Early Readers and Reading Levels

every child ready to read

Every Child Ready to Read in Michigan  -  November 2017

In This Issue:

This Month's Wisdom...

"If we follow Fountas & Pinnell’s recent suggestions, also recommendations by the American Library Association, we will stop levelling, and have parents and children follow the five-finger rule."

~ Sue McCleaf Nespeca


Early Reading (Beginning to Read) Books and Reading Levels

child reading

I have been teaching graduate library school students at Kent State’s iSchool for 20 years now, and one of the most common questions I hear from students is why do different publishers have different reading levels for their “I Can Read” or “Beginning to Read” books. They are frustrated that there is no universal standard. It is also a subject discussed often by public librarians --- “How do you arrange your easy reading books? "What system do you use?”

Over the years, I have heard many librarians state that they arrange their easy readers using one of the most popular and widely used reading systems, developed by Irene C. Fountas, professor in the School of Education at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA, and Gay Su Pinnell, professor in the School of Teaching and Learning at Ohio State University, called the Fountas & Pinnell Text Level Gradient. I am imaging librarians’ shock when Fountas and PInnell recently stated (October 12, 2017, School Library Journal) that they felt librarians should not arrange their books using their system, nor should they organize by levels, but rather librarians should “guide readers by interest, not by level.”  Both researchers were adamant that “their leveling system was designed as a teacher’s tool, not a child’s label.” And, “levels have no place in classroom libraries, in school libraries, in public libraries.” For more information on their interview, see the recommended website link below.

So what do librarians do now? If they already arranged their easy reader books using the Fountas & Pinnell system, do they completely redo their arrangement, and how should they shelve the books now? Many librarians also feel pressured by parents to arrange books by certain levels. If we follow Fountas & Pinnell’s recent suggestions, also recommendations by the American Library Association, we will stop leveling, and have parents and children follow the five-finger rule. Here is a description of this rule by the Reading Rockets site.


Five Finger Rule

1. Choose a book that you think you will enjoy.

2. Read the second page.

3. Hold up a finger for each word you are not sure of, or do not know.

4. If there are five or more words you did not know, you should choose an easier book.

Still think it may not be too difficult? Use the five finger rule on two more pages.

So, if you decide to have children use the five-finger rule, and you wish to stop leveling books, what arguments can you use to discontinue leveling? Here are some reasons to stop leveling:

1. You are limiting the child’s range of books based on their interests. The books they can choose from will be more narrow and restrictive, and not necessarily on subjects that will interest him/her.

2. Leveling can influence a child’s sense of confidence while choosing books, since they are often restricted to picking books from just one level.

3. Children can be frustrated (just like librarians) due to the various levels publishers use, and the inconsistency between different publishing houses.

4. Leveling books can take the joy out of reading for children, and reading books may no longer be considered fun. 

Recommended Websites on Leveling Books


New Books of the Month

Book jacket

This is a Good Story. Adam Lehrhaupt. Simon & Schuster, 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-48142-935-1. $17.99.

The author of this book also wrote Warning: Do Not Open this Book! which won several awards and was an ALA Notable Book; also he is the author of Please, Open This Book! So we know that he has a fascination with books and reading, which makes us as librarians very happy. This centers on HOW a book is written, and language arts teachers in the early primary grades are going to love this one. Children are introduced to what comprises a setting in a story, how conflict should be added, what a plot is, how plot twists are necessary, and why revisions are essential, all done with humor, while a young girl tries to write a good story. This is a wonderful choice for any child who likes to make up stories or wants to be a creative writer. There is “A Friendly List of Words Used in this Book” in the back of the book which is helpful, though some may be for a slightly advanced reader. (protagonist, antagonist). As one reviewer stated about this book “This is a story within a story about the parts of a story.” (SLJ) That should be clear!

7 ate 9

7 Ate 9.  Tara Lazar. Disney/Hyperion, 2017. ISBN:  978-1-48471-779-0. $17.99.

When I first heard of this book, two marketing folks from Disney/Hyperion did a tandem reading of the story at the ALA Midwinter Conference. I have been waiting for it to be published ever since, because it contains the type of sarcastic humor that I love. And, to be honest, some of the humor will probably go over the heads of the very young, but don’t you love a book that has puns that only adults get, with enough jokes for the younger set also. The letter “I” is a, well, Private I of course, a detective at the Al F. Bet agency. (Read the name of that agency again, in case you missed it.) Into his office runs number 6, who says he has it on good authority that number 7 ate 9. “And now he is after me,” quips number 6. ““Well, technically, he’s always after you,” answers Private I. "Stay here. I'll get to the root of this," says I. "I hope so," responds 6. "I fear my days are numbered," and so it goes. There is even a Café Uno that serves Pi (okay that’s one for the parents). We get to ponder important issues such as whether being in “seventh heaven” is better than having “nine lives.” A wonderful tongue-in-cheek mystery; I dare you to read this book without laughing (or possibly groaning). 

creepy underwear

Creepy Pair of Underwear. Aaron Reynolds. Simon & Schuster, 2017. ISBN:  978-1-44240-298-0. $17.99

Remember Creepy Carrots that won a Caldecott Honor for Peter Brown? The same author and illustrator team has paired up for a continuing story of Jasper the Rabbit. Jasper is excited about his new green undies, but he does not realize that they glow in the dark until he turns off his bedroom light. He tries every way imaginable to get rid of them (stuffs them in laundry hamper; throws them in a garbage can; sends them off to China) but like the cat in the song “The Cat Came Back,” so do his undies! When he finally gets rid of them, his dark bedroom makes him miss his undies, so off he goes to buy another pair. The humor and expressions on Jasper and the undies’ faces will guarantee that this will be a good storytime choice. 



We are now nearing the end of the two-year Early Literacy Initiative developed by the Library of Michigan. The focus was on the “Every Child Ready to Read" project, a parent education initiative commissioned by the American Library Association. Two divisions, The Public Library Association (PLA) and Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) concluded that public libraries could have an even greater impact on early literacy through an approach that focused on educating parents and caregivers. Most public libraries in Michigan received the ECRR manuals and face-to-face training was conducted in several locations throughout the state. Ten webinars were offered, and they were taped, so if you missed any of them and would like to hear them, they can be found on the Library of Michigan's Webinar Archives page. 

Topics included:  “ECRR Library Staff Workshop”; “Early Literacy & Learning Spaces”; “Storytimes for Babies with Early Literacy Tips”; “Early Literacy Tips for Storytime: 2’s and 3’s”; “Early Literacy Tips for Storytime: Preschool”; “Mixed Aged Storytime Tips”; “Every Child Ready to Read Family Engagement & Kindergarten Readiness”; “Developmentally Appropriate Storytime Basics”; “Working with Early Childhood Educators and Volunteers for Early Literacy”; and “Supercharged Storytimes & the Very Ready Reading Program.” There were also 19 newsletters that can still be accessed online.

It has been a pleasure to work with the State Library on this initiative, and I hope that many of you will continue to encourage parents to use early literacy practices with their children, and that you will include early literacy tips within your storytime programs.