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How to Buy That “Just Right Book” This Holiday Season

Reading Level Decoder RingIn the movie A Christmas Story Ralphie uses his coveted Little Orphan Annie secret decoder ring to frantically decipher Annie’s secret message.

Ironically, when an adult wants to give a child a book for a holiday gift, it also triggers a frantic attempt to decode a secret message: the child’s reading level.

A great gift book fits the child’s interests and is easy to moderately difficult for them to read.  The reading difficulty of children’s books varies as much as their subject matter so you should be able to find a “just right book”.  Except, how can you tell if a Harry Potter book will be an easy to moderately difficult read for the child?

You Need a Reading Level Secret Decoder Ring

Before we unleash the reading level secret decoder ring and allow you to join the “just right book” secret society, here are a few guidelines:

  1. We’re talking about gift books a child will read independently – the sky is the limit for a read-a-loud book, no decoder ring required.
  2. We’re not discussing if and how books should be levelled nor the features, merits or draw-backs of any particular levelled reading system.
  3. We’re not exploring the appropriateness of book content, we are only decoding for reading level.
  4. Your reading level secret decoder ring will only give a rough estimate of how difficult a particular book will be for a particular child to read. For a more accurate assessment, consult the child’s teacher.

Sources for Reading Level Secret Decoder Rings a.k.a. Reading Level Correlation Charts

You can find your reading level secret decoder ring on the Washington Secretary of State (SOS) Library catalogue website.

https://www.sos.wa.gov/_assets/library/libraries/firsttuesdays/ReadingChart.pdf

It is a matrix that cross references five common book levelling systems:  Reading Recovery, Fountas-Pinnell, DRA, Basal Equivalent, and Lexile Levels.  The reading levels are shown with associated grade levels.

A second source for a reading level secret decoder ring is the for profit reading site, Reading A-Z.

http://www.readinga-z.com/learninga-z-levels/level-correlation-chart/

In addition to Reading Recovery, Fountas & Pinnell, DRA, and Lexile Levels, this matrix includes PM Readers levelling system.

With your reading level decoder rings, you can now take information from any of the six common leveled reading programs and use it to unlock a world of levelled reading lists.

Examples of How to Use the Reading Level Secret Decoder Ring to Find a “Just Right” Book

Example 1: Using the Decoder When You Know the Child’s Reading Level

You find your child’s quarterly progress report and see he is reading at level H in the Fountas & Pinnell system.  He is a busy guy and loves to tell jokes.  You set your reading level secret decoder ring to H and find out that he is also reading level 13, 14, Lexile Levels 200-299 and is associated with grade 1.  You go to Barnes and Noble and reference their Lexile Levelled book list and find that the very funny book Super Fly Guy is at his level.  Good match for reading level.  Good match for interest.  You’ve found a “just right” book.

Example 2: Using the Decoder When You Don’t Know the Child’s Reading Level

Your nephew is in fourth grade.  You don’t know his reading level and you’re not going to ask.  He’s very interested in gorillas.  You set your secret decoder ring to 4th grade, get the corresponding letter/number codes.  Because your nephew is studious, you also chose to look up the reading levels for 5th grade, one grade higher.  You can now look through book lists and narrow your shopping choices down to a more challenging biography of Jane Goodall or the lower levelled Newberry award winning book The One and Only Ivan.  Two options for “just right” gift books.

This is way better than Ovaltine.

Oh, and the Harry Potter series?  The titles in the series are Fountas & Pinnell  level V or W, except for the Deathly Hallows which is levelled at a Z.  And in the reading level secret society we know that Z = 34, 1000-1100, Grades 7-8 which means we can find that “just right” book no matter how it’s disguised.

Now that you’re comfortable using your reading level secret decoder ring, below are a few websites with levelled reading lists.  Not surprisingly, most of these websites are selling levelled books to teachers.  As a Reading Level Secret Society member (a.k.a. not a teacher), you can use the sites to identify books by level and then shop at your favorite retail bookstore.

Sites with Levelled Reading Lists

http://www.booksource.com/

http://www.scholastic.com/bookwizard/

http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com/Teachers/

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/reading-level-reading-books-lexile/search.asp

Happy “just right” book shopping!

Buying a book for a child this holiday season?  Let us know if you used your reading level secret decoder or if you have a different strategy for finding that “just right” book.

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