Saddleback Educational Publishing

If you looked at the list of African American books published in 2012, you would have noticed a number of books published by Saddleback publishing. Late last year, I contacted Saddleback to find out about who they are, what they publish and what their new series are all about. The following is the response I received from Tim McHugh, Vice President of Sales and Marketing.

Saddleback just celebrated it’s 30 year anniversary this year.  We started as a company working with struggling students in middle school.  Today we publish books for struggling students in grades 5-12.  What makes us different is that the books we publish are intended for older students yet the reading level is reduced.  For example, we publish books at a 3rd grade reading level for high school students.  The books are about topics which only an older student would appreciate (and are appropriate) yet the books are written at a low enough reading level that struggling students can achieve success.  This area of publishing is called “hi-lo” which stands for high-interest, low readability.  

 In the US 70% of 8th graders read below reading level and over 1.2M high school students drop out of school every year – 6000 students/day.  Clearly our country has a reading problem.  Many students start to fall behind in 3rd and 4th grade and by the time they are in middle school/high school the students are several reading levels behind.  The teachers (and librarians) then have a problem – do they give the struggling student a book for a 3rd grader (i.e., content appropriate for a 3rd grader, written at a 3rd grade reading level) or do they continue to give books to the student which are age appropriate but yet written at a grade level the student can’t read.  This is where Saddleback fits in, with age appropriate content for older students reading at lower reading levels.    And all of our books are written in a series – that way once a young adult reader finds a book they like they can continue to finish a few more books in a series to build up their confidence.  
Today, we publish books from a 1.0 to 5.0 reading level but for students in grades 5-12 and adults.  Again, all of our books are intended for older students reading at lower reading levels.  In the schools our books are used by teachers/students in the areas of special needs, english language learners, alternative schools, charter schools, after school programs, and even correctional facilities.  Many adult education programs use ours books as well as we cover subjects such as lifeskills, lifeskills math, lifeskills vocabulary, grammar, etc… But as I pointed out earlier 70% of 8th graders read below reading level so our books are also being read by students in general ed classrooms who have simply fallen behind.  
We publish graphic novels, classroom curriculum, non-fiction, interactive whiteboard activities as well as fiction.  We have always published fiction for struggling readers but in the past three years we started publishing Urban Fiction.  The first urban series that we published is called Urban Underground.  There are currently 25 books in the series (in print) and 19 of the first 20 are on the ALA Yalsa Quickpick list.  The books in this series are divided in to the Caesar Chavez High books (a Latino high school) and the Harriet Tubman High books (an African American high school).
These books have developed a cult-like following and are written at a 3.5 reading level.  

Gravel Road is also Urban Fiction. So far, it is a three book series that was launched in January.  This series is about raw, gritty topics like rape, foster care and teen pregnancy. One of the titles, Unchained,  was just awarded a silver medal by the Independent Publisher Book Awards in the category of multicultural fiction – childrens.  
Gravel Road is made up of separate titles (unrelated),  and is intended for multiple authors in Urban Fiction. The first three books were written by author L.B. Tillit who was an alternative school teacher in North Carolina for many years.  She took the stories from her classroom and have related some of these stories in these books. We will continue this series, with another author, in the winter. The next book is about depression and suicide.
The Lockwood High series came out in June and we are very very excited about this series.  It is a flip book series – with two different series/viewpoints.  The girls side is called Cheer Drama and the five letters in the word “Cheer” correspond to the first letter of the names of the five girl characters – Charli, Hallie, Eva, Ella and Randal.  The boys side is called Baller Swag and those five characters are Blake, Amir, Leo, Landon and E.R.  As you can see, the first letters of their names spell “Baller”.  
These books are a kind of “Friday Night Lights” type of series with football, boyfriends and girlfriends, family issues, drugs etc… but they also have strong moral ties; teaching about integrity, chastity, honesty, a strong work ethic, and faith. 
Lastly, Saddleback is a second generation family company which my father-in-law started.  My wife and I purchased it from him over three years ago and we sell through all major educational and trade distributors.