Reading Level: 6 Tips for Choosing Just Right Books

As if this reading series has not been exciting enough… I have an extra special treat for you today. While we are getting used to quiet reading as regular thing, I am working hard to find books that are appropriate for M and M. It’s been much more challenging than I expected. The books need to be easy enough to build their confidence and challenging enough to keep them engaged.

Luckily I have some pretty fantastic friends. When Megan from Coffee Cups and Crayons mentioned that she is a “reading nerd” I quickly begged her for some info. She was so sweet to fill me on choosing the right books… and of course she didn’t leave you out! So welcome Megan. We are so glad you’re here!!! 

Reading Level: 6 Tips for Choosing Just Right Books

Your child has started to read on their own–woo hoo! Now you just need to figure out which books are right for them. Sounds much easier than it actually is, right? With so many different types of books and leveling systems choosing books for new readers to read can start to seem as difficult as learning how to read!

Reading Level: 6 Tips for Choosing Just Right Books (LOVE # 4)

There is no way to tell you exactly what books are right for your child, but I do have 6 tips for you that will help make the process of choosing “just right” books much easier!

Use the Five Finger Rule

This is important to make sure they can read the words in the book. It’s simple, have them open the book to any page and start reading. For each word they can’t figure out have them hold up a finger. If you get to 5 then the book is too hard.

Know the Goal of Independent Reading

When choosing a book for new readers you are trying to find one written at their “Just Right”, independent reading level. This means that they can read the words (decode) and understand it (comprehend) on their own. (This will usually not be the same level that they read at during guided reading in school, there the teacher is working at their instructional level.)

For independent reading there are three main things a child should be able to do after reading to demonstrate that they can comprehend the text:

1. Retell the beginning, middle, and end of the story.

2. Answer questions (who, what, where, when, why, how) about what has happened in the book.

3. Make a connect between the text and themselves, another book, or the world.

Do quick informal checks when they are reading a new book…the answers don’t have to be perfect, but if they are struggling to come up with them you may want to find an easier text.

Look at the Size of the Print and the Illustrations

As a general rule books with larger print and more pictures are easier than those with smaller print and less illustrations. If a book passes the Five Finger test, but your child is having trouble talking about what is happening in the story try a book with larger text!

Choose a Picture Book

When a child begins to read on their own it’s natural to head toward the chapter book section of the library, but it’s important to still check out some picture books too! Picture books are written at a higher reading level than most kids think which can be good practice for kids who are great decoders.

Picture books provide a less overwhelming way to read challenging text. They have beautiful illustrations that help aid in both comprehension and decoding and can be read in a short sitting for those who may not have the patience to read an entire chapter book on their own. Depending on the needs and personality of your child picture books may be the perfect choice for him.

Try a Series

Series can be a great motivator for reading and are a good way to find “just right” books. Chapter books series, especially those with a lot of titles, usually get more challenging as you get further into a series. As your child’s reading level increases the books get more difficult which is perfect for readers in elementary school. Ask teachers or librarians for recommendations and start with the earlier books in the series.

Don’t Be Afraid to Break the Rules

If there is a book your child is begging you to read let them try it! Motivation and background knowledge play a huge role in comprehension so he may surprise you with how well he does with it. If your child puts up 6 fingers but really wants to read it, let them. If you find they aren’t able to tell you much about the story, but have a basic idea of the plot line and love the book, encourage them to go back and reread sections that aren’t clear.

We’ve all started books, or movies, or activities that weren’t “just right” for us. Being able to figure that out is an important skill too and giving your child choice and independence may be what sets them up to be lifelong readers!

What’s your next stop? I’ll tell you… 

Megan Sheakoski Profile Pic

Megan is the creator of Coffee Cups and Crayons, a blog that shares fun and useful ideas for modern parents. She believes that small, intentional acts of kindness {and really good coffee!} can change the world. You can follow all of her learning activities, kids crafts, and party inspiration on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and G+.



  1. Hi Jillian – I actually like the font but I can understand it is a little challenging to read for some.

    Great article, I particularly like the comments about series. My daughter dove into Magic Tree House and when I went looking for a similar series for young ones, I found one that the author recommends as “The precursor to Harry Potter” (which is like catnip to me) called “Dragon Slayer’s Academy”. It is awesome.

    Also appreciate your point about picture books and the ability to decode. Great point! I think that’s one reason I like the Rohl Dahl books so much – the illustrations are simple yet fantastic.

  2. Your post was recommended by Tracey at Girls to Grow, and I found it very helpful as I have a brand new reader. It’s so fun for me to watch her read chapter books by herself!

    1. Welcome Nikki! We’ve been getting better and better at quiet reading. It’s awesome to watch them mastering something that really is very complicated.

  3. Good tips! I got my daughter (almost 10 & entering 5th grade) into a series & she absolutely loves it! She’s reading all the Rainbow Magic fairy books! The nice thing is they have easy reader picture books for new readers & chapter books. The challenge now is getting her to branch out a little more! She loves reading! This summer she completed a summer reading Olympics challenge from her school-she read 1,200 minutes for a gold medal! She did it in 1 1/2 months & is still reading for pleasure!

  4. Pingback: Black 'n Write
  5. Pingback: Weekly Round Up (#25) | Black 'n Write
  6. Pingback: Saturday Salutes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *