The Right Reading Level

       

One of TheRoomDad’s best friends, affectionately known as Uncle Burrito at our house, visited a few months back and asked me about book recommendations for his 2nd grader. His daughter is a crazy good reader and not only finishes books at mock speed, she also reads at a level that is much higher than an average 8 year old. He said that she finishes books on the ride home from the library or book store, and the book never even makes it into the house. He wanted book ideas that might slow her pace a little but also have content that is suitable for a 2nd grader.

peter-and-the-starcatchers

How do you help your child pick a book when they are reading at a higher level than their age?

  • First of all, it is OK to read below reading level. It increases fluency, supports comprehension, and minimizes frustration. In fact, I often encourage reading at the low end of a child’s reading range when reading for pleasure or during “free reading” time.
  • Think about books you loved as a child and recommend those titles. I find that classic books stand the test of time very well, and I think the content is not nearly as “edgy” as some literature that is published today. 
  • Find a series that your child loves. This is a great way to buy some time before you have to come up with more titles. If you can find a series with a good first book, chances are the content will stay at about the same level in all of the books.
  • Not only can you follow a series, you can also follow an author. But, some authors write for a young and older audience, so pay attention. Think about Judy Blume’s Forever versus Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.
  • Read the book jacket or online summary of a book. If the synopsis mentions death, destruction, or “coming of age” (translation = puberty or romance), that is a red flag that the content may be for an older child.
  • Our library has a new eReader service. You can check out books through your iPad, and they download to your device. The book is deleted from your iPad on the due date. This won’t slow down your speedy reader, but it will reduce your visits to the book store and library.

Here are a few book options that are high reading level for the grade but “clean” content.

Advanced 1st/2nd Grade Reader:

  • All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor, 4.9
  • The Black Stallion by Walter Farley, 6.5
  • The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull, 4.6
  • Cricket in Times Square by George Selden, 5.9
  • The Doll People by Ann M. Martin, 3.8
  • Henry Huggins series by Beverly Cleary, 4.1-5.7
  • The Indian in the Cupboard series, 5.5-6.1
  • The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Edwards, 7.3
  • The Lemonade War series, 3.4-4.5
  • Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, 4.3-5.3
  • The Million Dollar Putt by Dan Gutman, 4.5
  • No Talking (5.0) and School Story (4.7) by Andrew Clements
  • Poppy and Friends series by Avi, 3.5-5.8
  • Ramona series by Beverly Cleary, 3.5-5.9
  • The Secret Garden (6.8) and The Little Princess (4.0) by Frances Hodges Burnett
  • The Sherlock Files series by Tracy Barrett, 4.3
  • Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica George, 3.0
  • Who Was series by various authors, 3.0-4.0

Advanced 3rd/4th Grade Reader:

  • Far North by Will Hobbs, 6.8
  • How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell, 5.7-7.4
  • The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford, 8.1
  • My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, 6.1
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart, 6.3
  • Urchin of the Riding Stars by M.I. McAllister, not leveled
  • Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, 6.2
  • Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (sequel has a little romance), 5.0
  • Remarkable by Lizzie K.. Foley, not leveled
  • The Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch, 5.3
  • The White Mountains series, 6.1
  • The Wizard of Oz series by Frank Baum, 6.9

Reading Levels

  • I included a reading level for each book/series on the list. This is a guideline only. 4.3 is roughly where a typical student would be in the 3rd month of 4th grade. For more information on leveling books you can read this article on the Scholastic website. Not only are books leveled by content, they also look at the length of words and sentences. More words with lots of syllables might bump up the reading level. So, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, which has words like Papilionaceous, earns a higher level.

Noteworthy Non-Fiction

            

I will admit that I am not as familiar with juvenile non-fiction as I am with fiction titles. I always have a few students who prefer to read biographies or history books, so I am trying to expand my non-fiction knowledge. I have put together a starter list and am hoping to build it this year. Please let me know what else I can include.

Just a reminder, non-fiction is usually more difficult for children to read than fiction. If your child is reading for pleasure, definitely choose books that are below his/her reading level to keep the comprehension (and enjoyment) high.

