Skip to content

Just Right Books – Promote Reading Growth

Just Right Books - Supporting your Child's Reading

Selecting books which support strong reading instruction plays a part in reading progress.

If a child is having difficulty learning to read or is an older struggling reader, you will want to support reading instruction by selecting books which allow your child to practice effective and accurate reading. Intervention studies have shown that children struggling to read make progress in reading given appropriate instruction.

Help to ensure your child's reading progress by checking the level of accuracy your child has with books, and by finding books that are a good fit for learning to read. Learn more in this module about 'Just Right' books.


How to Find 'Just Right' books

How can you identify when books are just right for independent reading?

Select a couple books which you think are near your child’s reading level. If you are unsure, consult with your child’s teacher. Have a few books to use - at different levels to use- at the level you think may be a good fit, below that level and perhaps one above the level at which you think your child is reading. 

For children in or reading around a1st through 2nd grade level, count out passages of between 60 and100 words from the books. For children in, or reading near a 3rd grade level and above, select passages around 150 words. Ask your child to read the selected passages aloud to you.

Listen as your child reads. Although there are other factors to consider, for now just count the errors made while the child reads. The book most likely is:

a just right book to read independently if there were 0-3 errors (in 100 words)

a just right book for reading aloud to an adult if there were 4-6 errors (in 100 words)

a book with 7 or more errors would be considered at or near the frustration level and may not help help a child establish good reading strategies.

It is always good to read to a child if they are interested in a book which is too difficult for them to read on their own. 

Try having available several books that are just right and books he or she enjoys. A child who loves sports may be more eager to read about baseball legends than about insects.

Here is an example of two 1st graders reading a 1st grade text. One clearly demonstrates that this book is at her independent level and the next that this 1st grade level text is too challenging for independent reading for now.

How can you identify books that are just right for reading instruction?

The rule of thumb for books selected for reading instruction is the child is able to understand what is being read and reads with around 93% to 96% accuracy. Here is a video about 'just right' books for instruction.

Case Studies


'Just Right' and not so Right

Here is the young man you heard struggle to read the 1st grade text above. Now listen as he reads a text that is just right for his current reading skills. He uses good beginning reading strategies, such as full processing of the letter-sound correspondences for words he does not yet recognize. Notice too the difference in his body language.

With additional practice and instruction he could move forward in reading, maintaining accuracy and not resorting to inefficient reading, such as guessing, as we saw him do in the first video when the text was too difficult for his word recognition skills. He may be near the end of 1st grade but he is not yet ready for material at that level. He needs to build his ability and confidence by reading material at the 'just right' level. Set A of the Sound Out chapter books by Matt Sims is an example of books we found that were a 'just right' fit for this young man.

Listen to his comment on reading the different levels of text. Your child too can experience the same success when reading books which are 'just right.'

A link to Amazon for these particular books is found in the side bar.

Another series of books which use a systematic approach to building letter-sound sequences is The Alphabet Series - New Century Edition. The later books in this series provide short but manageable reads for students building their reading skills and stamina. Educator's Publishing Service offers these books. Here is a picture of one of the early readers.

New Alphabet Series Book

Older Students and Identifying "Just Right" books

This next video is an excerpt from a session with an older struggling reader. She was learning to recognize what it means to read accurately and how to identify books she could read on her own with accuracy, while using good word identification strategies for unrecognized words. The first book was a self-selected book that was too challenging for her to read with accuracy. Notice her mistakes on simple words such as Brat, back, and chairs in the first reading. On her last reading her accuracy is much improved and you can detect the slightest pauses which occur when she is careful to read accurately.

Why Series: Just Right Books

Supporting Research

“Throughout the early grades, time, materials, and resources should be provided (a) to support daily independent reading of texts selected to be ... beneath the individual student’s frustration level, in order to consolidate the student’s capacity for independent reading.” (Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, National Research Council)

”Students’ reading abilities are best advanced by giving them texts in which the vast majority of words are manageable. When students are stumbling on too many words, the best solution is no longer to ask them to reread; it is to give them an easier text.”  (Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print, M. J. Adams)

“The amount students learn through connected reading is tightly bound to the amount of difficulty they experience in reading it. High error rates are negatively correlated with achievement; low error rates are positively correlated with achievement.” (Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print, M. J. Adams)

"How can we optimize...text for the student to read? We presumably do not want to assign a text that is too easy or too difficult, but rather to assign a text that is at the reader's zone of proximal development." (Handbook of Reading Research IV, A. Graesser, et al.)

“A number of factors contribute to the reader’s motivation and engagement including ....the text’s ease of readability….”  Handbook of Reading Research Volume IV, (J. Paratore, et al.)

“Many current textbooks - with low levels of word repetition and numerous low-frequency and unfamiliar words- pose complex challenges for beginning readers. The nuanced research on self-teaching should be considered, so that the texts provided for students are more supportive of the orthographic learning necessary for automatic word recognition.”  (Handbook of Reading Research IV), A. Cunningham, R. Nathan, & K. S. Raher

Amazon Affiliate

Books focused on phonic elements

The Primary Phonics sets of books are suited for beginning readers, 1st graders and young struggling readers who are at the primer level. For example, in Set 1 the books focus on simple one-syllable words with a consonant/vowel/consonant pattern (e.g. mad, did, not) along with beginning high frequency words (was, to, the) and have no more than 15 words per page. 

In set 2 of the Primary Phonics series, long vowels with silent 'e' and beginning vowel digraphs are introduced.

Set 3 next introduces consonant blends and compound words and Set 4 - 6 continue to build on more phonic elements.

Early readers enjoy being able to read "chapter" books. This series of Sound Out Chapter Books starts out with simple words and advances to more complex letter/sound correspondences.

Another series of books is The Alphabet Series sold by Educators Publishing Service. It begins with primer text but advances to more difficult text and phonic elements such as in book 31 Clancy Races with over 22 pages focus on patterns with the letter 'c', 'ci', 'cy', and 'ce' along with previously taught elements. Here is a link to a sample PDF from one of the 1st books.