Easy fiction for ESL and newer readers

Books by a leading author in the high-interest/low readability genre

"Tana Reiff is a gifted storyteller, and at the end of one chapter the reader is anxious to see what lies ahead in the next chapter. This makes the act of reading exciting so that new readers enjoy what they are doing and are motivated to read more. Students get real satisfaction when they actually finish a whole novel." (Unsolicited teacher comment)
As a teacher of adult beginning new readers and English language learners, Tana Reiff heard a lot of stories. Everybody has a story. Using the language experience approach,  students dictated their own real-life experiences, she transcribed them, and then they fluently read their own words. This observation led to her first book series, LifeTimes, published in 1979 by Pitman Learning (later Fearon). High-interest, low-readability fiction for adults was a new concept with a ready audience -- not "dumbed-down" existing literature but clearly and simply written original work. Storytelling and fiction are an important feature of every culture. Fiction helps us understand ourselves and each other, and Tana's books brings stories to people in a way they can relate to and engage in. 
The LifeTimes series was followed by LifeTimes 2 (total 14), Hopes and Dreams 1 and 2 (20 titles of historical fiction about immigrant experiences), WorkTales (10 titles about on-the-job issues), Working For Myself (10 titles about low-capital self-employment), Timeless Tales (New Readers Press - 8 anthologies of folktale retellings), Writing Me! A First Writing Course for Adults, and several series for Contemporary and other publishers. Many of the books are at a 2-3 reading level and use intentional line breaks to facilitate reading in chunks of meaning. Tana's books are sold internationally and have been cited as outstanding in the niche genre of "hi-lo" for older readers and English language learners.
Over the years, many of the titles went out of print. Unemployed at the age of 60, she began writing new editions of some of the books, working with Grass Roots Press and Pro Lingua Learning (formerly Pro Lingua Associates), two educational publishers specializing in materials for English language learners and older new readers. Grass Roots Press in Canada published nine fresh versions of the LifeTimes and WorkTales books, under the new series name, Pathfinders, and eight titles in the Working for Myself series. Pro Lingua published 12 revised or new Hopes and Dreams books, the immigrant stories. The new editions are available as paperbacks, e-books and/or audio books, and online instruction formats.

Hopes and Dreams

A series of 12 books about American immigrant experiences. These historical novels at a controlled reading level (around 2.0) are ideal for English language learners and native speakers of English, but appealing to anyone, any age. They are based on solid research developed into composite characters. Vocabulary is simple and straightforward, and intentional line breaks chunk the text into phrases, making reading more natural and fluent.

To purchase or learn more, please visit Pro Lingua Learning. Also available: audio CD and online instruction for each book. Below are plot summaries for each title in the series.

Amala's Hope

A Family from Syria

In 2011 the Najjar family, Jamal, with his wife Farah, his teenaged daughter Amala, and three young sons, fled from Aleppo, Syria, just in time — their home was destroyed. First they went to an uncle’s home in Jordan, and then after five years in a refugee camp, they were able to come to Texas. Faced with prejudice and then a hurricane, they had to work hard to adjust to their new home, but they did, with the support of their neighbor, Marisol, and their new community. 

A Different Home.


In 1962 Mario Perez’ parents sent him alone to work in the United States. He had been helping them run their sugar business after it was taken over by the Castro government. Mario arrived in Miami with a few clothes and little money. He got a job in a grocery store while he studied English. The Cuban Refugee Center found him a job in a bank, but not in Miami. He moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and helped the bank work with Spanish-speaking customers. He did well. He became a citizen, married, had two daughters, and was elected to the school board. Then after 20 years, his parents were able to leave Cuba. He went back to Miami and hired a boat.

