Choosing a Just Right Leveled Book: How to Help Your Child or Student Make the Right Choice

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The Love of Books

I have a great love of books. My affair with the written word has been in existence for as long as I can remember, although it has grown stronger over the years. During my summers visiting my father I would pack two suitcases. One full of clothes and the other with books. I never understood how someone could not enjoy reading. For me it was a way to escape, travel,and meet new friends. How could someone not love to read?

It wasn't until I became a teacher that I began to understand how some people could dislike reading, although I was sure that I could "fix" that. In fact my own father was a "functional illiterate" adult. He was able to get through his daily routine without really needing to read anything. Unfortunately there are many people like him in the world. I didn't realize all of the learning challenges that some people face and that for some people, words look like a puzzle. Unfortunately they do not have a picture of what it should look like in the end. So my job became helping students unlock that puzzle and start to learn how to create that picture. I was on a mission to help every child learn to love books as I did.

Organizing and Selecting Books

A student "shopping" for books at her level.
A student "shopping" for books at her level. | Source
Books that are in bins and labeled according to level and genre.
Books that are in bins and labeled according to level and genre. | Source

Readers Workshop

So when my school district proposed that teachers use a new method of teaching reading called readers workshop my first thought was tell me what it is and how I can include it. I was willing to do anything that I needed to get kids to love books. When I found out that it would include a classroom library of about 1000 books at a variety of levels and children would be reading these instead of a traditional reading book, I asked "Where do I sign up?" One of my complaints had always been that kids don't enjoy reading because they don't read "real" books. This solved that problem. Our task was to set up our classrooms with reading areas and baskets and bins of books that were grouped both by level and genre. In other words, we were making reading authentic for children. Each week my students "shop" for books at their level that they will read for the week. The meet with partners and groups to have guided conversations about their books and they spend more time reading for themselves than they ever have before. As we spent that first year getting to know and love readers workshop, I received one of the best compliments to date in my teaching career. One of my students asked me if I knew why she loved my class so much? When I told her no, she said, "because it is just like Border's Bookstore." Of course I was elated. So what does all of this have to do with choosing a just right book? Well if a child has a book in hand that is one that is best suited for him or her, the success rate increases greatly.


What are Leveled Books?

Most schools and classrooms today use some sort of leveling system to help guide kids to the correct book for them. There are several systems of leveling but the most common are DRA leveling and Guided Reading Levels. DRA leveling gives each student a number based on his or her reading ability. This reading assessment is based on several factors which include the rate at which the child reads and the ability for that child to comprehend the story. Once the assessment is done the teacher scores the test and gives the child his or her "level." Many of the books in the classroom and school library will be coded with the "level" of the book. When the level of the book matches the level of the student, that book is "just right" for him.  In our school we use the DRA method to test students but then convert the number to a letter which is a little easier for kids and parents to remember.  This letter is what students look for in labeled book bins and books to make sure that the book is just right for them.  This is not an exact science and some level E books for example may be a little easier or more difficult than others.  This can depend upon the publisher and the method that a teacher may use to assign a level for that book.  On Scholastic's website, www.scholastic.com, there is a tab that is labeled book wizard.  If you type in a title of a book it will give you the level that the book is written at.  Not all books are in this system, but it is a quick and easy way to check if that book is a good match for your child.

Why a Just Right Book?

When teachers speak of "just right books" we are referring to books that students are able to read and understand easily and without much frustration. Often parents mean well when they suggest a book for their child but they may be doing more harm than good. For example, a parent may remember reading a book like Ramona and Beezus when in fact that book may be too difficult for that child to read. Why is that so harmful? Because it causes a lot of frustration on the part of the child because they are spending so much time figuring out the words that they cannot understand the story and lose track of the characters and events. They walk away from the book having experience no magic or joy from the plot of the story. If a child is reading a book at an independent level, it means that he will need little to no help from you as the parent. The repetition and familiarity of the words and storyline will help to build strength and confidence in your reader. So then how do you know what book is right for your child, especially if there is no level coded in the book?

Three Tips to Choosing the Right Book

Unfortunately, libraries and bookstores don't level their books. Here is a guide to help you make an informed decision.

  1. The Rule of Five: One way to be sure that the book is right for your child is to have her read the first page. If she misses five or more words then the book is too hard. Try something that is a little easier.
  2. Goldie Locks and the Three Bears: For younger kids we relate choosing a book to the common story of Goldie Locks and the Three Bears. As you flip through the pages, if there are just a few words on the pages and they are easy words for you, then the book is too easy. If there are lots of words on the pages and maybe divided into longer chapters, then the book is too hard. If there are a mix of pictures and words that are longer sentences and the words are several sentences on a page then the book is just right.
  3. Following a Series: Once you know what level a particular book series is, for example Magic Tree House Books, they usually are all written at the same level. So if your child finds that he or she really enjoys a particular group of books, then stick with it! The idea is to have the most amount of time spent reading as possible at their particular level.

