Child Development, Emergent Readers & Leveled Reading
Once you’re comfortable with selection tools and locating quality books, how do you begin matching these great books with children of a particular age? Since it’s unlikely that you have a doctoral degree in Child Development, how do you know what’s best for a particular library user of a particular age?
Keep in mind that each child is unique. Some mature faster than others. In some cases, a range of disabilities can impede learning. However, being aware of benchmarks experienced by youth can help you select developmentally appropriate materials. Jim Trelease wrote a well-known book about reading aloud that addressed this issue.
“This is not a book about teaching a child how to read; it's about teaching a child to want to read. There's an education adage that goes, 'What we teach children to love and desire will always outweigh what we make them learn.' The fact is that some children learn to read sooner than others, while some learn better than others. There is a difference. For the parent who thinks that sooner is better, who has an eighteen-month-old child barking at flash cards, my response is: sooner is not better. Are the dinner guests who arrive an hour early better guests than those who arrive on time? Of course not.” - Jim Trelease (2013), The Read-Aloud Handbook, 7th Edition
The research shows that early childhood is a critical time in lifelong language development. Ongoing exposure to new vocabulary early in life has been shown to be an indicator of reading skills and educational success later in life. Reading to a child being held in the arms of a trusted adult can establish the foundation of pleasure and enjoyment in reading.
Unfortunately, many children aren't getting the support they need to become proficient readers.
The American Library Association presents the Thedor Seuss Geisel Award "annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year." Recent award winners include:
- The Watermelon Seed (2013) (shown below) by Greg Pizzoli
- Up, Tall and High! (2012) by Ethan Long
- Tales for Very Picky Eaters (2011) by Josh Schneider
- Bink and Gollie (2010) by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
Go to the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winners page. Examine a few of the winners. How do they have in compare? What makes an effective book for beginning readers?
Looking for lots of articles and ideas? Browse Reading Rockets: For Librarians. The Research, Guides and Resources area contains an extension collection of research on the topics of reading. Pick an area of interest and do some reading! These would be great articles to cite in your class assignments.
Infants (Ages birth to 12 months)
A love of words and reading begins in infancy! In Early Literacy Storytimes@YourLibrary, Ghoting and Martin-Diaz (2006) state
“At birth, an infant’s vision is blurry. The infant appears to focus in the center of the visual field during the first few weeks after birth. Peripheral vision is not well developed. Near vision is better developed than far vision. Infants focus on objects held eight to fifteen inches in front of them. As their vision develops, infants show preference for certain objects and will gaze longer at items patterned with checks and stripes rather than solid colors. Studies also show that infants prefer bold colors to pastels. They show visual preference for (gaze longer at) faces more than objects.” (p. 8).
Infants learn to recognize faces at a very young age. Many babies love to look at photographs of other babies and children. Smile! (1997) by Roberta Grobel Intrater is one of a series of books that are irresistible to infants. Each book features up-close photos of babies kissing, sleeping, and playing "peek-a-boo". Books like Black on White (1993) (Shown in the image below.) by Tana Hoban provide the type of high-contrast, simple shapes that are perfect for an infant's visual needs.
In Books, Babies, and Libraries, Greene reminds us that in the first six months, an infant “explores the world with eyes, ears, hands, feet, and mouth.” (p. 19). Greene goes on to tell us that the meaning of language, not just the sounds, becomes a focus between seven and fourteen months.
“He understands most of what is said to him (receptive language), but his vocabulary is likely to be limited to ‘bye-bye,’ ‘Ma-ma,’ and ‘Da-da’ (expressive language). … The child can follow simple directions, such as ‘touch your nose.’ He enjoys playing turn-taking games, such as ‘pat-a-cake’ and ‘peek-a-boo.’“ (p. 21).
Board books that include tactile elements are particularly popular with this age group. While some of these books are simply board book versions of books also available in a traditional picture book format, some books are designed specifically for this format. These books often focus on “first words” or “baby’s first” topics.
Sandra Boynton's board books are very popular with both parents and their babies. Many of her books also have plush toys and even CDs that parents can use along with the books. Be sure to check out The Going-to-bed Book (two page spread shown below) by Sandra Boynton. Many of Boynton's books are also available as e-books and apps that can be viewed on a smartphone or tablet. This is very convenient for parents on-the-go. However, an advantage of the physical book is that babies become accustomed to holding books and turning the pages.
Go to Sandra Boynton's Create a Board Book page. Wouldn't it be fun to have board books available that reflect your library? You could incorporate photos from the children's collection and your local mascot. Think about the possibilities!