The Family from Vietnam


As Saigon fell in 1975, the Nguyen family, Mai and Set and their three children, escaped by helicopter from the roof of the U.S. embassy, but they were separated. Mai, with her two smaller children, went alone to Guam and eventually to Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. Set and Vinh, their older son, were taken to a camp in the Philippines. Set eventually was settled in California. Long months went by. Separated by 2,500 miles, Mai and Set began to adapt to American culture. But with determined faith and hope, and help from friends, the Nguyens never gave up on their search to find each other.

For Gold and Blood


This is the story of two Chinese brothers, Soo and Ping Lee, who, like many Chinese immigrants, left their home in China to go to California in 1851. They hoped to strike it rich in the Gold Rush and send money back to their family. In the gold fields, they make a big strike but are cheated out of it. After 12 years of prospecting, they split up. Soo joins the Chinese workers who build the Central Pacific Railroad, while Ping opens a laundry in San Francisco. With little to show for his work, Soo also goes to San Francisco. Both men face prejudice and violence. In time they join rival factions in the community of Chinatown, Ping with one of the Chinese Six Families and Soo with a secret, illegal society called a tong. The story ends after the 1906 earthquake. This dramatic historical novel portrays the complicated lives of typical immigrants from China and many other countries. 

Hungry No More


In 1845 the Irish people were starving. When their crops turned black and died, Johnny and Mary McGee with their son Little John fled the Irish Potato Famine for Boston. A recruiter found them a room and Johnny a job building a railroad. It was exhausting work, away from home, and dangerous. Mary worked at a wool mill and paid a neighbor woman to care for Little John. Their work was hard and paid little, but they had enough to eat – life was better here than in Ireland. Johnny was good at working with the other men, so he was promoted to supervisor. Then his best friend was blown up. Johnny returned to Boston, got a job as a policeman, and worked as a volunteer fireman and political ward heeler. He loved helping other people. He and Mary had seven more children. Then, as the Civil War began, Johnny volunteered. Mary worked and waited alone. 

Little Italy


This is the story of the Trella family. In 1920 Vito's land is worn out, and he can't sell his oranges. Sadly, he leaves his Italian homeland and sails to New York to get work and save enough money to bring his wife, Rosetta, and their three children to America. For more than two years he works as a stonecutter, building the new skyscrapers of New York. It is dangerous work. Finally, he saves enough money for four tickets. Rosetta and their children join him. They make their new life on Mulberry Street in New York's Little Italy. Rosetta finds the city dirty and depressing at first, but she learns to love her Italian neighbors and her church. They have four more children. Then Vito falls, is injured, and must take a job making paper flowers; the whole family helps. All seven children finish high school and get good jobs. Vito and Rosetta stay in Little Italy. The novel ends as their youngest child, Dominick, graduates from high school with honors. 

The Magic Paper


This book tells the story of Teresa Garcia and Benito Cruz, two Mexican-Americans. In 1980 Teresa buys a fake visa and comes alone to Los Angeles to care for her sick aunt. Then she stays, working in a dress factory to send money home to Mexico. Benito crawls through a pipe into California, where he works as a migrant farmworker. They meet and fall in love. Benito moves to Los Angeles and works in a factory. They want to marry, but they can't because they are illegal. They work hard and save money to go to Mexico and bring Teresa's sister back. Finally they have enough money, but when they go to Mexico City there is a great earthquake. Teresa's whole family is killed. They come back to the U.S. illegally. They continue to work hard, and wait until a new law lets them apply to get the magic paper, to become legal, and to get married. At last, they feel safe.


A Family from El Salvador

In 1980 Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated, and the Salvadoran civil war grew more dangerous. Ramon and Pilar Samoya wanted to be left alone to farm, but even poor farmers had to take sides. “No one is safe,” said Ramon. To avoid being forced to fight, he escaped to the United States. Captured by the Border Patrol, he was sent home. He found his village burned and his family gone. Returning to the U.S., he was taken in by a couple in Texas, who helped him get asylum. With their help, he was reunited with Pilar and their children in Houston. Then the Samoyas got work in a restaurant, which they eventually took over. (They renamed it Pupusa, after one of Pilar’s favorite dishes.) The Samoya family was helped through the many dangers and difficulties in their lives. Now they in turn wanted to become good neighbors. What can they do to help other refugees in trouble?

