Challenge Versus Frustration: Helping your Child Choose the Right Book

Helping your children pick a book that is the right “level” can be difficult.

Whether your child is choosing a book for a book report at school or just a fun read for your Fall Break getaway, you want to ensure he or she is challenged, but not frustrated.

We asked three CMDS Literature and Language Arts teachers to give us some pointers on helping our kids pick appropriate books.

Katie Burleson, 3rd Grade burleson

One strategy that I love to share with parents is called the “five finger rule.”

If you are at the library or bookstore with your child, let them take the lead as to what genre of book they would like to select. Give them the “five finger rule” as their guideline. As long as the book passes the test, it should be a book that walks that fine line between challenge and frustration.

The test is very simple. If you child brings a book to you that is of interest to him or her, have them open to a random page in the middle of the book. Tell them to read the page aloud to you.

If they make zero mistakes on that page, the book is too easy, and they need to find something more challenging. If they make more than five mistakes on that page, they are reading on a frustration level, and comprehension will no longer be at the forefront of their independent reading. If your child makes between one and five mistakes, that book is just right, and you can give them the green light to give it a try.

Next time your family visits the library or bookstore, give the “five finger rule” a try and see if it is a strategy that works for your family. Confidence is the key to fostering a love of reading. By guiding our children away from books that will lose their interest due to a lack of challenge or frustration, we are guaranteed to help them take a huge step towards reading for entertainment.

Ruth Thompson, 4th Grade DSC_9592

Selecting age appropriate literature for students can be a challenge. Non-fiction books should not be forgotten when you’re helping students select books for pleasure.

Non-fiction is a genre of literature that can be very engaging for students, and it prepares students for real-life reading scenarios.

Informational texts also can open doors to completely new interests that you did not even know your child had, and can increase knowledge of topics that your child is currently interested in.

Non-fiction is great at boosting content-area vocabulary and makes your child an “expert” on whatever “subject” they are reading about.  CKLA – the language arts curriculum we use at CMDS – places an increased importance on non-fiction reading using age-appropriate selections. You have probably even see your child become more interested and aware of topics they would have never explored had it not been for CKLA in the classroom. (Read more about CKLA here.)

When guiding your student in selecting non-fiction literature, here are five quick questions to ask:

  1. Is the book visually appealing, inside and out?
  2. Is it appropriate content for your student’s age?
  3. Is it accurate?
  4. Is it informative?
  5. Is the writing style engaging for the age of student it is geared towards?
Nell Womack, 5th and 6th Grade DSC_6451

At CMDS, one of our goals is to foster a love of books in order to set our students up for a lifetime of learning and growing through reading.

Enabling them to choose books on their own is a great way to enhance motivation and give them ownership of their own learning.

There are a few ways you can be sure your student is choosing a book that is best for them. First, let your child choose a book that interests him or her. Have them read the back for a summary, and allow them to decide if it is something they might enjoy.

A good test for determining if the book is on their reading level is the “five finger rule,” which Mrs. Burleson also described above.

Don’t forget that a book above their reading level can be a great one to read aloud with your student.

Looking for more help with your child’s book choices? has compiled lists by grade level that include many different types of genres. Perhaps the lists can serve as a springboard of ideas for your student’s next book selection. Here are links to the GoodReads’ lists:


1st Grade

2nd Grade

3rd Grade

4th Grade

5th Grade

6th Grade


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