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Pleasure Reading for Adult Learners. Finding Good Books for ESL and Literacy Students. Marcia Aronson Diversity and Accessibility Services, Ottawa Public Library. Selection Tips. Key Criteria General Criteria Popular Categories Not So Popular Categories. Key Criteria.

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pleasure reading for adult learners

Pleasure Reading for Adult Learners

Finding Good Books for

ESL and Literacy Students

Marcia Aronson

Diversity and Accessibility Services, Ottawa Public Library

selection tips
Selection Tips
  • Key Criteria
  • General Criteria
  • Popular Categories
  • Not So Popular Categories
key criteria

Key Criteria

All of the following mustbe met:

key criteria4
Key Criteria
  • Number of pages: 200 or less
  • Clear typeface: 12 point minimum; no italics or funny graphics
  • Adult interest
  • Initial hook to engage reader
  • Attractive cover and format
  • No comprehension exercises
  • No level on front cover or title page
number of pages
Bud, Not Buddy

by Christopher Paul Curtis

Dave at Night

by Gail Carson Levine

similar themes (jazz, orphans)

both great stories


Number of Pages
  • too long for most adult learners (245-280p.)
clear typeface
Memories of Survival

by Esther Nisenthal Krinitz & Bernice Steinhardt

type is very difficult to read

One Peace: True Stories of Young Activists

by Janet Wilson

very busy looking pages


Clear Typeface
adult interest
Days of Toil and Tears

by Sarah Ellis

The Shadeby K. L. Denman

Splat! by Eric Walters

good typeface & length


Adult Interest
  • stories are juvenile or
  • teen-oriented
adult interest12
teen protagonist, but storyline adult in nature

homeless man who served in Rwanda during time of massacres

Adult Interest
adult interest13
story about Dutch ResistanceAdult Interest

The Righteous Smuggler

by Debbie Spring

adult interest14
historical novel set during War of 1812

good type

straightforward story

Adult Interest

The Schooner’s Revenge

by Robert Sutherland

initial hook to engage reader
The Landing by John Ibbitson

good story, but actual excitement starts at p. 138

Safe as Houses by Eric Walters

again, hook is well into the story


Initial Hook to Engage Reader
attractive cover format
great story

on TPL’s list

really juvenile cover


Attractive Cover & Format

A Bloom of Friendship

by Anne Renaud

attractive cover format18
terrible front cover


Attractive Cover & Format

Boy in Motion: Rick Hansen’s Story

by Ainslie Manson

attractive cover format19
cover too juvenile?Attractive Cover & Format

Rosie’s Dream Cape

by Zelda Freedman

no level on front cover title page21
“a kid’s power book”


No Level on Front Cover / Title Page

Maggie and the Chocolate War

by Michelle Mulder

no comprehension exercises
No Comprehension Exercises


Oxford Bookworms series

general criteria

General Criteria

The majority of the following should be met:

general criteria24
General Criteria
  • Sentences: average 15 words in length; not too complex in structure
  • Paragraphs: no longer than 10 lines; lots of white space
  • Chapters/Sections: clear headings; 6-7 pages long
  • Interest Factors: well-known author, TV/movie tie-in, humour, cultural diversity, famous people, men’s and women’s interests, etc.
general criteria cont
General Criteria (cont.)
  • Structure: low complexity, i.e. minimal change of voice, minimal flashbacks and shifts in time periods, etc.
  • Illustrations: pictures, maps, photographs or other visual aids, as appropriate
sentences and paragraphs
Julie of the Wolves

by Jean Craighead George

great book, but sentences are long

Flight of the Hummingbird

by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

lovely fable, but forward and afterword are too complex


Sentences and Paragraphs
sentences and paragraphs28
The Schooner’s Revenge

by Robert Sutherland

good sentence length and paragraph length

Sentences and Paragraphs
interest factors
Interest Factors
  • Deborah Ellis
  • well known author
  • cultural diversity
interest factors30
Dave Cooks the Turkey

by Stuart McLean

radio personality


available on CD

Interest Factors
interest factors31
The Tunnel Kingby Barbara Hehner

movie tie-in: The Great Escape

Escape to the Forest

by Ruth Yaffe Radin

movie tie-ins:


