Finding A Book At Your Child’s Reading Level

Christmas is coming and Junior wants that Goosebumps book that Freddy Merkle brought on the bus.  But Freddy’s in fourth grade and Junior’s in second, so how can I tell if he’s ready for Goosebumps:  Welcome to Dead House?  I don’t have to guess, since there are several ways to determine if a book is at his reading level.

Once kids get into school, it can be more difficult to find an appropriate level book since they can develop reading skills faster than you expect.  The first place to start is to simply nose through the book bag and see what he’s bringing home from the school library.  Teachers and school librarians do keep an eye on how the child is doing and will nudge him to something that’s at or near their reading level.  I once encountered a school librarian who permitted my then-first grader to check out an adult dictionary, but that one was an outlier on the Bell Curve.

If I’m not clear from the backpack, I can check with the teacher on the current grade reading level.  Autumn is a great time as many schools are scheduling the Parent-Teacher Conferences and one of the items discussed will be the assessment of Junior’s reading level.  Is he at grade level or above or below it?  And about where on the grade level does he reside?  The baseline for a child at the start of the second grade year is that he’s reading at grade level 2.0 or 20.  As Junior grows in his skills, his level is expected to grow to levels such as 2.4 and 2.8 so that he’s at Reading Level 2.9 by the end of the school year.

After you know his Reading Level, you can actually consider the book.  Unless I’m already familiar with the author, I prefer physically getting a book from a library or bookstore so that I can quickly peruse it.  Since Junior asked for Welcome to Dead House, I pick up a copy and turn to the back cover.  Children’s publishers will place guidance information on the lower right corner, next to the book’s spine.  This information is the audience Reading Level (RL) and an age range for prospective readers.  In Dead House‘s case, the information is listed as:  RL4  008-012.  The publisher is telling me that this book is on a fourth grade entry level; since kids don’t always read at grade level, most kids from ages eight through twelve years would appreciate it.  Since Junior’s at a reading level of 2.4, the book would most likely end up collecting dust for a year until Junior could handle it.

But what if there’s no information on the back cover?  Then the best alternative – Christmas secrecy aside – is to select a random paragraph from the book and ask Junior to read it aloud.  If he has difficulty with five or more words, then I need to steer him to something at a lower level. 

Remember that there’s a difference between the Reading Level and the scary content.  I’d rather wait and not contend with any nightmares.

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