brand returned to him, Montgomery founded Chooseco in 2003 and relaunched the series with new and old titles aimed at middle school students.

For intermediate level readers, a CYOA book reads like an exciting getaway that they control. At various points in each story, the reader chooses which narrative to follow, with each choice leading to a different ending. Anecdotal evidence and postgraduate study have shown CYOA to be a faster way to read fluently, understand, and increase vocabulary than other comparable intermediate-level books.

A proven resource for reluctant readers, Chooseco decided to launch a new CYOA series in 2007, Dragonlark, for young readers ages 5-9, many of whom are children of parents who grew up on CYOA. While the classic titles have 15-25 possible endings, the Dragonlark titles have around 12.

A Dragonlark title, The ghost on the mountain by Kyandreia Jones, illustrated by Manuel Mal, June 2022, ISBN 9781954232068, features a Haitian-American girl who vacations with her family in Haiti, learning about their heritage. The young girl wants to explore the mountains, where she meets a ghost named Yvette and a little girl named TiYoyo. Each chosen path takes readers on a journey through the beautiful island in a magical way.

In fairy house, another book Dragonlark, by James Preller, illustrated by Norm Grock, June 2022, ISBN 9781954232051 , a boy ignored by his workaholic parents ventures outside to build a fairy house, but does not expect to much is happening. Suddenly there is Bert the Below Average, a real fairy with whom many adventures begin.

A classic CYOA book, The flight of the unicorn by Deborah Lerme Goodman, June 2022, ISBN 9781954232044, is the sequel to one of Chooseco’s bestsell securitiesUnicorn rescue. The reader embarks on a fantastical quest through medieval Scotland to track down a pegacorn (winged unicorn) mentor, Lady Scotia, who may have been kidnapped. With a newly trained pegacorn to ride, the reader sets out to find it.