Having a child that loves books is a wonderful thing. But often in the next breath, parents lament “how do I find books for my child?”
Kids in middle to late elementary seem to inhale books. Parents often find that keeping their child supplied with books is an impossible task. How can a parent tell if a book is going to be appropriate? Is it the right reading level? Will there be content that is too mature?
Mature content is especially a problem if your child reads above their grade-level. A child may be capable of reading a book but not have the emotional maturity to handle it. Imagine a sensitive 8-year-old reading the death scenes in the Hunger Games.
So what’s a parent to do?
Most of us can’t quit our day jobs to read children’s novels full-time. (Even if we would like to.)
I’ve gathered together some resources to help you wade through it all.
Help! How do I find books for my child?
First, you can check out lists of book recommendations. I read widely, and every year I made a list of my favorite books from the year. Check out the lists from 2016 and 2015.
Second, I also have a Pinterest board full of book recommendations. Need ideas for a 2nd grader? Or books set in Asia? Or adventure books for girls? Books for reluctant readers? Scroll through, and you’ll probably find something.
Ok, but how can I tell if the reading level is right?
If your child’s reading-level is different from their grade level, then recommendations for their grade may not be a good fit.
The Accelerated Reader website lets you search for books. It tells you the reading level and word count for each book. Not every book is listed, but most often I can find what I need. Let’s look at a recent favorite of mine: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
The ATOS level is the grade level. In this case, this Young Adult book is readable to a student who is in the 9th month of 3rd grade.
Other things to note are the Interest Level and Word Count. The language of this book might be understandable by a 3rd grader, but it is interesting to a much older child – 9th to 12th grade. Plus, I don’t know any 3rd graders that wouldn’t balk at the sheer volume of a 95,000-word book.
Compare this to a book like Wonder by R.J. Palacio:
Here the book is a bit more balanced: The reading level is later in 4th grade, and the interest level is 4th-8th grade. The length is also better for a 4th grader at 73,000 words.
But how do I know what my child’s reading level is?
You have a few options. You could grab a stack of books that your child read recently, and look them up on the Accelerated Reader website. Get an average of the ATOS level, and you’re good to go.
The Scholastic website also lets you look up books to find their reading level. It uses a different measurement of reading level: Lexile scores. Lexile scores are widely used but don’t translate easily to a grade level.
You could give them a test such as the reading level test on the free website Moby Max. You will need to make an account, but the website is free to use.
Great. Now how do I tell which books are appropriate for my child?
The Common Sense Media web page rates media designed for children. It will flag any mature content. That means you don’t have to read a whole novel to find out there’s a sex scene in chapter 37. Let’s take a look at our two books:
At the top, there’s a rating of quality (5 stars) and approximate age appropriateness. The age rating takes into account both reading ability and mature content. As we saw before, The Hate U Give has a low readability level, but the high-interest level bumped it up here. Further down, it breaks down mature content by type. You can click on each to get more information. The “What Parents Need to Know” section, gives you an overview.
Reading over this, I could tell that this is a powerful book that would be perfect for a high schooler or mature middle schooler.
Now let’s look at our other book example.
Wonder is a better bet for an elementary school child. The rating of age 11 reflects that there is some minor mature content (bullying and kissing).
Though I read a lot of children’s books, I still have to use these tricks to help my kids. Hopefully, now you feel confident helping your child find books. Do you have any tips or tricks to add?