For very young children, look for simple, predictable stories. Also, look for books that reflect the world and experiences of babies. Karen Katz is known for her simple board books that focus on themes familiar to babies such as kisses, hugs, and body parts. Counting Kisses: A Kiss & Read Book is a popular example.
Many people enjoy singing to their children. You Are My Sunshine (2011) by Jimmie Davis and Caroline Jayne Church combine the words with pictures for the popular song. Reading and singing the book Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes (2002) by Annie Kubler is a way to enjoy both music and introduce body parts.
Read Talking Points/Born to Read. ALSC provides a simple list of ideas for parents and caregivers.
Toddlers (Ages 1-2)
Toddlers grasp the idea of books and enjoy fetching books for adults to read. They want books to be read aloud, but have a very limited attention span. Because they begin to squirm after only a few minutes, pick very short books with lots of action. Don't worry about the stories and plots. Instead, concentrate on books that involve children with the action. This is a good time to introduce Scholastic's I Spy Little Books. Ask children to find objects on the page.
From 15 to 24 months, most children are walking or toddling, energy appears to either be full on or in sleeping crash mode, and exploration invites the constant “Why?” question. Greene (1991, 21) reminds us that another popular word in the vocabulary becomes “NO” at this stage as the young child begins to “assert herself”.
“She [also] likes to ‘read’ the pictures in books and may engage in reading-like behavior (holding the book and telling the story to herself)".
No No Yes Yes (2008) by Leslie Patricelli is a fun way to address the "terrible twos". See an example below.
From 25 to 36 months, Greene (1991) states,
“The older toddler can understand simple concepts, count, and name colors. He notices changes in the natural world, such as the seasons. He is hooked on words and relishes using new ones. By the time he is three years old, he may know as many as 1,000 words and understands 75 percent of the language he will use for the rest of his life in ordinary conversation.” (p. 23).
Toddlers enjoy holding and exploring simply concept books focusing on topics like counting, colors, animals, and weather. Although picture books are great for read-aloud experiences, board books continue to be popular because of their durability. Although most often made of thick cardboard, these books may also be made from plastic or cloth to withstand everything from teething babies to toddlers in the bathtub.
Many popular picture books such as Freight Train (1978, 1996) by Donald Crews, Olivia (2000, 2004) by Ian Falconer, and Goodnight Moon (1947, 1991) by Margaret Wise Brown are available in both board book and traditional paper formats.
Eric Carle is a well-known author with toddlers through early primary grades. His books are a great way to introduce very basic stories as well as science concepts such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969)
Some of the Dr. Seuss books are available as board books for toddlers such as Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? This book is part of the Bright and Early Board Books series.
Donald Crews is well-known for this very simple books for toddlers. Books like Ten Black Dots (1968) and Truck (1981) are the kind of very simple concept books perfect for this age.
Early Childhood (Ages 3-4)
During early childhood, young people are thirsty for knowledge. They’re ready to learn about the role of libraries and caring for books. These children particularly enjoy concept books that focus on topics of interest including animals, trucks, and popular television and movie characters.
Predictable books that including rhyming and word play are of particular interest. Young children enjoy the sound of words and like being able to participate in anticipating the storyline and participating in story elements.
Look for series that will keep their interest. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type (2000) by Doreen Cronin is part of the Click, Clack series. Click the images below to see sample pages.
Use books to jumpstart imagination. Not a Box (2006) by Antoinette Portis is a wonderful way to talk with young children about imagination and creativity. Examine the samples below.
Read A Reader Becomes a Reader: Birth through Preschool (2006). National Institute for Literacy. Think about ways to match developmentally appropriate books with young children.
Young children have a unique sense of humor. There's nothing more fun than seeing a pre-schooler giggle. Mo Willems is a popular author who mixes bare bones illustrations with situations that young children will find hilarious. Be sure to enjoy his series for young children including the Cat the Cat, Knuffle Bunny, Elephant and Piggie, and Pigeon books.
Many young children enjoy watching PBS Kids and other children's television programs. Look for ways to connect the video programs they love with reading. Characters like Clifford the Big Red Dog, Angelina Ballerina, Busytown Mysteries, Curious George, and others are both television and book characters.
The Max and Ruby books and television programs by Rosemary Wells deal with common issues facing young children including friendship, family, and sibling rivalry.
Television and movie programs based on books isn't a new idea. Specifically, Walt Disney began doing it in the mid 20th century. As a child, one of my favorites was the movie short based on the book The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. You can watch it on YouTube.
Captain Kangaroo's read stories on his television program like Make Way for Ducklings, Caps for Sale, and Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel.
