Helping Children select "Just Right Books"!

Carole Senn and Jen Currie
At Jacksonville Country Day School, we know that helping students build their love for reading at a young age is vital. In Pre-K and Kindergarten, children are encouraged to select picture books and nonfiction books that appeal to their interests. We teach Kindergarten students how to recognize the parts of a book and the text features within. Children also practice "reading the pictures" to tell the story in their own words or to learn more about a research topic.
When children reach first grade, we begin using the phrase "Just Right Books" to help each student select chapter books that are most appropriate for their reading level. 

One method of finding a “Just Right” book is to use the Five Finger Rule. Students begin reading a chapter book and put up one finger for each word they do not know. 
  • If the child reaches 4-5 fingers on the first page, then the book is too hard to read independently right now. A large number of new words can make the story difficult to comprehend. 
  • If a student puts up 2-3 fingers while reading the first page, then the book is considered "Just Right." Learning those new words helps children to build their vocabulary so that books that once were "Too Hard" soon become "Just Right."
  • If the child doesn’t put up any fingers or only 1 finger, then the book may be “Too Easy.” However, reading and rereading books that are considered “Too Easy” is still a very useful technique for reinforcing learned vocabulary and for building fluency. Books that children want to read again and again often become treasured by young readers and encourage a lifelong love of reading. 
Here are some tips to help you find books that your child will not want to put down. Try doing these together with your child:
  • Read a summary and reviews on the book jacket or on websites like,, or
  • Picture-walk the text to get a sense of what to expect or what topics are covered.
  • Consider other titles written by the authors your child already loves.
  • Consider books in a similar genre that your child already enjoys.
Here are some tips to help you determine if your child is reading a “Just Right” book. These techniques, used by teachers at JCDS, can be helpful to both the adult and the child:
  • The child reads one page silently by themselves and then summarizes for the adult. Did your child basically understand what they read?
  • The child reads one page aloud to the adult and then summarizes it. Did your child read in a way that sounds fluent? Fluency is their ability to read it fairly accurately and easily aloud.
  • The child reads at a speed that creates flow without a lot of stopping, re-starting, or going too quickly. 
  • The child states a purpose for reading the text. Why do they want to read it?
  • The child is interested at the end of one page and wants to continue reading.
Remember to give grace to your child as they explore new texts at home rather than in the more rigorous classroom setting. We would prefer they read something “Too Easy” rather than something “Too Hard” over summer vacation to help foster a desire to read that extends beyond the school.

Our goal at JCDS is to help students learn to value reading, so we encourage them to seek out their interests, passions, and favorite genres within our school library and classroom libraries during the school year. At home, make searching for new books a special event for the entire family to enjoy together. We know that our Sharks love to read, and we cannot wait to hear all about what they have been reading this summer! 
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Located In Jacksonville, FL, Jacksonville Country Day School is a private school for Pre-K 3 through 6th grade. JCDS prepares students for a healthy and productive lifetime of intellectual exploration, character development, and social responsibility.