The Bielski Brothers

Interest Factors
interest factors32
June Callwood: A Life of Action

by Anne Dublin

read about her in newspaper

Interest Factors
interest factors33

by Vicki Grant

a lot in the news & on TV mysteries about the consequences of identity theft

Interest Factors
The Killer’s Tears

by Anne-Laure Bondoux

terrific story, but too descriptive

lots of adjectives & similes

Through My Eyesby Ruby Bridges

italic type

notes at bottom of pages

some terms may be unfamiliar (e.g. “sharecropper”)


The Disappearedby Gloria Whelan

set in Argentina

chapters alternate between characters’ voices, but change of voice made clear through chapter headings

Joe Louisby David A. Adler

not complex

good story of real character who faced racism



  • Wave by Suzy Lee
  • illustrations too juvenile
popular categories

Popular Categories

(and less popular ones)

family relationships good and bad
Rosie’s Dream Cape

by Zelda Freedman

Family Relationships(good and bad)
  • Crazy Manby Pamela Porter
  • hired hand from mental institution & how he becomes important to well-being of family
family relationships good and bad39
Letters to My Mother

by Teresa Cárdenas

Family Relationships(good and bad)
  • After
  • by Francis Chalifour
Don Cherry’s Hockey Stories and StuffSports
  • The Hockey Sweater
  • by Roch Carrier
mystery adventure
  • Safe House by James Heneghan
  • Wildernessby Roddy Doyle
  • lots of white space, good typeface
  • Refuge Cove by Lesley Choyce
  • Orphan Ahwakby Raquel Rivera
  • Marooned by Robert Kraske
  • Heroes of Isle aux Morts by Alice Walsh
  • Hana’s Suitcaseby Karen Levine
  • Emperors of the Ice by Richard Farr
  • Escape to the Forest by Ruth Yaffe Radin
biography memoir diaries
  • My Childhood Under Fire:
  • A Sarajevo Diary
  • by Nadja Halilbegović
  • Another Place at the Table
  • by Mary Cook
  • June Callwood: a life of action
  • by Anne Dublin
biography memoir diaries44
  • The Man Who Ran Faster than Anyone: The Story of Tom Longboat
  • by Jack Batten
  • Rapid Ray: The Story of Ray Lewis
  • by John Cooper
  • The Tunnel Kingby Barbara Hehner
  • Libertadby Alma Fullerton
  • Hiding Edithby Kathy Kacer
  • The Righteous Smugglerby Debbie Spring
  • My Wedding Dress
  • by Susan Welehan and Anne Laurel Carter
  • The Inuit
  • by Erinn Banting
  • (Canadian Aboriginal art and culture)

(can be difficult to determine)

  • Vinyl Café Unplugged
  • by Stuart McLean
cultural diversity
Cultural Diversity

Deborah Ellis

Paul Yee

Dionne Brand – Earth Magic

Chris Albani – Song for the Night

Mariatu Kamara – The Bite of the Mango

Joy Kogawa – Naomi’s Tree

Veronica Charles – The Birdman


Deborah Ellis

Parvana series

Bolivia series

short stories
Short Stories
  • Beginnings: Stories of Canda’s Past
  • edited by Ann Walsh
  • Firesby Tanya Lloyd Kyi
  • Arctic Adventures: Tales from the Lives of Inuit Artists
  • by Raquel Rivera
  • Tales from Gold Mountainby Paul Yee
  • Familiar to those who grew up in Canada
  • Of interest to newcomers who want to learn about their new home
  • C. J. Taylor aboriginal tales
  • Tales from the Isle of Spiceby Richardo Keens-Douglas
  • The Wisdom Bird: A Tale of Solomon and Sheba
  • by Sheldon Oberman
  • Ancient Thunderby Leo Yerxa
read alongs

Hana’s Suitcaseby Karen Levine

Dave Cooks the Turkeyby Stuart McLean

not so popular


Not So Popular
  • Science Fiction
  • Fantasy (hard to suspend belief)
  • Plays
  • Graphic Novels (e.g.Paul Moves Out; Tales from the Farm)
  • Poetry: Earth Magic by Dionne Brand
  • The Distant Talking Drum by Isaac OlaleyeTo Everything There Is a Season (Ecclesiastes, illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon)
other sources services
Other Sources/Services
  • Golden Oak Award
  • Quick Reads
  • Good Reads (fall 2010)
  • Orca Raven Reads or Rapid Reads
contact information
Contact Information

Marcia Aronson

Ottawa Public Library

613-580-2424 x 32114