Nobody Knows


Mattie's family are sharecroppers in the South. When she is six, Mama takes her to town where she sees two doors marked "White Only" and "Colored Only." Mattie thinks the shopkeeper doesn't like them. Her mother tells her at least she's not a slave, as she was as a child. At 18 Mattie marries Nate Charles. In 1917 their cotton crop is failing, so Nate takes a job in a Chicago meatpacking plant. Mattie is sad to leave home, but she moves with her husband to work for a better life. In the North they find racial prejudice, labor unrest, and violence. They work hard, and with two children they move to a better home. Then there is an accident at the plant. Nate is killed. Alone after Nate dies, Mattie brings Mama north to help her. Through the Great Depression and World War II, she works many jobs to support her family. When Mama dies, Mattie takes her home. She finds the South still segregated. She stands up for change. 

Old Ways, New Ways


Solomon Gold is a Russian immigrant in New York. He is a gifted and hardworking shoemaker. He and his wife keep to the old ways in everyday life and in their religion. They are proud of their heritage. As the story begins, their son Sidney is 14. He already knows that he doesn’t want to make shoes his whole life. He is an excellent student, and his father is proud of him, but Sol wants Sidney and Emma, his daughter, to follow the old ways.

Sent Away


The heart-wrenching story of the Higashis, a Japanese-American family. At New Year’s dinner in 1941, the Higashis celebrated their good life in Northern California, living on their successful strawberry farm and running a boarding house for the farmworkers. They were prosperous and proud to be in America. On December 7, thebombing of Pearl Harbor changed everything. Keiko and her brother Tatsu were American citizens, but they and their parents were sent away to Poston, a Relocation Camp in the Arizona desert for the duration of the WWII. It was dusty, hot, and crowded with poor sanitation. Mrs. Higashi died there. Tatsu joined the U.S. army and was killed fighting for America in Europe. Mr. Higashi helped administer the camp’s co-op, while Keiko studied and kept their tiny living space. After the war, Keiko and her father returned home to California to rebuild their lives

Two Hearts


In 1910, George’s widowed mother had no money for her daughter Adonia’s dowry, so she let her teenage son George go alone to America to make money for his sister. He worked shining shoes and then as a busboy in New York. He learned some English, but after a year he had nothing. He moved to Chicago to work in a factory and then bought an ice cream cart. Working with his wife and son, he started an ice cream shop. This historical novel tells the story of the struggles and success of George’s family. 

The nine books in this series are completely rewritten editions of nine titles from the LifeTimes and WorkTales series, now out of print. Pathfinders books are published by Grass Roots Press. Reading level is, remarkably, only about 2.0. Paperback and Kindle editions are available at amazon.com/author/tanareiff. PDF licenses are at https://grassrootsbooks.net/collections/pathfinder-series. Libraries can purchase the e-books at OverDrive.

I have to say, these are better than the originals. While working on these new editions, I became pretty attached to the characters. Hope you do too! - Tana

Change Order

Mel is happy making sidewalks and going out for a beer with the boys. He's a good worker, but needs his buddy Adam to get the job done right. Adam does not want to be a concrete worker for the rest of his life. He wants to be a foreman. Soon Adam's wish comes true. When Adam becomes the boss, things begin to change. For one thing, Adam and Mel are not such great buddies anymore. Both men learn a lot about themselves in the weeks that follow. But do Adam and Mel find a way to stay buddies?

Chicken by Charlie

Charlie is a chef for a fancy restaurant. But Charlie is not as happy as the people she cooks for. One day, a customer says, "You are a fine chef. Have you ever thought of starting your own restaurant?" The customer's kind words give Charlie the confidence to follow her dream. Charlie opens up a restaurant. Soon she is in deep water. Money is short. Staff come and go. Her best worker lets her down. What else can go wrong? Charlie finds out. Will she give up? Or does Charlie find a way to follow her dream?

Doors to the Sky

Leena's children are older, so she goes back to school. All goes well until Omar, her husband, finds out. "Why are you doing this to me?" says Omar. "Are you trying to make me look like a stupid fool?" Omar wants Leena to take care of the books for his business. He wants her to take care of their kids and home. He wants to keep things as they always were. But Leena wants more for herself. She dreams of becoming a teacher. Does Omar find a way to rise above his fear as Leena reaches to touch the sky?

Just for Today

Biff held up a big bottle. It was almost empty. "This bottle was full this morning!" he laughed. Something in his laugh was not funny. "You've been drinking all day?" Abby shouted. Abby loves Biff. But she beings to hate their life together. The alcohol. The fighting. Something has to change. Biff begins to go to AA meetings. He finds out that making a change is not always easy. Is Biff able to stay on the path to a better life?

Play Money

A young woman gets heavily in debt by overusing her credit ca"I just got my first credit card. I love it! It's like play money." Terri is divorced. She is free to do what she wants. Shopping is what she wants to do most. "You will get a bill, you know," says he good friend, Brett. But Terri does not listen. Soon Terri is in trouble. She can't keep up with the bills. The credit card companies are after her. Terry looks for an answer to her money problems. Along the way, she finds love. But not without breaking someone's heart. Does Terri find a way to fix her money troubles and her love life?rds, and finds love in the remedy.

A Robot Instead

Buzz, click. Buzz, click. "Sometimes I get real tired of this same old job," says Sonny. Sonny works on a line in a machine shop. All day long he drills holes into engine blocks. He doesn't love his job, but it feeds his family. Then Sonny gets bad news. He is laid off. His job is taken over by a robot. Sonny is angry at the company. He feels alone. He feels like nothing at all.

Does Sonny give up hope? Or does he find a way to get his life back?

The Saw That Talked

Safety hazards and workplace harassment motivate a Lindy loves wood. She loves the look of wood. She loves the feel of wood. She gets a job in a furniture factory. Lindy loves her new job. But she doesn't like how the guys treat her. And the boss doesn't care about workplace safety. Lindy is the only woman on the shop floor. So Lindy doesn't say anything. One day Lindy gets hurt on the job. Does Lindy find a way to stand up for herself-- and keep the job she loves? to stand up.

Take Away Three

Rennie walked into the house. He took one step and stopped dead in his tracks. The house was empty! Everything was gone. Kara and the kids were gone too. Kara has left Rennie for another man. "You're never home," Kara tells him. Rennie is a truck driver. It's the only way he knows to make a living. Rennie knows he hasn't been the best husband. He also knows he still has a crack at being a good dad. Does Rennie find a way to keep his job and get his family back together?

Time to Talk

The Hot Summer Race is only a week away. Bob's car is not ready. So he starts calling in sick. "Don't worry," says Bob to his wife. "You watch. I'm going to win the Hot Summer Race. We are going to be rich!" Instead, Mia, his wife, has to get a job. When Mia does not come home one night, Bob knows something has to change. Bob risks everything for the love of racing-- his job, his marriage, and his life. Does he find a way to have it all?

Working for Myself

A series of eight stories about people who start their own small businesses without a lot of money. They develop their skills to make a go of something they like to do, learning along the way. Dealing with matters such as licensure, zoning, training, marketing, equipment, and time management, they experience ups and downs as they work toward success. Engaging characters also have personal lives, with friendship and romance woven into the entrepreneurial adventures.

The original Working for Myself books were first published in 1994. Now, eight new editions bring updated scenarios to life.  Thanks to Grass Roots Press for all their work in bringing these important, yet entertaining, books back onto the market, better than ever. Reading level: 3-4.

