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Tips on Choosing Books for Struggling Readers

Students should read every day in order to read well and develop a good vocabulary. But what can they read when the books are too hard? What about the 10- or 12-year-old who reads at a first or second grade level? What about the adult in a local literacy program or learning English as a second language? How can they find books that are easy to read but do not insult their intelligence?

With practice and experience, parents can find interesting books that can be read by beginning readers. Below you will find suggestions regarding physical characteristics of a book, reading levels, books for young new readers, books for older new readers, and books for those who are reading but still struggling. I hope these suggestions will help you find a new book to spark the interest of your new or struggling reader.

Physical Characteristics of a Book

  • Print size and number of words on a page. Most beginning readers need relatively large print size and few words on the page so they are not overwhelmed.

  • Sentence length and complexity. Sentences should be short. The words should be easily "sounded out" according to common English patterns.

  • Blank space and background color. The amount of blank space on a page and the background color of the page may make a book easier or harder to read. Words printed on top of illustrations can confuse a new reader. Choose plain, light colored backgrounds for the text when choosing books for beginning readers.

Reading levels

The reading level of many books is shown by grade level on the back cover or on the inside page next to the Library of Congress information. Beginning readers need texts at the kindergarten or first grade level, shown as Primer or 1.0-1.9 (first month of first grade to the ninth month of first grade). You can check reading levels and move up as proficiency improves.

Many beautiful children’s picture books are much too hard for new readers to read independently. Read these books out loud to a child to develop their vocabulary.

Young New Readers (ages 4 - 7)

The local bookstore has many easy books for young children (around ages 4-7). The Bob Books are great, as they slowly work through all the sounds, building to more complex words and sentences with each book.

Older new readers

For older new readers (over age 10), it is more difficult to find easy books. These students are already aware and often embarrassed that they are not reading as well as their classmates. They definitely do not want to read books that they perceive as "baby" books. (You know the ones — ducks, puppies and children going to the zoo with grandpa).

High Noon Books, a division of Academic Therapy Publications, is a great source for easy-to-read books for older readers. I like the 25-page Sound Out Chapter Books, which are simple but not babyish. These short "chapter" books focus on standard vowel and consonant patterns (like "ea" in "sea", or "ck" in "rock") and frequently used words such as said, the, want, was, come, etc. Once a student has mastered the relationship of speech to letters, they are ready for longer books.

High Noon also has two first grade level mystery series called Tom and Ricky Mystery Series and Meg Parker Mysteries. These are chapter books containing about 40-50 pages, written at a first grade level. However, students will not feel like they are reading a baby book. The authors write a good plot using very simple words and simple sentence structures. I use High Noon Books with beginning teen and adult readers as well as older grade school children.

Some of my other favorites are the Rookie Read-About® Science books from Children's Press®. The books in this series are wonderful, offering up obscure but interesting facts about ants, deserts, flies or other science topics. The short books usually have about 20-40 words per page and excellent photographs. They read at about a high first grade level and are appropriate for all ages. Children’s Press also has a great series for all learners called A Rookie Biography, written at a similar level.

Reading, But Still Struggling

For readers who can "sound out" words fluently, I like the Bullseye Step into Classics (Random House) series. This series, written at grade level 2, has 100-page condensed versions of well known literature such as Phantom of the Opera, Tom Sawyer and Frankenstein. Most grade school boys will enjoy The Time Warp Trio series by Jon Scieszka, from Puffin books, also grade 2 level.

The New True Books from Children's Press® ease the reader into third grade reading without huge long paragraphs and long book length. Averaging 45 pages, these books cover topics from the U.S. Constitution to monarch butterflies, comets, asteroids, and meteors. The photos are terrific and keep the reader motivated.

In my experience, once a student is reading confidently at the third grade level, finding books is no longer as much of a challenge.

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