The holiday season is upon us. Hopefully, you’ll consider gifting the kid in your life with a book or two. But what to get? You can find guidelines online but they’re not the best. A clerk at a big box book store will be even less helpful. Why? Most recommendations are based on a lot of assumptions.
They assume that all kids learn to read at the same time and with the same skill. They assume that younger kids will only get read alouds and older kids will only read independently.
We can do better.
There are two important things to know.
- Reading level is different from comprehension level. By the time children start learning to read, they are already speaking fluently. A 5 year old’s reading level might be “The cat sat on the mat” but their comprehension level will be far higher.
- What book category do you you want? Children’s interests and abilities change over the course of childhood. The children’s book industry has created categories to reflect this:
- Board books are written for babies and toddlers. Example: “Moo, Baa, La La La” by Sandra Boynton.
- Picture books range from young toddlers to older children. These books are meant to be read aloud by a parent. That means the book is written at a child’s comprehension level. Example: “Rosie Revere Engineer” by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts.
- Leveled readers or easy readers are for children just learning to read. They have simple sentences and tightly controlled vocabulary. These are written at a child’s reading level. Example: “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss.
- Chapter books are generally written for older children to read themselves. These are longer, with more mature content. There are categories within chapter books, as well. First chapter books are for newly minted readers. Middle grade books are for older elementary kids. Young adult books are for middle and high school students.
Age ratings on easy readers and chapter books assume that a child is going to read the book themselves. A book that is rated for an older child often is suitable for read loud with a younger child.
Adults often feel that kids are too old for read alouds once they can read. Just the opposite. Reading above a child’s reading level builds comprehension skills and vocabulary.
Plus reading is just plain fun.
But be aware: content maturity also goes up. A younger child may not be emotionally ready for a book intended for older kids. If you pick a read aloud book rated for older children, take the time to check out a review or two.
So, here’s my guide to finding the perfect book for the child in your life:
- How old is the child? How skilled are they at reading? Do they like to read?
- Older children and more skillful readers usually can handle more difficult books.
- Not all kids like to read. For these “reluctant readers” shorter, high-interest books are the way to go.
- Do you want a read aloud book? Or one to read independently?
- Very young children can’t yet read.
- Adolescents and teens probably won’t be interested in a read-aloud if you haven’t built the habit. (Sorry.)
- Kids in that middle sweet spot can go either way. They can cuddle up for a juicy read aloud chapter book or pick up a shorter book to read alone.
- What are they interested in? Once you’ve got an idea of what category you want, you can check out some book recommendations to get ideas. I’ve gathered over 500 recommendations for kid’s books.
Want something easier? Next time I’ll post my book gifting guide.
Do you have favorite books to recommend?