Picking the Perfect Book: A How To Guide

What is your child’s favorite book?  Help another parent, leave a suggestion in the comments!

I LOVE ‘playing librarian.’  If you’ve been to HEROES, you’ve seen our library.  It’s on the small side – with just about 1,000 books BUT I’ve read every single one of them!  This makes it both easy and fun to recommend books to both students and parents.  I send more than half of our students home with a new book to read every 1 – 2 weeks!  When students take our placement test, I’m able to pinpoint almost exactly what they SHOULD be reading.  I’m also able to tell what they ARE reading.  These two criteria don’t always match and it can be detrimental to student reading growth.  So, what SHOULD your child be reading?  Well, the answer is both simple and complicated.

Students should be reading at, or slightly above, their ability level.  If a student is consistently reading books below their ability level then their reading comprehension skills aren’t going to grow.  This is a tragedy because books are full of wonderful stories for both entertainment and information purposes.  Plus, reading is integral in learning EVERYTHING else.  Parents often ask me why their child must qualify in both math and reading to take a math class with us.  Reading is a very important aspect to math.  Think about it.  Math requires vocabulary.  Math has word problems.  Without word problems, calculations are obsolete.  Who cares what “4 x 5” equals if you don’t know what you can use it for?  The more obvious reason — textbooks!! Yes, our students read their math textbooks — and they love them!! Science, history, engineering, computer science — they all require the ability to read.  
So, here are a few easy steps to finding your child the ‘right book.’ ​

1.  Find out what they CAN read.  
    The easiest way to find out what your child can read is to have their reading comprehension skills assessed.  Our placement test provides us with an RIT score which can be converted to Lexile, A-Z reading scales, and more.  I can even pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses by strand — vocabulary acquisition, literature, and informational text.  If this isn’t an option, you may be able to find a center near you that offers some sort of reading assessment.  
   Alternatively, you can talk to your child about what they are reading!  Do they know what is happening in the book from start to finish?  Can they identify the problem or conflict?  Can they compare this text to other texts they’ve read?  Can they explain to you why they liked, or did not like, the book?  Do they have a favorite character?  Why do they like this character?  You don’t have to read the book to talk to them about these things!  If your child is repeatedly responding to these questions with comments such as “I don’t remember,” “I don’t know,” “just because,” etc then it is likely that they either (1) did not actually read the book or (2) did not understand the book.  In this case, it is probable that the book is too hard.  However, I will note that some students will pretend to read books when they find them boring because they are too easy.  So, this method requires a bit of insight into your particular child or some experience in reading instruction.
If, however, the child can answer most of these questions, it may be time to explore something a bit more challenging.  Is your child reading a chapter book per day?  It might be time to step them up to something a bit more challenging.  Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan (currently under $7 on Amazon!) is a GREAT place to start.  The book might look ‘big and intimidating’ but it’s not!  Let them open the book and flip through a few pages.  Point out that there really aren’t that many more words per page!  I bet they can read it in 1 – 2 weeks if they read 20 minutes per day!  [Side note: This book is particularly great because it appeals to a younger audience.  PLUS, there is a picture book companion!  Are they still intimidated by the page count? Let them read the picture book first!]  

2.  Find out what they LIKE
Is your child an avid reader? Great!  Start with their favorite books.  Look up the author and find other books that they wrote.  Get them!!  Technology also makes finding new books really easy.  Go on Amazon.  Find the most recent book that they read and loved.  Scroll down and see what people who purchased this book also liked.  The comments and reviews can sometimes be filled with great recommendations too.  Added Bonus:  Most books on Amazon contain a ‘recommended age’ and ‘recommended grade level’ in the details section.  It’s not 100% accurate and gives you quite a wide range, but it’s a great way to evaluate if it is likely to be way too easy — or way too hard.  Alternatively, use Google (or your favorite search engine) to find “Books like ________________” or “Books to read after ________________” if you’re in search of something a bit more challenging.  If you want to introduce new genres, you can also check out the summer reading lists for other grades in your school district – or other districts!  In every case, make sure you keep in mind the reading ability that was assessed in step 1.  

Did you ask your child, “What is your favorite book?” and receive nothing but a shrug or mumbled “I don’t know?”  That’s okay too!  What does your child enjoy besides reading?  Trucks? Science? Sports? Music?  Once again, I’m going to recommend Google here.  You will be pleasantly surprised at the results when you search, for example, “books about trucks for elementary students.”  Another great resource is Goodreads.  Goodreads allows users to create book lists(Check out my account here).  Plus, you’ll find book reviews here too.  Book lists are generated by individuals, groups and even other educational institutes.  If your child is in highschool, or in middle school reading at a high school level, this 100 books to read before college is a GREAT list to work on.  I wouldn’t recommend this list for students younger than 12, regardless of reading ability.  

3.  Pick a book or two for yourself! 
Now, why would I tell you to find a book to read in a blog post about children’s reading?  Well, the answer is simple.  If your child sees you reading then they’ll want to read too!  

4. Purchase or borrow some books based on your results from Step 2!  
Then, set aside a set time each day to read.  It doesn’t have to take over your entire evening.  Twenty minutes per day goes a long way! It helps to have a comfy reading spot.  Orb chairs, giant teddy bears, and bean bags all make great reading spots.  Start to track your reading with a star chart.  If you’re using a Kindle, the Kindle for Kids edition allows you to track how many pages you read per day, week, month, etc.  You get medals for reaching certain milestones.  It’s a lot of fun!  I’m not a huge fan of ‘digital reading’ but, if it helps a reluctant reader find joy in reading then I’ll take it!  ​

​Check back for book lists, book talks and more! ​

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