How to Judge a Just Right Book for Your Child

Girl reading a just right book
As easy as it is to buy a book based on the recommended ages listed on it, sometimes it may not be the most appropriate—not a just right book for your child. Your little one may struggle with the text, or maybe he or she will find the content a bit too challenging to grasp. To help you, we have rounded up some tips on how to judge the level of appropriateness of a book for your child.

Refer to the Recommended Age Group, But Don’t Stick to It

Typically, children’s books come with age guidelines printed right on the cover for parents’ convenience. Age ranges typically work in three-year development blocks, which is quite a wide range for growing minds. Keep in mind these are simply a starting point: if your four-year-old is enamored with her Baby Einstein books, there’s no need to retire them just because they are recommended for children of 0–3 years old. Don’t get hung up on age recommendations—the most important factor is whether or not your child enjoys the book and is interested in it.

Pay Attention to Your Child’s Reactions

One of the great things about children is that they are unfiltered. If they are bored with a book, you can be certain that they will let you know. What looks like distracted behavior (or general monkeying around) may be a sign that they are done with their well-worn nighttime selection and are ready to move on up to something a little more challenging. The same goes for if your child can easily tear through a book—and treats it like a speed-reading contest.

Look for books that inspire curiosity and hold their attention (even if only for a few moments). Does your child try to read along, laugh at the funny parts, squeal with delight at quirky characters, or ask for a second reading right after the first? Those are sure signs that you are in the reading sweet spot.

Alternatively, if a book is a source of strife and struggle (and maybe some tears) for several nights in a row, it might be best to shelve it and wait for a different time to introduce it again. Constant reading frustration may cause them to want to give up that book, or reading in general, for good.

To know if your child will have difficulty in reading a book, try the “5 Finger ‘Tips’ of Choosing a Just Right Book to Read.” If there are more than three words on a page that your child does not understand, you can set aside the book for the time being.

Choose the Right Book to Introduce Serious Ideas

The cleverness of many children’s books lies in the message behind the silliness, rhyming text, and colorful illustrations. There are some grand themesfor little minds to consider like grief, loneliness, environmental consciousness, stereotyping, and interpersonal conflict. You may be concerned that a plot point, like the death of Mufasa in The Lion King, will upset your child, but children are surprisingly capable of dealing with adult ideas in books written specifically for their emotional capacity.

Classic children’s authors like Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl are adept at introducing complex themes to a young audience in ways that they can understand, so don’t be afraid to share a book like Yertle the Turtle with your child. He or she may end up loving the book while learning a few important lessons.

Turn Well-Loved Books into Keepsakes

If books aren’t receiving the same love they used to get and are looking worse for wear, they may be ready to be put out to pasture. Many parents dislike getting rid of books that were such a big part of their child’s life, so instead of doing that, consider a keepsake box of their absolute favorites. To store books, pack them in a dry bin and place them in a cool spot. Write a note for each book that details what you both enjoyed about it and when you would read it again. One day when your child is all grown up, he or she will treasure those books greatly.

Learn more about your child’s reading milestones.

Top photo credit: Gladskikh Tatiana/Shutterstock

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