For 30 years, Saddleback Educational Publishing has been producing a wide selection of books aimed at students in middle and high school who have poor reading skills and face learning challenges. In recent years, the publisher has launched a number of fiction series with content and covers suitable for middle-grade and YA readers, yet written at elementary-grade reading levels. Now, the Costa Mesa, Calif., company is taking its “hi-lo” publishing strategy a step further with the introduction of the Teen Emergent Reading Libraries (TERL), which is designed to offer teenagers engaging, relatable content written on three reading levels: .5 (under first grade), 1.0 (at first grade) and 1.5 (above first grade).

According to Saddleback president Arianne McHugh, the series was inspired by customers’ requests for teen-targeted books at unprecedentedly low reading levels, as well as the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s recent report that 70 percent of eighth graders and 65 percent of 12th graders do not read at grade level. “These statistics are shocking,” said McHugh, “and we are striving to create solutions to help put an end to the national literacy crisis and get teens reading.”

To that end, TERL titles feature mature, relevant fiction and nonfiction topics of interest to teens, including friendship, romance, culture, sports, history, racism, and bullying. The series is packaged in three leveled boxed sets or libraries, titled Emerge, Engage, and Excel. Each contains 60 books: three copies of 20 different titles across five genres. The titles range from 48 to 64 pages and contain full-color photos. Emerge debuted on January 20, Engage pubs April 1, and Excel will be released on July 1.

McHugh said that, of all Saddleback series, TERL represents the largest discrepancy between interest and reading levels. “Books for teenagers written at a pre-K level has never been done before, and we hope the series will engage kids who have never been exposed to literature – who maybe haven’t ever read a book,” said McHugh. These “savvy, street-smart kids,” he added, need content they can relate to. “Our goal is that TERL will help them achieve success in reading.”

The inclusion of photos on each page of the fiction as well as nonfiction offerings is a key component of the series, said McHugh. “We want to grab teens who are not terribly interested in reading by making the books more visually exciting. A full page of text is daunting, and providing visual clues keeps readers more motivated. With these books containing such controlled vocabulary, the pictures in essence serve as text.”

The TERL sets include extensive teacher support materials for each title. “We’ve provided teacher resources, whether it’s a general classroom or special needs classroom, explained McHugh. “Teacher guides feature suggestions for using the books in small group settings, guided reading questions, reproducible comprehension activities and assessments, and lesson plans that are correlated to Common Core Standards.”

The publisher anticipates issuing a second library for each TERL level in the future. “We already expect from our customers’ response that they will be asking for more titles,” said McHugh. “I’m really excited to introduce this series, and I’m very proud of its quality. I am hoping that these books will make a difference.”