Related: Finding Great Books at the Right Level

Of course various books have generic maturity levels. But all children are different, and so are all books; so general guidelines aren't always useful - I frequently encounter content that children theoretically aren't ready for yet, but greatly enjoy.

What are good guidelines to evaluate if your child is ready for a specific book's content?

NOTE: I don't care about the factor of being able to read the text - first, my kids reading level is well above their age, second I can read to them if the book is worth it but they struggle with more advanced text.

I already saw this question which seems like a duplicate, but whose answer addresses the opposite problem - is the child ready for the reading level of the book, as opposed to the content; AND doesn't really deal with specific child's capabilities. What I'm looking for is a process I can use to evaluate a specific book in terms of "is it too early to give to this specific child", not "is there a generic guideline that an average 3rd grader would understand 80% of the book".

  • 2
    Just as reading levels vary within an age group, so do maturity levels. Also, there are different dimensons or themes around which a given book may be beyond a child, and variation in consequences or repercussions if a child reads a book beyond her emotional level. One other factor is what values the adults in the family have that they want to be supported, or at least not undermined, by their children's reading selections. May 31, 2014 at 19:12
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    In my experience with my own advanced readers, the problem self-regulates somewhat. My son found the Lemony Snicket books to be too disturbing or scarty, and so he didn't read them any more. What outcomes are you trying to avoid? There is a great site, CommonSense Media that reviews new books for reading level and content and presents the info in an accessible, non-judgemental way. Is that the sort of thing you're looking for? Jun 1, 2014 at 12:58
  • @thomas first, that the child will get a permanent dislike for the work. Second opportunity cost (wasting his l I muted time on not yet ready book when there are other more fitting his readiness)
    – user3143
    Jun 1, 2014 at 18:34
  • A lot of this will come down to the individual child and the parent, as @ThomasTaylor said in his comment. You'll have to judge for yourself what might be too much for your child - though I personally wouldn't discourage a strong interest so long as it wasn't an issue with something you truly disagree with (e.g. if your child really wants to read a goosebumps book even though it's scary, and the content of the book isn't to graphic in your eyes, let them, even if you think it might be "too scary" for them).
    – Doc
    Jun 2, 2014 at 21:39
  • @Doc - well, there's often talk that for example any exposure to sexuality is bad below certain age. So if a kid wants a James Bond book (as a random example) it's an important consideration.
    – user3143
    Jun 3, 2014 at 18:47

4 Answers 4


Check out your library!

  • Libraries have librarians who are trained to help with reader's advisory. In a big enough library, you will find the librarians read a lot of kids' books - the will ask your child questions about what they have liked in the past and what their interests are, and they will give customized recommendations. (They do this for adults too!)
  • Libraries also supply access to specialized databases like NoveList, where you can select all sorts of parameters in order to get reading suggestions.
  • Library catalogs often have reviews within their catalog which have been done by professional review sources (School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, etc.) to help you with your selections.
  • The librarian will happily teach you how to use NoveList or the catalog or whatever other resources they have.
  • Books from the library are free. You can take a whole stack home, and after reading a few pages, if the book is not something your child is interested, he can set it aside and pick a different one from the pile. If he finds a series or author he likes, he can bring home a bunch at once!

I think the Commonsense Media site that @ThomasTaylor mentioned is suitable for getting a general opinion based on an average child, but in reality your best bet is going to just be to try them.

Libraries and bookstores usually group them by age range, so choose the first book from a series in the general age range that matches your child.

  • If a child likes a particular book, try them with the rest of the series.
  • If they find it too difficult, try a slightly simpler read.
  • If it doesn't challenge them enough, try books from the next stage up.

Sometimes books work on different levels at different ages, so they may be readable twice. For example, Watership Down may be a hit with really young kids as it has rabbits, as they get older it may be terrifying, and then older still it may be a very sad political allegory.

Just get them reading - whatever the book, it is likely to be far better for them than television (according to any number of studies I haven't personally checked, but sound convincing)


I am inclined to say the biggest factor for determining if a child is ready for a certain book is their interest level. There is little harm in allowing them to try the first couple of pages of a book. If the content interests them they may wish to continue with the story. If they are disinterested, they'll know it and you'll know it.

As you implied, having the ability to read the words written on the page is one thing, but having the ability to comprehend and enjoy what is written is completely different. I think you will have to do usability tests on individual books, especially since interests in one genre could vary widely. You will need to get a feel for the patterns of what your child reads and finds interesting.

I am also inclined to say that a good tool for determining this is communication. Ask your child up front what they are interested in. From your consistent querying of what their interests are, you will begin to pick up on the type of content they favor.


I sometimes put aside books which I didn't think my children should have read (like a cute "middle age" where-is-charlie-kind of book, with explicit torture tools... for preschooler age O_o). And then found out that anyway they would have not been shocked by the content. Children adapt themselves, if something is out of their grasp then they are going to fill in the blanks with some OK imaginative explanations. To be shocked by middle age torture tools, they would have to understand what's wrong about torture, and children don't go around with right and wrong ideas. I guess that's my opinion for young children's books, but I am not sure how old the children you are talking about are.

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