Most of all make reading a pleasant time in your classroom or home. Set the example for your child by reading while they do. Make it a special time that you spend together. Hopefully these ideas will help you to make your child or students build their confidence and ultimately create success and joy in their reading lives.

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Comments 17 comments

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

My third grade teacher read to us from 'Tom Sawyer', and after a few chapters, she asked us if we liked the story so far. Of course, we were all entusiastic about it so she told us she was going to teach us all to read so we could enjoy such books all by ourselves.

I can't remember not reading and my mother told me I was asking her what words meant when I was three.

Up and awesome, cardelean!


cardelean profile image

cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan Author

Thanks WillStarr. You always have such positive comments for me! My 2 and 4 year olds "read" to me all the time. Literacy starts at birth and unfortunately many parents don't realize this. We had a guest reader in my class yesterday for reading month and as an adult I sat there mesmorized by her words. Reading is awesome!


Danette Watt profile image

Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

An excellent hub, Cara! Reading is such an important and fundamental skill. I appreciate the 3 tips for choosing a book.

Reading opens doors for us to all sorts of new ideas and places. Like you, I couldn't imagine anyone not loving reading and I have to wonder how much of someone's dislike is tied in with frustrations in the early years.

Voted up and useful.


cardelean profile image

cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan Author

Thanks for the read and comment. I can't imagine a life without books!


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

Voted up, useful and awesome. Congrats on writing your first hubchallenge hub. :) I loved the three tips at the bottom of the page. Illiteracy is a huge problem here in the rural area I live in. Education overall is not promoted and some of J's classmates are in jeopardy of failing. It is quite sad.

You come from a very long line of readers, my dear, despite your dad's experience. Two thumbs up.


cardelean profile image

cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan Author

It is sad and despite what the media states, it is not all the teachers' faults. Thanks for the feedback.


annmackiemiller profile image

annmackiemiller 5 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England

excellent -


cardelean profile image

cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan Author

Thanks, glad you liked it! Thanks for commenting.


pmccray profile image

pmccray 5 years ago from Utah

My first book was also Tom Sawyer. I've always felt that the brain was a muscle which must be flexed and exercised and reading is the best tool. I prompted my son to read by purchasing comic books 1 a week. I felt that by him reading what he enjoyed he would read, which he did. It also began his love of collecting comic books. Voted up, marked useful.


cardelean profile image

cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan Author

Agreed Pmccray. I think that it so critical that children enjoy what they read otherwise they will not LOVE to read. Thanks for the commment.


pinkydoo profile image

pinkydoo 5 years ago from New York

My daughter just loved reading Juni B. Jones books when she was in first and second grade. Those books are so PERFECT for that particular age group, I really think that "kicked off" her love of reading!


cardelean profile image

cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan Author

Pinky, starting with a series is a GREAT way to encourage early readers and build fluency. Super parenting to you!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York

I love this. Matthew is an emerging reader (he can read level 1 readers with help), but he LOVES listening to the Magic Tree House series. We need to get book #8 - he carries around a little notebook, just like Jack. I love the fact that he has developed a love for those books, even if he isn't reading them by himself yet.

The first book that hooked me was "Ramona Forever" by Beverly Cleary. I love books, and it is fun to see my little ones develop the same love!


jean2011 profile image

jean2011 5 years ago from Canada

Cardelean, my, my, an excellent and useful hub again. We are using the system you describe at our school, and the result is amazing! I have voted this hub useful.


cardelean profile image

cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan Author

Leahlefler that is so fantastic! I love seeing the little ones learn to read, it is so exciting. Both of my children love to "read" and read to me daily. Although they can't actually read the words, they use the pictures to tell the stories. My daughter is 4 and I think that she will soon be reading. She's starting to try to spell words and recognizing patterns in words. It's great seeing your kids love learning!

I agree jean2011. We have used leveled books in our school for about 7 years now but have just begun to implement readers workshop. It is amazing the transformation that the kids (especially the older ones) have made. They are now loving and wanting to read and not just reading because they are told. It is incredible to witness. Thanks for your feedback, I appreciate it.


wwriter profile image

wwriter 5 years ago from India

What a wonderful idea, to perceive of the classroom as a bookstore; a Borders but without any borders! I really liked reading this hub.

Regarding the 'level', I remember as a middle school child when I wished to borrow Nicholas Nickleby from my school library, the librarian tried to dissuade me, remarking that it was out of my 'level'. But I really persisted, and I enjoyed reading it. Part of the fun of reading is in exploring without barriers what interests one (of course really inappropriate stuff needs to be filtered out first).


cardelean profile image

cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan Author

Thanks wwriter. The level that we refer to in our classroom is their ability to read a book without any or much "help" from an adult. This builds their fluency and comprehension. However, many of my students choose to read books of interest that are far beyond their independent level. I am ok with this as a secondary choice. As long as they spend some time each day working at their independent level they can also read a book of interest. Just as in real life, we have books that we read that are very easy for us and those that challenge us. Thanks so much for your comments.

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