Selecting Books For Your Child: How To Find a Book that is Just Right For Her Reading Level

Cultivating a love of reading in your child seems like a daunting task, but knowing how to pick  the right books for her level can actually be a breeze. Finding the right book for your child can open doors to kingdoms, worlds, and neverlands of empowered reading, creating opportunities to read with excitement and promoting comprehension skills. On the other hand, choosing the wrong book may leave it abandoned on the floor or hidden in the back of a shelf.

But first, what is a “just right” book?

I remember being an 8 year old kid poring over a Grade 4 English textbook with a torn cover, yet thinking, “I’m so lucky. I can’t get enough!” It was one of those old books my aunt would send us in boxes from the States that my older siblings didn’t really care about. Put simply, a book that is “just right” provides a little bit of a challenge for your child – not so much to make her frustrated, but enough to develop her growth as a reader. It should be a book that she finds interesting and can read with little guidance. Spending time reading books that are “just right” during independent reading time will help your kids enhance their literacy skills.

So, what do parents need to look out for when finding a “just right” book?

The Goldilocks Strategy

Remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears?  Goldilocks tries different porridge bowls, different chairs, and finally different beds, always looking for the one that is just right.  The same thing works for books.  Some books are too hard, others are too easy, and you’re searching for the ones that are just right.

  1. Too Easy
    Too-Easy books help children read more smoothly and are fun to read both aloud and silently.

Questions for your child:
– Is it a favorite book you have read before?
– Do you understand the story very well?
– Can you understand and read just about every word?
– Can you read it easily and smoothly?

Easy books allow children to focus on the meaning and think deeper about characters and plot. However, too easy reading will not promote growth in reading.

  1. Too Hard
    Too-Hard books can put your child back with their reading. If she is struggling with the vocabulary, it often means she will struggle with the concepts or storyline too.

Questions for your child:
– Are you interested in reading this book?
– Are you confused about what is happening in most of this book?
– Is it hard to understand even when you re-read?
– Do you need lots of help to read this book?

Providing a steady diet of books that are too difficult might cause more harm than good to your child. Many children who choose hard books give up out of frustration.

  1. Just RightJust-Right books help your child learn the most because she can figure out most of the words and understand what’s going on in the text. These books also make your child stretch a little bit so that she has opportunities to apply the strategies she has been learning and experience new vocabulary and different genres.

“Research shows that learning best occurs with many lessons presenting no more than 10% new material and providing many opportunities for practice.”

Question for your child:

– Is the book new to you?
– Do you understand a lot of the book?
– Are there just a few words on a page you don’t know?
– When you read, are some places smooth and some choppy?

As your child moves to just right books, she will continue to develop reading skills and learn to  work out problems independently.

The Five-finger Rule

Take your child with you when choosing a book and have her find one that she thinks looks interesting. Open it to a page in the middle that’s full of text or pick a page at random and have your child read it. Each time she gets to a word she doesn’t know, hold up one finger. When you get to the bottom of the page, how many fingers is she holding up?

  • One thumb = thumbs up! You should be aiming to have your child reading with 95 percent accuracy, so this is perfect, it allows her to be confident and enjoy the challenges.
  • Two fingers (thumb and index finger): Makes an L, still Looking good!
  • Three fingers (makes a W): Warning! This book may be best when read with someone.
  • Four or more fingers (whole hand): Stop! This book is probably too tough to enjoy alone.

Don’t Be Afraid to Break the Rules

It is acceptable for a kid to occasionally choose a difficult book. This can work well if she is interested in a specific subject and finds a difficult book that centers on this subject. Your child needs to understand and enjoy the book for her own reading success. If there is a book that your child is begging to read, let them! Motivation and background knowledge play a huge role in comprehension, so she may surprise you with how well she does. If your child puts up 6 fingers but really wants to read that book, let her. If you find that she isn’t able to tell you much about the story, but has a basic idea of the plot line and loves the book, encourage her to go back and reread sections that aren’t clear.

At some point, we all started with books, movies, activities that weren’t “just right” for us. I know I did. At 13 I became fascinated with a newspaper column that talked about politics and activism, of which I had little to zero context at that time. But it is possible for children to learn to evaluate whether a book is at the right reading level for their abilities. This is an important skill in itself, one that cultivates and eventually sets them up to be lifelong readers!

Chrismae Laolao – English Teacher at Everest Education



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