Just Right Books and the CMCS Recommended Reading Lists

When I was in fifth grade, my best friend found a copy of Heaven by V.C. Andrews on her mother’s bookshelf. When Lauriann was done with the book, she passed it on to me. I was reading it during silent reading when the book got Sister Manuella’s attention. She plucked it out of my hands and walked it to the trashcan, dropping it in what seemed like slow motion. Apparently, Sister Manuella didn’t think that Heaven was a “just right” book for a fifth grader. Thirty years later, I guess I agree.

I don’t read V.C. Andrews anymore. In fact, I’m mostly drawn to literary fiction and the classics. So, as a parent, I tend to choose books for my kids that are classics. My children are NOT drawn to classics, not instinctually, anyway, and this used to bother me. Then I remembered all of the really cheesy book series I read and reread as a child: Sweet Valley High, Bobbsey Twins, Babysitter’s Club, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, etc… As a reader, despite my questionable tastes, I knew what I liked. Thrown in with these books, of course, there were higher quality books, too, Newberry Award winners that I read through school, and books recommended to me by teachers and friends.

Should children be reading V.C. Andrews? No. They should, though, have some control over what they read, even if their interests and tastes don’t align with that of their parents. We live in an age where there are lots of great books for children on a wide variety of topics. In some cases that makes it harder to choose “just right” books for our kids. That’s one reason why they should have a say in the process.

Here are some guidelines in helping your child choose a book (paraphrased from readwritethink.org):

1. Introduce the idea that we read for a purpose, even if that purpose is pure enjoyment.

  • Ask the child: What type of book are you looking for—and why?
  • With older children you can ask: Are you looking for fiction (made up) or nonfiction (factual)? Why?

2. Encourage a child to spend time browsing a selection of books at a library or bookstore.

  • Have them read the back and the first page. If there’s more than five stumbles in a page or long paragraph, maybe choose a different book.
  • After reading the book cover and a paragraph, are they still interested?

3. Give the child authority over choosing books to read. Say “yes” as often as you can. (V.C. Andrews should still be a no, but maybe you can cave on Captain Underpants?)

4. If the child really wants to read something you know is beyond his or her ability, solve it by reading it aloud together or checking out the audiobook from the library for the child to listen to as they read along.

5. If the child has really enjoyed a book, look for other books by the same author.

6. If you’d like to know what’s recommended for a child’s age and grade, visit the library or bookstore. These folks know what’s age-appropriate and they know what’s hot among kids. If they can’t keep it on the library shelves, chances are your child will like it.

7. Check out our CMCS recommended book lists below. We found these Mensa and Cooperative Children’s Book Center lists that were filled with high quality, high interest books for kids. But remember, these are just suggestions. A second grader last year was totally obsessed with the book Demon Dentist. This is a book that probably wouldn’t go on a best books list, but it spoke to her tastes.

8. We’ve got a list for fiction, a list for non-fiction, and then a good list for emergent readers. These books are great for independent reading as well as reading with your child. Here at CMCS, we recommend both. A first or second year can understand the complex workings of a novel they might not be able to read on their own yet.

If you’re choosing a book to read to your child, the book should be above their reading level. If you’re taking turns reading with your child, it can a bit above their level. If your child is reading on their own, they should be able to get through a page or two with only a few words that they don’t know.

And if it’s not on any of these lists, that’s okay. The key is to help your child choose books that they want to read!


Happy Reading!

Ms. Amber,
Literacy Coach

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