I want to start this post out by saying, if you have never encountered me or this site before (Welcome!) you can learn a bit about me and why I am doing this in the tab at the top of the page, otherwise I hope this is helpful!
Reading levels were one of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around when I first started in the kid’s section. There were so many different systems. A parent would come in and say that their kid was reading L books so what did I recommend. I stood their in a stupor (what the heck does an L book look like, is it shaped like an L, is L a character I haven’t heard of). Then even more parents would ask about level 17 books and I would stammer something about how my beginning readers only went up to 5 and have to ask them more questions about the age, size of books, reading ability etc.
Let me pour the knowledge I have collected here for you.
I am going to link a few resources I think will be really helpful throughout this post (they will be embedded links in the text and set to automatically open new pages if you want to finish the post and read them after). This isn’t just some divine knowledge I gained by looking at the kids books long enough. I had to spend time outside of my job to understand this. I needed to be a resource to my customers and if I didn’t know what I was talking about, then I was a pretty shoddy one, I didn’t want to be shoddy.
Not every parent will be given a reading level. Let’s start here. Some parents just ask about books recommended for 12 year old boys who like video games. This is fine, in fact this was great because there are whole sections of book stores directed directly at 12 year old boys who like video games. Those attributes are very easy to use, any bookseller who has spent a few days in the kids section can help in this case. I made a video a few months ago where I discussed the “types” of kids books (that is the age bracket recommended for the different physical looking books you will find in any given kids section) if you want a brief over view. I explained the down and dirty basics of a kid’s section and why this particular question would be easy to answer.
However, knowing which books are appropriate for your child and which books are too challenging without reading all of the books yourself (which I’m not against, in fact I am of the mind that reading all of the books myself is just good fun) is daunting. In that case you go to the professionals (or the internet, hey there folks who found this post through google, I assure you, I am at least semi-professional). Teachers and librarians use certain systems created by psychologists and publishers in the field of children’s literature to rate, or gauge the “reading level” of books. They will often have your kid do a simple reading test and say ah yes, this child is reading at the F level. This is of little or no use to you as a parent, but its better than nothing. You walk into the book store, tell the lady standing behind the counter that your kid reads F level books and she looks at you blankly then proceeds to ask you a barrage of questions rather than just showing you to the section you need. We came full circle here.
Here is what you need to know and in fact would be far more helpful to tell a bookseller than “F Level” because not everyone is as dedicated as I am to finding the right book for your child, but they will have recommendations in some form or another.
I posted a link in the previous paragraph giving a chart that compared several different ranking systems to each other. One of them was the Fountas-Pinnell Guided Reading Text Levels. This one was my personal favorite because each level had defined characteristics. As a book seller I could pull out my reference, read the short description, and find a book that matched it. There are other similar methods which will do the same, so when you are given the reading level by the teacher, librarian, whomever, ask what the system is called and search to see if there is a comprehensive list explaining what each level means. If the bookseller is completely lost you can say, “At K level she is starting to read chapter books, she is less reliant on pictures, and it would be good to add in some larger more complicated words that she has to either decode through context or through her growing knowledge of basic English grammar., but make sure it doesn’t go over 150 pages.” To which the bookseller will reply, Oh, chapter books, right this way.
The second thing I suggest is to read both this article on Popular Psychology by Paula J Schwanenflugel P.H.D. (Oh my god this last name, I’m so sorry) and Nancy Flanagan Knapp P.H.D. is my post from early this week where I discussed how your language regarding books and their reading level will shape the way your kids approach books for the rest of their life, not only because it gives you some tips on how to tell if a book is too hard for your kid but also for some help in how to choose books with your child in the book store. Which can be a difficult thing, I know, I worked there.
There are resources available to you. Whether it is someone like me who is passionate about reading, about kids reading, about the books that kids are reading and about helping parents, teachers, and librarians navigate the rapidly expanding kids book market, or through your local librarians, your kids teachers, whomever. You are not alone. This wasn’t something they taught me in college, it wasn’t even part of my training in the book store to be honest. I just knew the correct internet channels and was fortunate enough to converse with very knowledgeable folks in their field.
For any specific questions, or recommendations you can always ask me below in the comments or anywhere through my socials, and of course follow the blog because I post reviews as well as helpful chatty posts like this one. At least I hope it was helpful, if it wasn’t please give me some constructive criticism down below as well so that I can do better moving forward. I want to do well. I want to help.
I hope you are having a lovely week and I will talk to you again soon.