How to choose “Just Right” books for kindergarten through first grade emerging readers

Main pictures with kinder baby

Finding “ Just Right” books is always a challenge, but with these tips you are sure to have success.

Capitalize on what they already love:

Parents and teachers get your hands on anything that your child/ student is actually interested in. If they love rocks, Legos, Strawberry Shortcake,  Curious George, or Scooby Doo, books that match are out there. Believe me.

Kids are curious about the world- teach them to read by capitalizing on what they loveI was able to find my son’s phonics readers and real books on topics he loves through a company called Scholastic. Your child’s teacher is probably sending home little magazines filled with books that you can buy at your child’s level. If not, you can buy from Scholastic by clicking {here}



Parents: grab a Starbucks and head into a local bookstore and just let your child peruse. Will they beg you buy them a book? YES! Praise the Lord, they will!  Just remember the “Rule of 5”. (I talk about that in just a minute.) Also, when buying consider how much support you can provide your little reader for the book they have chosen. When my son (second grader) wanted the book The 39 Clues (5th grade reading level), I knew he would need some serious support and “lap time” while reading. That’s OK! Remember that children become readers in the laps of their parents and at the feet of their teachers. Children NEED to be read to.

Image result for children become readers on the laps of their parents image

The library:

Use the local library to get fresh books into kids hands each week

New teachers, Homeschoolers, Veteran Teachers, Parents, you know that the school library is available, but have you ever considered checking out books from your local library? My library lets me check out 20 books on my card and 20 on my son’s card. This is handy for author studies or books on topics. As a classroom teacher, I don’t let the city library books go home or into desks. I have learned the hard way.  The students look at them in a center and none get lost. I just have to remember to return them in time to not incur fees. #LearnedTheHardWay on that on too.

Get a good mix of levels for the child and put a post-it on each book.

When choosing books for your child or a student’s personal reading box, I recommend putting in some that are too hard that can be read on the lap of a parent or with a school big buddy. I also recommend some books that are very easy. My son calls these his baby books (with a hint of disgust in his voice) until I remind him that he can practice using voices when he reads. “Reading with expressive voices is ULTIMATE reading!” I remind him.  Then, get a few that are right on their level.  When possible I put our guided reading books into their book boxes so they can practice those to the mastery level.

Choosing -just right- books for book boxes is easy with the rule of 5 freebie and these great tips In my home my son has a bizzillion books that I have done my best to organize by level and interest. For example, all his easy readers are together and all his other books are in groups too. All his Clifford books are together, truck books, Curious George, Magic Tree House, 39 Clues etc. That’s a huge reading level span represented from kinder to second grade to 5th grade. He will choose a book based on how much attention or focus he wants to give his reading. When he is falling asleep, he will pick a relaxing, easy reader. When he is focused he picks The 39 Clues or Magic Tree House.

In a classroom a kid can’t have 15 book boxes at his desk. But he can have 1 box filled with books that are carefully chosen:

  1. Easy Breezy Books (Bob books are very easy to decode)
  2. Books on Level (Guided Reading books or classroom library books)
  3. Books that have high interest to the child but may be too hard without a buddy reader. The child can glean info from these books and ask questions and receive help.

Provide a post-it to go on each book where a child can write down a word that was hard, or a connection they made, a question, idea, a favorite part. Even if your emerging reader only “doodles” a picture and explains it to you,  this is the beginning of expression in writing. The post-it is a good reminder that something should be happening in their brain as they read- ideas, mental images, predictions, enjoying humor. Debbie Miller wrote an amazing book called Reading With Meaning. I bought the book and about 10 million post-it notes for my students to use at will.

Ages and Stages: How can I tell what books are good for my little reader?

Each company has their own way of marking ages and stages, but I want to offer a rule of thumb or actually a “Rule of 5 Fingers”. It’s an old and very common rule among teachers, but in case you have never heard it , here you go.  

Rule of 5 poster will help students understand how to choose just right books. A freebie from Teacher to the Core

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If a child reads a page and makes 5 errors on that page then this book will push the child to frustration level. These books are not off limits, but will be enjoyed most when read with a buddy or on the lap of a parent.

If your little reader is 5 going on 15 when it comes to reading skills, then you might want to ignore the “ages and stages”  listed on books and think about what they are interested in. If your child struggles to learn even 10 sight words, or just struggles in general, then you are going to go toward books that are phonics based with very short words. You are also going to want to be very “present” to help, encourage, and talk about the pictures if you have a struggling reader. For a child that struggles you should read aloud and have them read their sight words that you come across within the book. Sight words and decodable words are found in all books. Pointing these words out or having them read them will provide practice and has both of you participating.

Main pictures with kinder baby

To read the rest of this series click the link below.

  • Just Right Books
  • Sight Word Tips {Coming March 17}
  • Get them to grade level with passage reading  {Coming March 19}
  • Computer programs the help with early reading {Coming March 21}