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How to help your child find the right book


With thousands of new books published each year, helping your child/tween/teen to find a good book to read can be overwhelming for both your child and you. Picking the wrong book at the wrong time in your child's reading development can cause the child to feel frustration and lower reading motivation. Some factors to consider when helping your child to select a book to read may include recommended reading lists, the young reader's interest about the book's subject content, the book's reading difficulty level, vocabulary and even the format of the book.

One thing that a parent can do to help select a book is to know what books are available and to provide access to these books as much as possible. To find out what books are considered to be good books, talk to your children's librarian, teachers, other parents or book award lists for recommendations. Schools and public libraries usually post their reading lists on their websites on the kids or teens links. The American Library Association posts lists of award winning books separated by content and age categories on their ALA Library Fact Sheet Number 23 - Recommended Reading web page. The Notable Children's Book List compiled by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) is a selection of the best books for younger readers, middle readers, older readers and all ages books - fiction and nonfiction, for the year. Most of these books may be found at your public library.

Try to find a book that focuses on your child's interest area such as sports, animals or cars. If your young reader doesn't like fiction stories, then give him some nonfiction options. If your young reader has a problem reading books with long chapters, let her read age appropriate magazines like Time for Kids or Sports Illustrated Kids or anthologies; listen to audio books, or; download eBooks using an MP3 player or other electronic book readers. If your child/tween/teen really dislikes reading, steer him toward the Reluctant Reader book lists or graphic novels. Reluctant Reader books are found to attract hard to reach students who really don't want to read but the books are cover interesting topics and have generally fewer pages. 

Knowing what type of book format is going to work for your child is important in the book selection process. General descriptions of books include:

  • Picture Books are meant to be read by a more advanced reader to a younger reader; text is deceptively simple with lots of repetition; visually, the pictures and the text are placed to guide the reader's eye horizontally across the page to prepare the younger reader to read text from left to right.
  • Board Books (birth to two years) are made of sturdy cardboard; have few words and bright pictures with textures.
  • Early Readers (grades preK to three) are designed for independent reading; smaller than picture books but still have larger font and lots of pictures to give the reader clues to guess what the words may mean even if they don't know, and; vocab lists are featured in the back of the book so that parents or teachers can review the words with the child before or while reading to increase vocabulary skills.
  • Early Chapter Books (grades two to four) have defined chapters with increasingly complex plot and characters; font is smaller than the early reader and the length of the book is longer, about 100 pages, with few pictures.
  • Chapter Books (grades five to twelve) are more sophisticated versions of the early chapter books; the character and plot are more detailed and the chapters are well defined; there are more pages with smaller font and little or no pictures. 
  • Graphic Novels (Grades two to adult) tell the story with pictures and captions similar to comics and have been used as early chapter books and chapter books.
  • Audio Books (all ages) can be downloaded from book store websites or library websites to an MP3 player or a computer and are audio recordings of books.
  • eBooks (all ages) can be downloaded from book store websites or library websites to an MP3 player, computer or electronic reader and are meant to be read looking at a small computer screen.

Whatever the format, the child/tween/teen should be able to use their pre-existing reading skills to read the selected book. The 'Five Finger Rule' is a good guide to find the right book at the right reading level. A book should be either 'just right' or challenging but not too difficult to read, (Alexander, 2009). 

Step One: Open to a random page in the book and ask the child to read a paragraph or two out loud. Every time the child stumbles over a word, count it on your fingers. If the child makes only one mistake, the book is too easy; if the child makes up to three mistakes, the book is 'just right;' if the child makes up to four mistakes, the book is challenging but may still be readable, and; if the reader makes five mistakes, then the book is too difficult and he will not want to read the book because it makes him feel frustrated. Pick another book!

Step Two: Ask the child to close the book based on what was just read out loud. If he can identify characters and summarize what is happening in their own words, then the books should be a good fit - if not, pick another book!

Step Three: Ask the child if he likes the book based on what he just read - if not, then pick another book, (Rogers, 2008).

Now that the book has been selected, increase a child's motivation to read independently by making reading a special event. Try to read to your child every night as part of a bedtime routine or have them read to you. Schedule a visit to the public library and attend some of the library's free programs throughout the year, especially their story times and annual book festivals, then check out some books. Make a day of going to your local book store and set a budget to buy one or more books to add to the home collection. Pack a picnic lunch and a book to read to your child while you eat lunch. Make reading a wonderful experience by creating good memories with books.

For more info: For local reading lists go to Cobb County Public Library's Summer 2009 - Local Schools' Required Reading Lists, Gwinnett County Public Library's Lists of Newly Purchased and Featured Materials and the Georgia Library Media Association, Inc.'s Georgia Peach Award. For award-winning book lists and national reading lists go to the American Library Association's ALA Library Fact Sheet Number 23, Reading Rockets' Big Summer Read and the International Reading Association / Children's Book Council's Children's Choices Book Lists.