easy reader · reading · slice of life

Does it feel “just right” to you?

“Does it feel just right to you?” I asked Ari who was s-t-r-u-g-g-l-i-n-g through Unlimited Squirrels: Guess What!? by Mo Willems when we read together this morning.

“Yah, it feels fine,” he replied.

“Do you think you’ll be able to understand the story if you’re miscuing this many words?”

Ari nodded, “Do not worry. It’ll be fine,” he said in a funny voice.

He slogged through the first few pages mispronouncing the word squirrel, despite repeated reading every time.

ARGH! I was beyond frustrated. It was taking everything in me not to comment.

By page 21, I noticed it was taking him too long to read through the book. There was no way to talk about the text to make predictions or do any other comprehension work since he wasn’t self-correcting his errors when I asked, “Does that make sense?”

“Listen, buddy. Let’s talk about just-right books for a second. Does this book really, REALLY feel just right to you?”

“I guess not,” Ari replied.

“It’s okay to read books with challenging words. I do that because that’s how I learn new ones. But sometimes, there are books I must abandon because the amount of unfamiliar words weighs me down. This book is taking you a long time to get through… and you have to go to school soon. Why don’t you get an Elephant and Piggie book you haven’t read yet instead.”

Ari looked defeated. I added, “Just because this book isn’t just-right for you today doesn’t mean it won’t be soon.”

Within two minutes, Ari returned to the couch with I Will Surprise My Friend? As he read, I noticed he:

  • Tracked the print with his eyes only. He didn’t use his finger a single time.
  • Determined that the bubbles in the middle of the book were not speech bubbles but thought bubbles.  He modulated his voice to almost a whisper. When I told Ari I couldn’t hear him, he replied, “But they’re thinking it, so I’m whispering.”
  • Made predictions and was able to discuss the text at the end.
  • Missed five words in the entire book.

By the time we finished, it was three minutes past the time I roll away to bring him to school. We rushed to put on our shoes and coats and exited the door two minutes later. (We had ten minutes to go until the bell rang.)

“Hey, listen, I want to say something to you,” I said to Ari as we headed towards the car.

“What?” he said, tossing his backpack onto the seat.

“I want you to know that just-right books aren’t punishment. They’re meant to help you become a stronger reader. You get to pick what you want to read, and you can read it in a way that feels good. Can you understand that?”

“Yeah,” Ari replied.

As we drove away, I reminded him that he started reading Elephant and Piggie books on March 1st. “Today is the 27th. How many days have passed since March 1st?”

“26,” Ari replied.

“Right. So in 26 days, Elephant and Piggie went from being a little challenging to being a series that’s just-right for you. I feel the Unlimited Squirrels series will be just right for you in about a month.”

“Nah, probably a couple of years,” Ari lamented.

“Does that make sense?”


“I think it’s reasonable to think those books will be just-right for you really soon. All you have to do is keep reading and believing. Can you do that?”

“I can,” Ari replied.


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18 thoughts on “Does it feel “just right” to you?

  1. A great conversation with Ari. When kids get really good at being able to pick out just right books, their reading continues to improve by leaps and bounds! You are teaching him such valuable lessons! I love the fact that you read together before he goes to school. Do you do that every morning?

    1. I’d LIKE to read with him every morning, but some mornings are slower than others and there isn’t enough time. He’s much more attentive when we read in the mornings.

  2. He doesn’t know it now, but he is soooo lucky to have you. Not only does he get to read books that don’t drag him down but he is also learning a great life lesson. I can’t wait to hear that the squirrel book is just-right in a month or so.

    1. Thanks, Amanda! He hasn’t accepted my value as a literacy specialist yet, but I know it’ll come. (Heck, Isabelle didn’t want me to suggest books until she was in fourth grade. But that’s another story.)

  3. Wow, I love to hear how teachers (and literacy experts) parent and help their children to become strong readers! You are amazing and he is so lucky! It would be interesting to read this post to him once he does master the Unlimited Squirrels series!

  4. The squirrel book is one of Rose’s favorites….to carry around and pretend to read! I should try the Piggie and Elephant books with her. She will also slog through books. You taught Ari an important lesson today. He’s lucky to have you!

    1. Rose is adorable!
      I have slogged through MANY books because I was afraid to say “it’s too hard” or “I am not enjoying it” throughout my life. It’s only been in the past two years that I’ve really embraced book abandonment. My time is too precious to read things that don’t teach or make me happy. Kids need to know that too.

  5. This is an issue I see in my classroom. I refer to a poster I created years ago of a kid riding a bike going uphill, on a flat plane and downhill and we often chat about how reading literature feels when reading- uphill, downhill and just right books. Of course readers need a combination in their reading life but educators know the importance of reading just right books to build fluency and comprehension skills. Readers know when a book feels just right but in fifth grade I notice readers will prioritize being seen with a certain book that looks cooler than what will benefit them at this time as a reader. Ari is lucky to have such a patient mommy!

  6. Two of my favorite lines from this slice are: All you have to do is keep reading and believing. AND
    I want you to know that just-right books aren’t punishment. Inspiring slice. Thanks for including the dialogue. Helps me to have the words to support my readers.

  7. I love this post. What struck me the most was Ari’s reflection that it will probably take him a couple of years. I feel that way all the time. And I love your response to his reflection even more, “Does that make sense?” For the tasks I’m tackling, I don’t know if it makes sense; however, it’s not a thought that buoys me. Here’s to celebrating where we are now and knowing that we’ll get wherever we need to be when it’s the “just right” time.

    1. This is a beautiful sentiment, Kate. It’s important to celebrate where we are so we don’t rush to the next place. There’s something wonderful about being PRESENT.

  8. This is brilliant and adorable! It should be printed in an education journal! It rings so true at Ari’s age and also true for my 8th graders of many years. Your dialogue captures it all.

  9. Ah, the pros and cons of having a mother who is a literary specialist. He’s going to have the language down better than his teachers in another minute or two. Both of your voices and the interactions between the two of you come out loud and clear.

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