Understanding Leveled Readers

As little ones are just learning to read, it is especially important to have appropriate reading material for them to practice with. These books will not only support the skills they are developing, but they will foster this new passion with appealing story lines, favorite characters, and fun facts that will encourage them to continue coming to books for information and entertainment.

The way publishers have done this is with a system of books called “leveled readers.” The stories are classified from easiest to most difficult based on the vocabulary, sentence structure, print size, number of pages, and print-to-illustration ratio. The frustrating thing is that each publisher has its own methodology for classifying its levels. So a Level One from the I Can Read! series by HarperCollins is not necessarily comparable to a Level One in the National Geographic leveled readers series.

So how to know what is the best reader for your child? Let’s learn a little about how these readers are set up:

If you look on the back side of the reader, you will be “trained” on each publisher’s techniques for ranking the levels. For instance, for a “Level 1, Beginning Reading” in the I Can Read! Series, the description is “Simple sentences for eager new readers.” So most of the sentences will have the traditional “Subject—Predicate” format. What this doesn’t tell you is about the level of vocabulary. Many I Can Read! Level 1s have compound and multi-syllabic words, like “everything,” “beginning,” and “nonsensical.” There are also words that are more complicated than a simple phonetic structure, like “fashion.” So if you are choosing Level 1 for kids who are just learning their sounds and know some sight words, you will have a frustrated child! This is a good series of stories based on favorite characters, though, like Fancy Nancy and Pete the Cat. Reading about their favorite characters is definitely motivating to young readers!

The Step Into Reading series, though, has this definition for their Level 1: “Preschool-Kindergarten. Does your child know the alphabet? Is your child eager to begin reading? Step 1 is the perfect step! Big type and easy words, rhyme and rhythm, picture clues.” In Level 1 for Step Into Reading, there is typically a single large print sentence on each page. The vocabulary is simpler.

There are a couple of reader series that I particularly love because they are arranged by short/long vowel sounds, which tends to be how early readers learn to read. The first is the Usborne phonic readers. They have cute titles like Bee Makes Tea and Ants in Underpants and emphasize a single vowel sound in each book. My favorite leveled reader series is from a small publisher called Brave Mouse Books. These darling stories are illustrated with photographs of hand-created felt animals. The stories are truly engaging, especially for the limited vocabulary available for each vowel sound. If you are looking for short stories to reinforce phonics principles, you should definitely have a look at these!

All leveled readers are good for a few things.

  1. They introduce the concept of story very well. Because they are relatively short, kids are able to see the beginning/middle/end of a story as they read.
  2. They have a lot of color illustration/photography, which is both engaging and helpful to the reading process. Early readers can take clues from the illustration to understand the vocabulary.
  3. They are helpful for fluency. Kids tend to read Leveled Readers over and over again. My daughter kept a bin of them under her bed and read them at night. As they reread the same stories, they will become familiar with the vocabulary, sentence structure, and grammar of our written language. They will start to see quotation marks and question marks and how the characters respond to those symbols. Kids who reread the same material become stronger readers!

Leveled readers are not going to teach children to read, but they can be a great supplement and reinforcement for those early reading skills.