My daughter began reading at age three. When we enrolled in Kindergarten, she was tested and it was discovered that she could already read (and comprehend) at a fifth grade level at age five. She was not tested with Lexile, so I do not have a lexile score, but am aware of their website and its resources.

The trouble is that despite her reading abilities, she still has the attention span of a six-year old (now that she is six) and still wants pictures. We check out tons of books (and I own tons of children's books).

Additionally, Books written for fifth graders have material about which she is not ready on a social level.

It is getting a little crazy pre-reading everything (well, mostly skimming) in order to be sure book content is appropriate and to screen for challenge level.

Do any of you have experience (or short-cuts) for finding books that are challenging but still appropriate for such a child to read? For many reasons, I am now homeschooling her and she has already finished all of the Literature and Comprehension material for her second grade curriculum for this year. She has not finished the other second grade Language Arts curriculum, but she still needs to have reading time.

She has lots of books she enjoys reading, but none of those books are actually a reading challenge for her meaning her vocabulary building and sentence structure complexity level are stagnating. She finishes Magic Treehouse books in just an hour or two, but The Roman Mysteries Series (which she loves) is a little too overwhelming for her to feel good about reading alone.

How do you go about finding and screening books for such a child?


5 Answers 5


I asked a friend of mine who is a literacy education professor this same question. (My son just started kindergarten and tested in the middle of second grade for reading, and is moving up rapidly.)

She offered this professional advice:

Congratulations! What it amounts to is that your son already has strong skills for decoding text and has many strategies for taking apart new words. He is ready to encounter more complex text, and the skills he is working on now are reading comprehension and vocabulary building (we call these transitional readers).

Since he is young and not really ready for some of the more nuanced social situations he might experience in many appropriately levelled texts, try focusing on non-fiction books on topics that interest him. At that level [level 18/K/lexile 200-250], there are many interesting non-fiction books with good pictures that will support his vocabulary, and they are less likely to contain situations that he might not be emotionally or developmentally ready for. The books are often in sections, so if he's not able to sustain attention for a long story, he can feel comfortable putting it down and coming back to it later. The non-fiction format will also help him with reading comprehension because it reinforces how written communication is structured to convey information, which is less obvious in fiction. And as an added benefit, he's learning about something he's interested in.

Make sure you ask him questions (and model answers) that allow him to 1. demonstrate that he's understanding what he has read, 2. show that he can summarize the important information, and 3. connect the information to his world. He's probably not quite ready to read for long periods, so you may find it is helpful to get him to think about "what happened last time" if he puts a book down and then comes back to it.


Have you just wandering around your local library? I've found quite a few books in ours with some pictures mixed with more complex text. Greek mythology works well - the stories are reasonably complex.

We also used our library to get our daughter out of her comfort zone (in terms of themes). If she was stuck on Hardy Boys for too long, we'd try supernaturals. When she got stuck on those (loved Eragon and Percy Jackson), she tried horror books. Since we could just grab a dozen books, she could try them out and if they didn't gran her in the first chapter, she could move onto the next one.

  • Yes. We use the library ALL THE TIME. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts there is no children's librarian to guide us to books at just the right level for her. Since she loves ancient history she has read absolutely EVERYTHING Greek and Roman she could get her hands on and we're running out. The issue isn't finding books. It is finding the Right books without having to screen YA books that happen to have a picture here and there. Thanks though. Libraries are WONDERFUL PLACES!!! +1 for that. Commented Nov 8, 2012 at 23:25

Great question. This is not my area of expertise, but I contacted someone through my network that specializes in gifted and talented children and this is what she said:

Some of my best friends are books by Halsted is a good book for the parents to have on their shelf. The parents can also go to shop.scholastic.com and look at books by reading level. I would recommend that they join a homeschooling group as well and consider enrichment courses.

