Many parents buy books – and many children select books – based on the cover page alone, not knowing that the complexity of the words inside can determine whether the child will get frustrated. While it is important to enrich your children’s life with literature, it is equally important to teach your children to select books on their reading level. Reading books on their level allows your children to use reading strategies they learn in school. Books that are appropriate for your child gradually introduce them to unfamiliar words, which they will eventually encounter in higher-level books. There are many ways to help your child pick books that suit his or her reading ability.

‘Just right’ books

Teachers use the Goldilocks analogy to help students understand how to select a book that is “just right” for them. Just-right books are not “too easy” or “too hard.” Read aloud a too-easy book, reading one page effortlessly. Don’t trip up on one word. Tell your child the book is too easy because maybe you’ve read it already or someone has read it to you before. Then read a book that is too hard, stumbling on or skipping over several words. Sound choppy while reading. Look confused when you read five or more words on the page. Finally, read a just-right book. While reading one page of text, smile or show interest at appropriate parts. Read most of the page with minimal effort, and when you do stumble on a word or two, use a reading strategy that your child knows, like sounding a word out, to get unstuck. A just-right book is one they can read and enjoy without a lot of work.

The five-finger test

Have your child pick a page someplace in the middle of the book. The page should have few pictures and lots of words. While reading it aloud, have your child hold up a finger for each word they do not know. A page with five or more unknown words means the book is not on your child’s reading level. A page with no unknown words is, most likely, below your child’s reading level. Your child should pick books that, after completing the five-finger test, leaves them with three to four fingers up. Have your children complete the five-finger test with many of the books in your home library until they select one that is on their level.

Your child’s teacher

Ask the teacher about the books your child should be reading, at the beginning of the school year, many teachers give students diagnostic tests to determine the grade level at which children are reading. If possible, ask the teacher for the results of that test. Then buy books that align with your child’s reading level. If the school uses the reading software program Accelerated Reader (which informs teachers of what level books each student should read), ask the teacher for a list of those books, so you can check them out of your local library.

Book adventure

The Web site is a great resource that motivates children to read books on their level. Created and maintained by Sylvan Learning, Book Adventure allows children to find books on their grade-level, take multiple-choice tests based on those books, and win free prizes. The site is easy to navigate by both parents and kids. You can also keep track of reading progress through your e-mail, which you have to supply in order to register and win prizes. Take advantage of this free, fun, and educational site as long as you have the opportunity.

Teach your children how to pick books that are just right for them so they discover that reading well is a lifelong process of which they are in charge.

China Hill is a teacher at KIPP Ascend Charter School on the West Side.