Do you remember any connections between reading and television when you were growing up?
Many preschool teachers seek out books to supplement their curriculum. Topics such as healthy foods, safety, and community workers are common themes. What Do People Do All Day? (1968) by Richard Scarry explores the lives of members of the community. This book would work well in a unit exploring common jobs.
My mother got me a library card when I was old enough to hold a book. I enjoyed books like Caps for Sale, Millions of Cats, and Mike Mulligan. A Snowy Day (1962) by Ezra Jack Keats was one of the first books I remember being read to in school.
I have no idea why I remember this, but I've always loved the collage-type illustrations of Keats' books. What are the first picture books that you remember?
Emergent Readers (Ages 5-7; Grades K-2)
Once children begin school, their lives change tremendously. They become interested in stories that revolve around school, friendship, and adventure.
Huck and Keifer (2009) discuss the various stages of child development in terms of physical, cognitive, language, moral, and personality development. They stress that all areas should be considered when selecting materials for children. Think about what this means for each child. For instance, keep in mind that girls mature more quickly than boys.
It’s important to know where each child is in order to offer them the best materials for their needs.
The Early Reading Proficiency in the United States (2014) report states that
"Children who are proficient readers by the end of third grade are more likely to graduate from high school and to be economically successful in adulthood. This KIDS COUNT data snapshot finds 80 percent of fourth-graders from low-income families and 66 percent of all fourth-graders are not reading at grade level. While improvements have been made in the past decade, reading proficiency levels remain low.
Read A Reader Becomes a Reader: Kindergarten through Grade 3 (2006). National Institute for Literacy.
Although reading skills of children grow tremendously between Kindergarten and Grade 2, it's still important to provide read-aloud experiences for youth. Look for engaging picture books with meaningful themes that connect to friendship and family, but also school topics such as science and social studies.
Janell Cannon's books are perfect for the primary grades. Books like Stellaluna (1993), Verdi (1997), and Crickwing (2000) deal with human-like issues places in the animal world.
Books like Officer Buckle and Gloria (1995) by Peggy Rathmann combine humor with an important message about friendship. Click the images below to read a couple pages from the book.
Creativity and self-expression are themes found in The Dot (2003) by Peter H. Reynolds that can be discussed as a family or class. Click the images below to read a few pages.
Watch My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother by Patricia Polacco. Then, explore some other picture books at Storyline Online. Think about how children at different developmental levels would react to the themes and plots of these works.
Books for Beginning Readers
Early emergent readers are just beginning to understand basic concepts related to books and text on the page. Although they know the alphabet and can recognize upper and lowercase letters, they're just starting to associate these letters with sounds. At this level, look for books with picture support. In other words, the images should relate directly to the words. Seek limited, controlled, repeated vocabulary with predictable patterns. Look for large print with lots of space. Finally, focus on basic concepts familiar to children (Lamb, 2013).
Boris on the Move (2013) by Andrew Joyner provides the type of managable reading experience perfect for beginning readers. Click the images below center and right to see the beginning of the book.
Many children's book authors are involved in these types of series. For instance, the Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems debuted in 2007. A Big Guy Took My Ball! (2013) (Cover and interior page shown below) by Mo Willems features meaningful topics, basic illustrations, and engaging dialogue.
Many children’s book are written with beginning readers in mind. They are designed to increase independent reading by using controlled vocabulary and easy-to-read content. These types of books were introduced in the 1950s and remain popular topic. Although these types of books are often part of a series, they may also be stand-alone books.
I loved Are You My Mother? (1960) (Cover and interior image below) by P. D. Eastman. However the giant steam shovel that went SNORT, really freaked me out. I always skipped that page.
Most adults remember reading books from the Random House’s Beginner Book Collection featuring works by Dr. Seuss like The Cat in the Hat (1957), One Fish Two Fish (1960), and Green Eggs and Ham (1960). Which books were your favorites?
The HarperCollins I Can Read Book series feature characters like the Little Bear, Amelia Bedelia, Berenstain Bears, and Frog and Toad. More recently, you may have seen characters like Biscuit, Splat the Cat, and Fancy Nancy. Many other publishers have started their own beginning reader series.
For emergent readers, leveled readers can be very helpful. These books are clearly identified and aimed at children with very specific skills and needs. Once a child is successful at one level, they're ready to move to the next step. These books are generally short and often incorporate popular characters or topics.
Read Early Reading Proficiency in the United States (2014) from the Anne E. Casey Foundation.
