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Improve Literacy Newsletter

1 March 2010 -- Issue 21

Hi there!

In this edition we are going to be looking at how to choose the right book to read with your child.

Let's get straight into it!

In this issue:

1. General rules of thumb
2. The right book for the right age
3. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter
4. The Improve Literacy website

A young reader should be able to read a passage at normal talking speed with about a 90% success rate. As a rough rule, if your child reads a book and stumbles on more than one or two words in every ten, then it is almost certainly too difficult for him. It's also good practice to make a note of any long, overly complex sentence constructions. This is also an indicator that a text is too hard.

1. Here are a few general rules of thumb that are well worth worth applying:

a) Choose a book you think your child will enjoy, and read the second page. Hold up a finger for each word you are not sure of, or don't know. If there are five or more words your child doesn't know, try an easier book. If you're still not sure, use the 'five finger rule' on two more pages.

b) Pick a book that your child is interested in reading. Ask your child to read the first page if there are at least 20 words on the page, or two pages if the first page is less than 20 words.

c) If your child abandons a book she has chosen after only a few chapters or pages, then it could well be that it is too complex for her. Don't be afraid to ask her why she hasn't gone back to reading the book.

d) As your child reads, ask yourself these questions. If you answer "yes" to three or more of the questions then the book is probably too easy for your child. Your child can still have fun reading it, but next time it might be a good idea to choose a book that is a bit more challenging.

- Has your child read this book many times before?
- Does he understand the story very well without much effort?
- Does he know and understand almost every word?
- Can he read it smoothly and fluently without much practice or effort?

2. The right book for the right age

Here are a few useful places to go to help you to match the right book for your child.

a) Look for award-winning books. Each year the American Library Association selects children's books for the Caldecott Medal for illustrations
and the Newbery Medal for writing

b) Check the book review section of newspapers and magazines for the recommended new children's books. There are always great new children's book titles coming out all the time, so be sure to keep a close eye out around Christmas and summer holiday times.

c) Use a 'reading development' matrix to find suitable children's books for your child. A really good one is the Seattle Public Schools website ( which provides a simple checklist for parents, including a broad range of children's book examples categorised by school year. Despite being US-focussed, it is relevant for all English-speaking students.

d) Keep an author list in your purse or wallet. This can be a great help in the library or bookshop when you are unsure of what book to get. A couple of good lists can be found on the website - for younger elementary students at and for older elementary students at

e) Visit the Scholastic website at for information and advice on leveled books and guided reading programs. There are a number of packs and DVDs for sale and download. Also have a look at the Books section of the Reading Rockets website at for detailed lists of suitable kids' storybooks.

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