Choosing Books for Your Child’s Reading Stage

By Helen Foster James

We fall into the worldof Babar, Clifford the Big Red Dog and Curious George. We root for the struggling little engine, hoping along with him that she “can.” We read favorites again and again as though it’s our first time. Sharing books with our children is a special time. We read stories to them and we search for books that they can read to us or on their own.

Just like Goldilocks searching for the perfect bowl of porridge or the most comfortable chair, here are some helpful hints to find books that are “just right” for your child:

Reading with MumFor Babies and Toddlers Board books are perfect for this age group. Durable and easy to manipulate for little hands, they lend themselves to being handled and read over and over. Rhymes and playful language – accompanied by colorful illustrations or photographs – are favorites of this age group. Many have just a few simple words on a page while others are wordless, letting the reader tell the story. Starting with these basic books, you can give young children the message that reading is important and fun as they turn the pages, nibble on the corners or hug the gentle fabric. Remember, it’s never too early to begin reading books to your child.

For Preschoolers and Kindergartners Children move on from board books to concept books and picture books. Picture books range from very simple to complex for much older children. Select books that are visually interesting and are on topics that are of interest to your child. Some books act almost like toys, with items that pop up or pieces that move. This age group has the coordination to interact with these pieces.

At the youngest end of this spectrum, select books that have few words and phrases that repeat, so the child can chime in as you read. Add them to stories that have great characters and plots and books you treasured when you were this age. You’ll soon be able to tell your child’s favorite by the “read it again” refrain that you’ll hear at the end of storytime.

Easy or Early Readers “Read aloud” is when you (or someone else) reads to your child. “Read alone” is when a child reads a book independently. As your child begins to learn to read, you’ll want to find books that he or she can read alone. Many books have the word “easy” or “beginning” on the cover of the book to help you identify that the book is for beginning readers.

Some favorite easy books are in series or by favorite authors and include Frog and Toad, Amelia Bedelia and Henry and Mudge. Kids enjoy reading about the same character in different books, much like we as adults enjoy reading about a favorite character in our reading. There are terrific easy-to-read nonfiction books for these readers too. Continue reading picture and chapter books to your child, but mix them with these early readers that they can read alone or out loud to you.

Book Kid

Books for Intermediate Grades As children learn to read independently, they select books taking their cues from friends and classmates. Children’s awareness of authors and their works develops during this period, and they frequently seek out all of the titles in a series or by a particular author. Reading a series helps to develop reading fluency and establish a reading habit.

The Five Finger Rule
Here’s a strategy teachers use, the “Five Finger Rule,” to help students find books that fit their reading level. The “rule” is that if a child misses more than five words on a page then the book is probably too hard for right now. But don’t underestimate a child’s willingness to struggle with a difficult book if highly motivated by the topic or a friend’s enthusiastic recommendation of the book.


Encourage your child to read many types of books, including picture books that are more sophisticated, informational books, biographies and poetry. Just like adults, some children prefer informational books over fictional stories. The more they are exposed to, the better the chances are that they will find a genre that gives them pleasure and inspires them to go back for more.


As children grow older, they move naturally from picture-book format to chapter books and novels, but it is wise to offer your child the opportunity to select more complex picture books to enjoy. This is particularly true when they need a break between novels or other, larger, more comprehensive books, just like you enjoy a magazine or a short story when you aren’t quite ready to start a new novel.

Young Adult Books Young Adult (YA) is the term used for books for teens. YA books typically grapple with sophisticated topics. Once your child is able to read the words at this advanced age or grade level, be sure that he or she can also manage the content – the themes and topics – covered within them.

If you want your children to be readers, be sure to let them see you reading – then talk to them about what each of you is reading. You’ll serve as the strongest model and supporter for reading for pleasure and information, and you’ll know how they are reacting to difficult content.


Need help identifying some great titles? Your local librarian is a wealth of knowledge to help you and your child select appropriate books. Or ask your child’s teacher for advice. Consider subscribing to an age-appropriate magazine that focuses on a topic of interest to your child. However you choose them, know that by giving your children access to books, you are giving them access to the world.

Two Kids? Two Ages? Two Stages?
Get tips and  recomendations in How – and What – to Read to Siblings

Sharing books can be a very special time for both parents and kids. Check our list of  The 100 Greatest Children’s Books of All Time – See whether your favorites made our list.

About the Author: Helen Foster James, Ed.D. has taught at the elementary school through university levels and is a former coordinator of library media services for the San Diego County Office of Education. She is also a book reviewer and the author of the children’s books E is for Enchantment: A New Mexico Alphabet and S is for S’mores: A Camping Alphabet. Visit her Web site at to learn more about her and some of her favorite children’s books.