Manassas, Va. — Kim, Scott, Ernst, Susan, Doug, Amir, Thai, Rosemarie, Ramon, Roya. The names of these teen-agers and adults give but scant clue to their reading needs, which are increasingly being met by high-interest, low- reading-level books and, to a lesser extent, periodicals.
Amir, Thai, Rosemarie, Ramon, and Roya are speakers of English as a second language, but within this broad grouping their individual situations are unique. The same is true of the others, native speakers who are variously described, not always accurately, as "slow," "reluctant," "handicapped," "culturally deprived," "uninterested," "disabled."
All of those mentioned have a certain degree of difficulty performing such reading-related tasks as filling out employment forms, using the telephone directory, following written directions, and understanding traffic signs. These are some of the skills that define functional literacy.
For most of them the "high/low" materials serve as steppingstones in the building of English proficiency, though perhaps one or two will always read on an elementary level.
Following are the materials I have chosen for these individuals, which I hope others may find equally useful. The listed items range in reading level from first to fifth grade.
This sampling illustrates, albeit in uneven fashion, the general criteria for good-quality high-low writing. The subject matter is appropriate to the age group, the presentation clear and uncomplicated, the style smooth and graceful, the tone upbeat, the layout designed for both eye ease and eye appeal, the illustrations and photographs judiciously chosen. An abundance of dialogue, anecdote, and example characterizes both fiction and nonfiction.
* For 15-year-old Kim, an underachiever who is a member of a minority group:
-- "Your Rights when You're Young," by Maxine Phillips (New Readers Press) details the legal rights of the under-18 population.
-- "Scholastic Scope," a weekly magazine designed especially for urban-disadvantaged teen-agers:
* For Scott, whose remedial-reading teacher is desperate to find a subject that will interest him and help him improve on his present second-grade reading level:
-- "Prison Satellite," by Leo P. Kelley (Fearon-Pitman), will serve as an introduction to the Space Police science-fiction series.
* For Ernst, who is in an adult, basic-education social-studies class in preparation for taking the high school equivalency exam:
-- News for You, a weekly newspaper put out in two editions, third-to-fourth- and fourth- to-sixth-grade levels (New Readers Press).
* For Susan, who has compensated for her difficulty with academic work (caused by a hearing problem) by developing facility with her hands:
-- "Midnight Wheels," by Ruth Hallman (Westminster Press), a mystery about a girl mechanic who discovers a stolen-car racket in her first job; where the foreman has definite ideas about a woman's place.
* For Doug, a reluctant reader who in the last months of high school is considering various civil servant positions:
-- "The Firefighter," by Stuart James (Scholastic), a novel about a young fireman's training and probation period. Like the other Double Action novels, this piece of fiction incorporates as much hard information as possible about an entry-level position.
* For Amir, who is in an intensive English course at an international high school in the hope of learning English well enough to graduate from an American-curriculum high school and study engineering in the US:
-- "Secret Spy," by Albert Martin (Fearon-Pitman), provides appropriate language practice while being truly entertaining. This book, and the other novels in the Bestsellers III series, feature a fast-moving story in an exciting international setting.
* For Thai, an Asian refugee who speaks almost no English:
most no English:
-- "The Family from Vietnam," by Tana Reiff (Fearon-Pitman), is an appropriate beginning novel, both because the text is divided into "meaningful segments" and because its theme, cultural adjustments, is timely. The other Lifeline fiction deals with decisionmaking, drugs, and marriage.
* For Rosemarie, who has been in the US for several years and now wants to improve her reading skills to qualify for employment in a bilingual situation:
-- "Melanie: Proving Myself" (New Readers Press), edited by Doug Weeks, realistically and interestingly presents the frustrations an satisfactions of being a legal- secretary trainee. The two other books in the You and Others on the Job series follow a similar approach for the positions of department store worker and carpenter.
* For Ramon, a recent immigrant to the US who knows enough English to get around but needs to learn quickly about such matters as buying a car and money management:
-- "Wheels and Deals," by Marilyn Thypin and Lynne Glasner (EMC Corporation), takes fictional characters through the rigors of purchasing and owning an automobile. Other books in the Consumer Education series outline the practicalities of using credit, buying clothes and food, and repairing appliances.
-- "Managing Your Money," by Nancy G. Miller (New Readers Press), treats in greater depth such issues as differing attitudes toward money, altered financial needs, and estate planning.
* For Roya, the foreign-born wife of an American businessman, who is embarrassed because she cannot read her nine-year-old's textbooks:
-- "House of Laughs," by Lisa Eisenberg (Fearon-Pitman), one of six novels in a series about the adventures of Laura Brewster, an insurance investigator whose work puts her in dangerous situations (in the above book, an amusement park after closing) around the world. These books have potential for capitalizing on Roya's fascination with mysteries at the same time as they provide practical, egoboosting exposure to written English.