How to Choose the Right Book for Your Child to Read + Free Cheat Sheet
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How to Choose the Right Book for Your Child to Read + Free Cheat Sheet

Book bands can be useful but they shouldn’t restrict your choice


(Head to the bottom of this post to find your free Choosing a Book Cheat Sheet!)

Choosing the right book can be a minefield particularly if you want to provide your child with books at the correct level based on what they read in school.


School books and books for children who are learning to read are usually designed to focus on certain words or sounds to make the process easier. These books are then grouped into bands, groups or phases for children reading at similar level.


This means that when they sit down with the book you know that they will be able to read at least a large majority of it. In this post I am going to encourage you to break out of this and between you and your child build up the confidence and strategies to be able to choose a book on its own merits and not its band.


How to choose the right book:

When to use book bands


Book bands can be incredibly useful.  They can give you an idea of your child’s progress and allow you to find books that they can read without them becoming disheartened.  I would encourage you to use book bands to get an idea of your child’s progress and to give you an initial right direction when choosing books for them to read.


Action point:  Instead of buying a pack of books at the band or level your child is reading just buy 1 or 2.  Get an idea of what that level of book looks like – roughly how many words per page?  How complex are the words and the sounds?

You can then use this information to choose unbanded books based on your child’s interests and the books themselves.  You will definitely make some mistakes here but if you use the library these mistakes won’t cost any money and they will be well worth it giving your child the benefit of wider choice.


How to choose the right book:

The problem with book bands


While they can be useful, I’m going to just come out with it and say it, I can’t stand book bands and often this goes for the books written for them too.  If you write a book with a restricted set of words, sounds and punctuation, in my view, you get a poorer book that isn’t a good representation of the English language.

Banding also has the potential to be damaging because of the impression it gives that these are the only books you are allowed to read and you’re incapable of reading anything else.  I regularly see children look at a book and say ‘I can’t read that’ because it doesn’t resemble the books that they have been reading.


If your child can give Biff and Chip a good go then there is not one book in the library that they won’t be able to read at least part of.


By sticking religiously to book bands a nasty divide can begin to appear for your child.  This is between the books ‘I can read’ and the books ‘I can’t read’.

How many times have you heard a child say ‘I can’t read that’?

As a teacher I hear it regularly and each time I do I make it my mission to prove to them that they are  wrong.

Please join me and help me prove to all children that, with a little bit if reading practice, they can have a go at any book they want to.  Let’s start choosing books not bands!


How to choose the right book


How to choose the right book:

Breaking the Bands




1. Breaking the bands exposes your child to a range of good quality words and language.


2. They will see examples of grammar and punctuation used with out restriction.


3. Your child can have that extra special joy that comes from reading a book because they want to and not because it’s next on the list. You can too!


4. They will see words and sounds in context that they have not yet learned.


5. Your child will experience a greater variety of stories and see information presented in different ways.


6. Confidence! If your child is confident that they can have a good go at reading any book put in front of them then imagine what else they can do.


7. Books are brilliant why hold back?




This is not something that is going to happen over night.  Choosing books over bands is not just a quick change it is a cultural shift that will take effort and hard work.


An over reliance on banding in schools has, unfortunately, left a lot of us without the skills required to effectively choose an appropriate book. Because of this I am going to split this stage into 2 parts.


1. How to read any book. If your child has begun to read they will have learnt some of a list of sounds and some of a list of words.  With both of these they will take part in a range of activities to get them to the stage when they can recognise the words and sounds by sight and pick them out in a sentence.  You will find lots of ideas to do this at home here and can even get your own printable word and sound cards in our shop.


When reading a book that only contains the word and sounds they have learnt it gives the impression that children should be able to read everything in the book and if they can’t it means that something is wrong or the book is too hard.

Start to challenge this perception by:


  • Ask your child to read sounds and words that they know in books that you read to them.


  • Begin to work together on reading some parts.


  • Try ‘echo reading’  this can be great technique to access a wider range of books.



  • Begin to show them that there will be a part of any book that they can read.  Keep doing this (it’s going to be a long process but stick with it it’s worth it) until they are reading words in books that they wouldn’t normally read.


  • Say things like “Wow! If you can read that I wonder what else you can read in this book.”


Not only do you want them to be happy reading words in more challenging books but you also want them to get used to reading in collaboration with you. By doing this you are beginning to get rid of the idea that not being able to read every word is a failure. You are replacing it with the fact that even reading one sound in a sentence is a great success.


Now start reading books together.


Don’t base your choice on how challenging the book is but on what looks like a good read and what you both want to enjoy together.  Let them read sounds and words and help or chime in with ones that they don’t.  (This isn’t cheating it’s great reading practice.)



2. How to choose a book. This could be done after or at the same time as the first part. Take your child to a library and let them choose a book entirely independently. Ask them to choose something  to read but leave them to choose what.  Keep doing this to help them build up the ability to choose  an appropriate book. To learn more about how to do this visit Sharon Turner’s account of trying this with her son or my video on the same subject.



These two methods work together to improve your child’s ability to choose a book that they will be able to read themselves (without any bands) and give them the resilience to still get the most from a book when they get it wrong.


Don’t let book bands dictate what your child can read.


Encourage them to choose their own books and support their efforts.


It’s scary but really worth it!

Join How to Grow a Bookworm to get the ‘Choosing a Book Cheat Sheet’.

How to choose the right book cheat sheet

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