While the majority of the titles are intended for a “school aged” audience, there are many that adults will love. I had a father and son read Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World this past school year and both raved about the story.

Biographies: Older Readers– 4th grade through high school

  • Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming
  • Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman
  • A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: the Story of Hannah Breece by Jane Jacobs

Autobiographies: Older Readers– 4th grade through high school

  • Chapters: My Growth as a Writer by Lois Duncan (out of print, copies available through Amazon)
  • Boy by Roald Dahl
  • A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
  • My Life in Dog Years by Gary Paulsen

History: Older Readers– 4th grade through high school

  • Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong
  • Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson
  • Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917 by Sally M. Walker

Series: Younger Readers– 1st grade through 6th grade (** I included titles that are familiar to me from each of the series, but there are many more from which to choose.)

  • Who Would Win? by Jerry Pallotta
    • Komodo Dragon v. King Cobra
    • Tyrannosaurus Rex v. Velociraptor
  • Step Into Reading (levels 3, 4, and 5) by various authors, Random House Publishers
    • Pompeii… Buried Alive by Edith Davis
    • Moonwalk by Judy Donnelly
    • Abe Lincoln’s Hat by Martha Brenner
  • If You Lived at the Time of … by various authors, Scholastic Books
    • If You Lived at the Time of the American Revolution by Kay Moore
  • Interactive History Adventures (You Choose Books) by various authors, Capstone Press Publishers
    • Colonial America by Allison Lassieur
    • Life as a Viking by Allison Lassieur
  • Who Was … by various authors, Grosset & Dunlap
    • Who Was Walt Disney? by Whitney Stewart
    • Who Was Paul Revere? by Roberta Edwards

Super Book Series and Sensational Sequels

Part of my Harry Potter book collection. Original box set purchased in England. Advanced reader’s copy of Prisoner of Azkaban (no cover art).

I have not done any official research on this or anything, but I am pretty sure Harry Potter kicked off a demand for books with sequels. I know it inspired a whole slew of fantasy-wizard-magic books. In my never ending quest to find the best young person’s book, I feel like the majority of my new reads often have “Book I” printed on the spine.  I also noticed my students tend to reach for books with a sequel more than ever. I actually had a student who read nothing but Hank the Cowdog books all year (there are 59 of them). I tried to encourage a little diversity in his reading, but he was determined to finish the series. I have to admit I was a little impressed that he stuck with it; a series like that can get pretty repetitive. My point is, books with a sequel seem to be more popular than ever.

Which series are the most satisfying to you? Which series didn’t work and should have ended after that great first book? Below are my picks.

Young Readers (1st grade to 4th grade)

  • Magic Treehouse by Osborne (on the verge of the repetitive thing but that can be a good thing for emerging readers)
  • Boxcar Children by Warner (up through book 19, author changes after that and falls victim to repetitiveness– see note above)
  • Henry Huggins by Cleary
  • Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing and Fudge by Blume
  • Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist by LaFevers
  • The Sherlock Files by Barrett

Older Readers (4th grade and up)

  • Chronicles of Narnia by Lewis
  • Ranger’s Apprentice by Flanagan
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Riordan
  • The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Kessler (have not read the newly released 4th book yet)
  • Mistmantle Chronicles by McAllister
  • Peter and the Starcatchers by Barry
  • Conspiracy 365 by Lord (must be read in order)
  • The White Mountains (Tripods) trilogy by Christopher
  • Wrinkle in Time by L’Engle
  • 43 Old Cemetery Road by Klise
  • The Magic Thief by Prineas
  • The Magickeepers by Kirov

Not exactly a series, but there are companions

  • Rosie and Crooked Little Heart by Lamott
  • Lemonade Wars and Lemonade Crime by Davies
  • The Giver, Gathering Blue, and Messenger by Lowry
  • Hoot, Flush, Scat, and Chomp by Hiaasen

Sequels are in the works, and I am anxiously awaiting more

  • Museum of Thieves by Tanner
  • The False Prince by Nielsen
  • The Books of Elsewhere by West

Series that should have stopped after the first or second book (in my opinion)