Paperback and Kindle editions are available at amazon.com/author/tanareiff (you will readily see which are the new editions), while PDF licenses are at https://grassrootsbooks.net/collections/working-for-myself-series.

Clean as a Whistle

“Mom, is that all you think about? What someone’s house looks like?” Nick asks. It isn’t all that Maggie thinks about, but she does take pride in how her home looks. When her son Nick suggests she take a job cleaning other people’s houses, Maggie gives it a try. Before she knows it, she has her own business going, with her best friend Liz as her partner. It’s a perfect match. Maggie loves cleaning and Liz has a head for business. But what happens when business partners don’t agree? Maggie and Liz are both about to find out.

Crafting a Business

That is just like Ethan. Sights along the way catch his eye. His mind goes somewhere else. Ashley is the one who always finds the way to where they are going. Ethan is an artist. His girlfriend, Ashley, has a head for business. Together they start selling Ethan’s handmade jewelry and crafts. But things take off in ways they did not imagine. With Ethan’s full-time job, plus handling the whole operation and a new baby, the couple begins to wonder: Are they running the business or is it running them? Ethan and Ashley soon face a hard decision.

A Flair for Hair

If only she had stayed in school. If only she hadn’t had a baby when she was so young. If only she had taken cosmetology classes back when she had the chance. If only, if only, if only. Jackie does not want to spend the rest of her life crying over what might have been. “You have a flair for hair,” Taria tells her one day, after Jackie styles her hair for the prom. Jackie starts dreaming again about what could be. Then she gets to work on changing her life. Could she own a beauty salon one day?

The Green Team

“You like lawns. Fine. But think, Tony.” Tony is not one to rush into things. He likes to think things over. Now Tio, his great-uncle, pushes Tony to think about how to keep his new business going. Making money from lawn care has been hard work, yet fun. But now what? With summer gone and winter just around the corner, who’s going to need lawn care? How can he make a living? Tio reminds Tony there’s more to life than lawn care and making money. Tony finds out just how true that is.

Handy All Around

“Don’t have a job, don’t want a job.” That’s what Wayne tells people when they ask what kind of work he does. But job or no job, Wayne finds himself busy doing “odd jobs” for neighbors and friends. And around the house, where he lives with his mom. When his mom dies, he is left to fend for himself. With help from a few special people in his life, and a little luck, “go-getter” Wayne does better than he ever thought possible. As time goes on, he discovers a confidence and a sense of self-worth that surprises even him.

The Pet Sitter

“Pet sitting would be good work for you,” Ginny’s friend Eva tells her. Ginny really is cut out to be a pet sitter. After the death of her dog, Rocky, she can’t bear the thought of getting another dog. But then Ginny takes care of Eva’s dog for a week and realizes something important—she not only loved Rocky, she loves all animals. And animals love her. So she starts a pet-sitting business. Funny and not-so-funny things happen along the way. And she learns that loving animals is not always enough to make a business work.

You Call, We Haul

Alex just lost his job at the plant. His unemployment checks won’t last forever. He owns only one thing of value—his pickup truck. That’s when the idea comes to him. He can start a hauling business! The business turns out to be full of surprises and takes many twists and turns. Alex doesn’t give up. In time, he earns a steady income. He gets closer with his son. And he falls in love. Then he gets a phone call. After all his hard work, he must decide whether to keep his business or let it go.

Your Kids and Mine

As she looks down at her baby, a tear runs down Valerie’s cheek. “How can I possibly leave you?” she whispers. Valerie’s time at home with baby Jarrod is almost up. She must return to work. But Valerie finds a way to stay home with Jarrod—and make money. She will run day care in her home. Valerie’s husband, James, has his doubts. It’s such a big change. They agree Valerie will run the day care for two years, then return to work. As the two-year mark closes in, a big surprise hands Valerie the best change of all!