So I asked someone else from my network and this was their response:

Some of the Louis Sachar books are great (not Holes, but the silly ones with math problems in them – the sideways school books.). We read many of the Madeleine L’Engle books to our kids at that age too, and Beverly Cleary (Ramona, dear Mr. Henshaw). Half Magic by Eager? Edgar ? Is great too. There are several of those. And there are some nature books. My Side of the Mountain and other books by her (don’t remember the name). The first of the CS Lewis Series is ok too..they get a bit darker as they go along. A lot of the classics are appropriate. The Secret Garden, Winnie the Pooh. And some of the classic books that are even harder are fun too. The Three Musketeers, etc. My kids enjoyed the Tolkien books (read to them) when they were pretty young too. I think it is time to ask a librarian.

Best of luck!


I read books that are possible borderlines WITH Alice. We read a lot together anyway, and since I would be there while reading with her, if she gets stuck, I'm there to help OR if the book starts to wander into territory that isn't appropriate I'm there to make a judgement call or at least answer questions if that is needed as well.

If my daughter finds she isn't ready for a book and isn't interested half-way through, as long as it isn't a book for school, there is nothing wrong with just letting it go and not finishing.

Even though the Halsted Book and the library are wonderful resources, I did feel I should include a little about the lexile framework I mention in my question above. This website was actually recommended to me by our librarian. It is what she uses since she isn't a children's librarian and they don't have the budget to hire one. It is a great resource for finding out relative challenge levels about a variety of books. You can search for books based on lexile score (if you have one) OR grade level and even narrow your options by subject or genre. Once you find a book you can read the same synopsis (or at least a similar one) as you would find on the back cover of the book. It is a WONDERFUL resource that has come in tremendously handy. The website continues to grow in number of books on it but it is often the case that older "retellings" can't be found, but it is quite comprehensive all things considered and free.

I have recently come across www.commonsensemedia.org because of this question on SciFiSE I look forward to taking a closer look at the resource in reference to future reading material I might be trying to "preview." At this point, the descriptions I've seen there are fairly thin and not all that informative, but It does seem like on more resource for obtaining a "heads-up" when it may be needed. Overall, she is past the point of needing "pictures" to be interested in a story now opening a much wider array of choices from which to pull her reading experiences.

I also use poetry and non-fiction with her a lot. The combination helps offer appropriately leveled texts such as KitFox suggests that won't open her up for exposure to content she isn't ready for. However the poetry brings in metaphorical language (and the symbols and vocabulary that goes with it) you cannot get as readily from non-fiction.

Also with over a year between now and when I first posed the question, I would go back and reassure myself that her "limitations" on what she was willing to read would quickly change and to relax about it a bit and let her just read what she was into for awhile - there were certain requirements for school, but since she is above grade level, "pushing" for further advancement so to speak isn't always an absolute necessity and taking a break from pushing advancement in reading, leaves time to advance in other areas while just enjoying the moment in literature.

  • did you see I updated my answer with what someone else from my network suggested? Just checking in case any of those are not books you have come across yet. Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 15:41
  • @Christine I did see the update and we OR she has read a number of books on the list already but there were a few we had missed. I'll introduce her and see if she likes them. Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 15:46
  • no problem just want to make sure you have as much info as possible Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 16:37

Does your daughter like to read poems? I was just as you describe your daughter when I was that age; my mother also had to search for challenging-yet-appropriate reading material for me. Her most inspired idea was to introduce me to poetry. Poems are relatively short and easy to scan or pre-read for content but the language is vivid and the vocabulary tends to be more complex. Imagery, metaphor, rhyme, etc., all contribute to a poem's ability to captivate a reader's imagination and attention for far longer than the time it takes to read. Reading poetry invites interpretation and reflection as well, both are useful skills that can enhance reading and thinking about all kinds of texts.

  • I love this idea! As it happens, I have just introduced her to iambic pentameter (One of her favorite directors at the theater is doing Romeo and Juliette so I've introduced her to some children's versions first. We'll work our way up to actually seeing the play - heavy stuff after all) She is having so much fun with poetic feet and syllabic emphsis! AND you are so right about vocabulary and imagery! Commented Nov 16, 2013 at 18:09

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