  • Mysterious Benedict Society by Stewart
  • Secret Series by Bosch
  • Series of Unfortunate Events by Snicket (Can these kids ever catch a break?)
  • Junie B. Jones by Park (Kindergarten was great; first grade was obnoxious.)
  • The Gideon Trilogy by Buckley-Archer (long and slow)

Classic Summer Reading

There is great juvenile literature published every year. With so many choices, it is easy to forget older publications.  However, some of my favorite children book recommendations today are the ones that I read over and over again as a child. If you are looking for some new-but-old summer reading choices, take a look at the list below. Whether you are school aged or an adult, these are great reads (or re-reads) for the summer. All of the books were originally published over twenty years ago. Many of the titles may be ones you remember reading while growing up, but there might be something unfamiliar. What was your favorite childhood chapter book? Please add a comment with your favorite!

** I tried to avoid duplicating titles I have on the “Read-Alike” and “Style-Alike” posts, so be sure to check out those articles too. I also included a suggested grade range.

Historical Fiction

  • All-of-a-Kind Family by Taylor (3rd/4th grade)
  • Celia Garth by Bristow (6th grade and up)
  • I am Rosemarie by Moskin (5th grade and up)
  • Island of the Blue Dolpins by O’Dell (5th grade and up)
  • Snow Treasure by McSwigan (4th grade and up)
  • When the Legends Die by Borland (7th grade and up)
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Speare (6th grade and up)

Animal

  • The Cricket in Times Square by Selden (3rd/4th grade)
  • The Incredible Journey by Burnford (5th/6th grade)
  • Julie of the Wolves by George (4th grade and up)
  • Kavik the Wolf Dog by Morey (4th grade and up)
  • Stone Fox by Gardiner (3rd/4th grade)
  • Where the Red Fern Grows by Rawls (6th/7th grade)
  • The Yearling by Rawlings (6th grade and up– difficult language, dialect)

Fantasy

  • The Borrowers by Norton (5th grade and up)
  • Castle in the Attic by Winthrop (3rd grade and up)
  • Gift of Magic by Duncan (5th grade and up)
  • Half Magic by Eager (3rd/4th grade)
  • Indian in the Cupboard by Banks (4th grade and up)
  • The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Edwards (4th grade and up)
  • Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by MacDonald (1st to 3rd grade)

Realistic Fiction

  • The Hundred Dresses by Estes (3rd/4th grade)
  • The Saturdays by Enright (4th/5th grade)
  • The Secret Garden by Burnett (4th grade and up)
  • A Summer to Die by Lowry (6th grade and up)
  • Wheel on the School by DeJong (5th grade and up)

Adventure

  • The Boxcar Children by Warner (1st to 3rd grade)
  • My Side of the Mountain by George (4th grade and up)
  • Original Nancy Drew Mysteries by Keene (3rd grade and up)

Book Buddies

At one time, I tutored students in high school English. I started making notecards that had lists of key themes, symbols, and character traits. The students would use the notecard like a bookmark and have it with them while reading. The reminders on the card helped guide the students to mark useful quotes. Now that I am back in the classroom, I still make these notecard-bookmarks to help students focus their reading. They can be adapted for so many grade levels. Click Here to purchase Book Buddy templates.

mrs_frisby    year_of_the_boar  mockingbird

Summer Reading: Many students read a book in June but can’t remember the book in August when it is time to go back to school. Fill out a generic card while reading and use the card for review right before returning to school.

mrs. frisby bookmark sample

Elementary Grades: For younger grades, have students note details about the beginning, middle, and end of a story. Students can also list character details and identify the big problem in the story. This is a great way to practice summarizing and keeping things short!

year of the boar bookmark sample

Upper Elementary Grades: As students begin to look for deeper meaning in a story, create a card with the key ideas you want to teach in the novel.

to kill a mockingbird bookmark sample

Middle and High School: At this point, you can provide space on the card for themes, symbols, archetypes and key quotes. Customize the card with any literary details you prefer.

** The cards can be printed with blank space, and the students fill out the information as they read.  Or, depending on the needs of your students, you can create the cards with the key ideas provided.