Early Chapter Books
Seek out early chapter books. These books are a great way to introduce youth to longer books. At first, the chapters may only be a few pages long. Children enjoy the goal of completing a chapter. Jasper John Dooley (2012+ series) by Caroline Adderson is a series with short chapters and age-appropriate topics focusing on topics related to home and school. Frog and Toad Are Friends (1970) by Arnold Lobel is a classic example that remains popular today.
Many of you probably began with chapter books containing characters like Amelia Bedelia, Frances, and Arthur. Soon, you were ready for thicker books with more chapters.
Seek out books that are so engaging that children want to keep reading from chapter to chapter. Mercy Watson to the Rescue (2005+ series) (Cover and interior page shown below) by Kate DiCamillo is a wonderful example. Children can't wait to find out what will happen to Mercy the pig.
A child’s sense of humor can be very different from an adult’s. It’s important to understand the difference between a preschool, primary age, tween, and teen sense of humor.
I was reading Elliot’s Park: Saving Mister Nibbles by Patrick Carman with my five-year old nephew a few years ago. He couldn’t quit giggling at the thought that real squirrels might think a stuffed squirrel was real. Five years later we still still joke about “Mister Nibbles”. Five-year olds are just beginning to play with the idea of what’s real and what’s pretend. This book came at the perfect intersection of his interests and developmental level. Click the image below right to read a couple pages.
Read a humorous book with a child. Do you laugh at the same time? Pick your own book that fits this perfect intersection of interest and developmental level. Use passages from the book to reflect your ideas. Cite child development research to support your thoughts.
Fluent Readers (Ages 8-9; Grades 3-4)
Fluent readers are becoming more independent. Reading is automatic and takes less effort. At this point, it's important to shift reading skills toward comprehension strategies.
As children become fluent readers, you might think it's time to put away the picture books. However, some of the most beautifully illustrated books are designed for children this age. Seek out works of nonfiction like When Marian Sang (2002) (shown below) by Pam Muñoz Ryan. This book explores the prejudice that African American singer Marian Anderson faced and the courage it took her to sing.
Children can handle longer sentences and more text on a page. They're ready for longer books that rely less and less on visual elements. Vocabulary can be more challenging, complex and descriptive.
Fluent readers are ready to shift from beginning readers to chapter books.Children enjoy chapter book series like Ivy + Bean (2007) by Annie Barrows. Each book isn't much over 100 pages and contains chapters from 5-15 pages each.
When children reach fluency, their reading is smooth and easy to understand. They're able to talk about what they've read and have a good command of comprehension strategies. This marks a shift from "learning to read" to "reading to learn”.
I was a fan of characters like Henry Huggins, Ribsy, Breezus, and Ramona by Beverly Clearly. Series books helped me become a proficient reader. I loved the sense of accomplishment as I read each chapter and enjoyed the anticipation of starting a new chapter.
What are the first chapter books that you remember reading?
Today's youth have a much broader range of choices. Big Nate, Judy Moody, Junie B., and Stink are just a few of the popular characters from chapter book series.
Spend some time exploring Series and Sequels for youth. Sometimes you're looking for the "next book" in a series. Check out the What's Next: Books in Series database. What have you read? What would you like to read?
Tweens and Teens
By the time they reach their tweens, many youth are no longer thinking about the act of reading. They're able to read practically anything they wish without effort. Unfortunately, many children lag behind in reading skills. As such, they may be frustrated when they see their friends reading the Harry Potter series that range from the fifth to the seventh grade reading level. It's important to be ready with "read alike" books that will engage readers at their reading level. For instance, the Percy Jackson and the Olympians (2005+ series) and Heroes of Olympus (2010+ series) books by Rick Riordan are written at the fourth grade level.
Use the "Five Finger" rule to help these readers find books they will be successful reading. Ask the child to open a book to any page. Begin reading the page and put up a finger for each unknown word. If the child reaches five fingers before completing the page, the book will be too difficult and frustrating to read.
As you put together reading lists, don't forget the classics. Books like Anne of Green Gables (1908) by L. M. Montgomery and The Secret Garden (1911) bycontinue to be popular after more than a century. Unfortunately, some children find the writing styles used in older books off-putting.
As children shift from tweens to teens, their interests continue to evolve. Those youth with poor reading skills often avoid books. For these youth, look for high interest, low reading level books also known as HI-LO books.
While some teens continue to read books written for younger youth, others move into books for young adults and even adults.
Read Sullivan, Christina Chant (September/October 2013). Disturbing (or not?) young adult fiction. Horn Book, 51-55.
