Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Finding the Just-Right Book

Maggie Hames writes the blog Media Darlings. Recently, she asked me to write a couple of guest blogs for her. The first one was about matching books to readers. I combined and revised two of my earlier posts for her to use in her blog. This newer version is my post for today.

The first step to becoming an enthusiastic reader is finding books that excite you. Most kids (and adults) won’t stick with a book that doesn’t interest them, or is too hard. If a book has vocabulary they don’t understand or talks about things they have little interest in, they will become frustrated and probably abandon it.

For example, I’m not a geek, but I’m fairly comfortable with computers. When setting up this blog, I took several books out of the library. Try as I might, I couldn’t make sense of them. I went online for help. Still stumped. Finally, I met with a friend and he walked me through some of the hardest parts.

The books didn’t help me because even though they were written in fairly plain language, I simply didn’t have the background experience or the vocabulary. Our reluctant and struggling readers are often in the same boat.

Our kids need to be matched up with books they WANT to read. Ones that interest them and don’t ask them to work too hard.

This subject, matching books to readers, is a big one. In fact, huge. In this post, I’ll give you a technique, some tips and a few resources. I hope you find them useful.

The 5-Finger Method
The five-finger method is a quick and easy way to decide if a new book is at a comfortable reading level for a reader.
  • Select a page from the middle of the book. Before you read, close the fingers in one hand.
  • As you read silently, stick up one finger for every word you don’t know and can’t guess. If you open 3 to 5 fingers, consider a different book.
  • If you stick up 1 or 2 fingers, this book is probably in your comfort range.
  • This isn’t a fool-proof method. Sometimes you can read all the words in a book but not really understand the story/text itself (like me and the blogging books).
  • Sometimes a book fails the 5-finger rule but if you really want to read it, you’ll keep going (like some kids with the Harry Potter books).

So how do you find books your child wants to read? There are several things to try.
Ask questions
  • What was the last book that you liked/interested you? Show no judgment here – a book from a younger time is very okay. This will give you an idea of where to start.
  • What would you like to be an expert in? This can be a great jumping off point for research.

Teachers and Librarians
  • Ask what books your child has shown interest in and has been successful reading.
  • Ask for a few recommendations.

Public Library
  • Let your child choose whatever books he/she wants. Books seem too young? Swallow your judgment! The point is to read, regardless.
  • Ask if your library system has an online site. These sites often have a powerful search engine to explore books.

Here are three sites I find helpful for finding books.
Finding the right book is essential for all readers. I hope you find some good ones for your child!

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