easy reader · leveled readers · reading · summer reading

May I have a word about publisher-created level readers?

We’re barrelling towards summer vacation, which means summer reading! I want to say something for any parent/caregiver whose child is reading leveled readers (aka easy readers). PUBLISHER READING LEVELS (e.g., Level 1, Level 2, Level 3) ARE INCONSISTENT! A book labeled a “Level 1” from one publisher can vastly differ from a “Level 1” book from another. 

Reading levels are not an exact science and can vary depending on the specific book, publisher, or reading assessment tool used. While I value publishers’ efforts in creating leveled readers, the criteria for what makes a book a level 1, 2, or 3 should be clarified. That’s not happening anytime soon.

YET, kids look at the levels. So what is an adult to do? Here are four things that have worked in our household as I’ve battled with Ari about the way he’s thought about publisher levels while attempting to select books for the past few weeks:

1) Get your child’s Guided Reading or Fountas & Pinnell Level (i.e., A-Z) from their teacher. Many leveled readers also have these levels listed on the back of the book. These are more precise.

2) Open a page and have your child read the text. If it’s too hard, look for another book. (This is similar to the “five-finger test” many kids learn in school.)

3) Find a wise person to talk to your child about reading levels and book selection. Ari could care less that I’m a certified literacy specialist. But he listened to Lynne Dorfman when we had lunch with her this past weekend. This chat with Lynne helped Ari make better book choices when he selected books at the library yesterday.

4) Enlist the help of an older sibling, cousin, or family friend who is an avid reader. Isabelle raided the boxes of leveled readers in our basement and handed Ari books she thought Ari would be interested in and could read. She also told him, “You’re not ready for Henry and Mudge YET, but you will be soon.” 

Finally, let reading levels be ONE thing that guides your child. Ari found some Paddington books with a level that’s beyond his F&P instructional reading level. However, we’ve read many Paddington picture books, so he is intensely interested in reading these leveled readers. Plus, he’s familiar with some trickier words from having us read the Paddington picture books aloud so that he can stretch himself as a reader.

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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easy reader · reading · slice of life

Can I Play Too?

This afternoon, Lynne Dorfman and I chatted on the phone about the chapter we’re finishing for our forthcoming book, WELCOME TO WRITING WORKSHOP. Near the end of our phone call, we began a “SOLSC Eve” conversation. I lamented to Lynne that I’ve been writing about anti-Semitism because it’s been consuming my thoughts. (Click here or here to see why.) I told her, “I don’t want to focus on what’s happening in the news all March long.”

Lynne gave me some straightforward advice. “Keep writing stories about Isabelle and Ari.” She reminded me I need to write about them despite all of the ugliness surrounding us now.

Simple enough, right?

Even though the Challenge begins tomorrow, I typically share the post I wrote on the previous day so I can get up and share first-thing in the morning. (In other words, I’m writing for 32 consecutive days.) So, here goes…

Something happened when Isabelle started Kindergarten. Her teacher began teaching them Everywhere Words (aka: sight words). And just like that, Isabelle began reading. As of today, the kids are up to 50 Everywhere Words, which means Isabelle can read simple books. However, the books she self-selected to bring home weren’t just right. They were safe. They were too easy.

Isabelle’s teacher and I chatted about my concerns. We decided she’d try an Elephant and Piggie Book we didn’t own. I Am Going was the first Elephant and Piggie book that came home from her teacher. It was CHALLENGING for Isabelle. (Thankfully, she was motivated because she enjoys the Elephant and Piggie books.) After a couple of weeks, Isabelle was able to read both Elephant and Piggie’s parts on her own. Therefore, she returned I Am Going to school.

can-i-play-tooWhile we finished up I Am Going, Isabelle’s teacher sent home Can I Play Too? This book frustrates Isabelle since it contains many words that aren’t on the list of Everywhere Words she has mastered. As a result, I read the Elephant and Snake’s parts and she reads Piggie’s part.

But today, something wonderful happened… and I don’t think Isabelle realized what she did. Today, Isabelle read several of Snake’s speech bubbles on her own! And when I say read them, I mean she put her finger under the first letter in each word as she went through each of the sentences. This happened without prompting. Isabelle read several of Snake’s speech bubbles and flowed right into Piggie’s speech bubbles. And I couldn’t be prouder of her!

I acknowledge this book is challenging for Isabelle, which is why we’re focusing solely on it this week. Perhaps, if I don’t push too much, she’ll read a few more of Elephant or Snake’s speech bubbles when we practice reading tomorrow.

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