Read Aloud Books
Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, suggests that children of all ages benefit from being read to aloud. He suggests reading a wide range of materials from picture books to magazines.
It would be useful to have an entire course in "read aloud" experiences for youth. However, the limitations of a three-hour course prevent an in-depth exploration. Instead, it's recommended that you read the materials created by Jim Trelease and if possible his book The Read-Aloud Handbook now in its 7th edition. Visit the Jim Trelease website and think about the role of read-aloud in libraries.
Go to Storyline Online and listen to a book being read aloud. Why is it important to read aloud to children? Come up with some talking-points so you're ready to have a conversation with a parent or teachers who asks.
Children are never too young to enjoy the reading experience. Even babies "in utero" enjoy the calming sound of a parent's voice. In the same way, children are never too old to enjoy a book being read aloud. While most adults think about reading picture books, it's also important to transition to chapter book reading.
Some books fall somewhere between a picture book and a chapter book. The Giving Tree (1964) by Shel Silverstein is a great example. This complex fable is a wonderful book to read aloud and discuss as a family or a class. Although many children will be able to read it on their own, they may miss this deep messages related to self-sacrifice, love, and conservation.
Besides reading picture books aloud, reading chapter books is also important. Many young children enjoy books like Charlotte's Web (1952) by E. B. White. However they don't have the skills to read it themselves. This book was written at the fourth grade reading level, but an interest level around second grade. The Winnie-the-Pooh books by A. A. Milne have similar problem with a mismatched interest and reading level. For instance, The House at Pooh Corner (1928) by A. A. Milne has appeal to ages 4-7, but a fifth grade reading level.
The works of Roald Dahl like Matilda (1988) are another example of books that appeal to younger 8-10 year olds, but are written at a fifth grade reading level.
Many teachers and librarians have a gift for reading aloud. I enjoyed teachers who allowed us to doodle while we listened. I was always amazed at teachers who could read through the sad parts as I set at my desk teary-eyed. Where the Red Fern Grows (1961) by Wilson Rawls and Where the Lilies Bloom (1969) by Bill and Vera Cleaver were two I remember clearly. Neither were books that I would likely have picked up myself. However, they're both books that have stayed with me for half a century.
The E.B. White Read Aloud Awards are given "in recognition of the fact that reading aloud is a pleasure at any age." Awards are given for both picture books and older reader titles. Examples are listed below:
- Children Make Terrible Pets (2010) by Peter Brown
- Creepy Carrots! (2012) by Aaron Reynolds
- The Curious Garden (2009) by Peter Brown
- Extra Yarn (2012) by Mac Barnett
- I Want My Hat Back (2011) by Jon Klassen
Middle Reader Books
- The Apothecary (2011) by Maile Meloy
- Because of Mr. Terupt (2009) by Rob Buyea
- The One and Only Ivan (2012) by Katherine Applegate
- The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (2010) by Tom Angelberger
- Three Times Lucky (2012) by Sheila Turnage
- Wildwood (2011) by Colin Meloy
- Wonder (2012) by R. J. Palacio
For more ideas, go to Madison Public Library: Great Read Alouds for All Ages.
Go to the Indiana Read-Aloud booklists. Read a recommended book. Think about what makes an effective "read aloud" book.
Blass, Roseanne J. (2002). Booktalks, Bookwalks, and Read-alouds: Promoting the Best New Children's Literature Across the Elementary Curriculum. Libraries Unlimited. Available as an eBook through IUPUI.
Early Reading Proficiency in the United States (2014). The Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Ghoting, S. N., & Martin-Diaz, P. (2006). Early literacy storytimes @ your library: Partnering with caregivers for success. Chicago: American Library Association.
Greene, E. (1991). Books, babies, and libraries: Serving infants, toddlers, their parents & caregivers. Chicago: American Library Association.
Kiefer, B. Z. (2009). Charlotte Huck’s Children’s Literature, 10th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Lamb, Annette (2013). Seminar on Literature for Youth. Emergent Readers. Available: http://eduscapes.com/nonfiction/4.htm
A Reader Becomes a Reader: Birth through Preschool (2006). National Institute for Literacy. Available: http://lincs.ed.gov/publications/pdf/reading_pre.pdf
A Reader Becomes a Reader: Kindergarten through Grade 3 (2006). National Institute for Literacy.
Reading Rockets: For Librarians. Available: http://www.readingrockets.org/audience/professionals/librarians
Stoodt, Barbara (1996). Children’s Literature. Macmillian Education.
Talking Points/Born to Read. ALSC. Available: http://www.ala.org/alsc/issuesadv/borntoread/resources