Back to School? Find ‘Just-Right Books’ for Your Reader

How to Select Books for Your Child

by Carol Berry, 34 year public school librarian and current President of the Literary Connection, Kennewick, WA.

“What book should I pick for my child?”   This is a question I’ve heard many times in a career of 34 years as a school librarian. Parents look at all the books in the library or a book fair and often feel overwhelmed.  They want to find THE book that will fill the current requirements for a class or just for enjoyment.  To answer that question I need lots of information.  These are some of the questions I ask parents and/or their students so I can help find a selection of titles for consideration:

  • What is the age and reading level of the child?
  • What was the last book the child read that he/she enjoyed?
  • What is the assignment if there is required reading for class?
  • What are some of the child’s interests and activities?

Often, the ‘What book…’ question comes from a parent worried about a reluctant reader.  I’ve heard students say many times, “I don’t like to read.”  I always respond with, “It’s not that you don’t like to read, it is just that you haven’t found the right book yet.”  I know this is true because I was a reluctant reader growing up.  Reading was difficult so I didn’t like doing it for pleasure at all.  But then the bookmobile came to my house and the librarian kept giving me books to try until I found ‘Nancy Drew’ and I was hooked!  I still had difficulty reading, but at least I was having fun with the practicing.

My advice to parents is that if it isn’t for an assignment, they should tell their child that if they don’t like a book, they don’t need to finish it.  There are so many books to try, they can just trade it in for another book.  I can’t tell you how many books the bookmobile librarian from my childhood gave me before I found Nancy.  Parents should be patient and persistent.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Pick a book that is a slightly lower reading level than what your child can manage.
  • Read alternating pages or chapters with your child.
  • Pick the format that works best for the child.  Graphic novels, sports magazines, etc., all have a place in the reader’s life.  Find what works and expand from there.
  • Read the book your child is reading.  Then you can discuss the book and give ‘sneak peek’ comments to encourage him/her to continue.
  • If the book is for pleasure, don’t press for speed on the reading.
  • Try to find a series that fits your child’s interests and reading level.  Kids can then self-select books from that series with confidence.

Parents that are concerned about a reluctant reader should get to know the local librarian and keep finding books that could possibly work.  See what books are popular with other young readers and see if they will be appropriate for your child.  I’ll say it again.  Be persistent.

An invaluable method for children – The “Fist Test.”

Kids aren’t always going to have a parent or librarian around to tell them what the reading level is for a book.  One way I tell them to find a book on their own reading level is the “fist test.”  It goes like this:

Teach kids how to select books at their level by using the “fist” test.

Open the book to a random page that has mostly words.  Start reading the page.  If you come across a word you don’t know, curl in a finger.  Keep reading.  Each time you find a word you can’t read, curl in a finger.  If you get a fist before the end of the page, that book will be difficult for you to read.  If you couldn’t read 4 words on the page, the book will likely give you a challenge.  If you can read all the words on the page, this book will be easy to read.  Kids can personally check the reading level of a book using this method.  I always tell kids to LOOK INSIDE THE BOOK before checking it out.

Another way for parents to encourage reluctant readers is to let your child see you reading.  Share a funny story or sports scores from the newspaper.  Buy a joke book for kids and read some aloud.  Don’t forget the nonfiction section.  Kids love to learn how to do things.  Find a book on experiments or cooking or another activity and follow the directions together.  Did I mention the persistent part?

Make reading “practice” fun. It doesn’t always have to be great literature!

Praise your child for any effort towards reading.  Reassure him/her that some folks just take a little longer to learn some things.  Tell them that just like any other thing you are trying to learn, practice is what makes it easier.  Try to make the ‘practice’ fun by reading the type of book that interests them the most.  I probably read 50 Nancy Drew books before I had had my fill.  It doesn’t have to be great literature – at first.

For the parents of the enthusiastic reader, just ask them what they want you to pick out.  Likely they have a list of several books in mind.  Another idea is to pick a book that you like and can then share with your child.  Don’t forget the classics.  I had perfect attendance in fourth grade because my teacher read the best books after lunch.  Turns out they were all classic action novels.  What a great teacher!

Good Luck and Happy Reading.

Carol Berry has been a public school librarian in Kennewick, WA, for more than 34 years. She is currently the President of the Literary Connection, which brings in authors and illustrators for school visits in and around Kennewick.

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