What an Almost-Six-Year-Old Taught Me about Reading Level

I recently spent a weekend with a nearly six-year-old boy who I’ll call J. In a single hour, a number of different books came up. The experience made me rethink my views of reading level and interest level for all sorts of books.

We started with I’m the Best Artist in the Ocean. J. proudly read this book aloud to all who would listen. The text is minimal and simple, and for the trickier words like jellyfish or manta ray, the illustrations provide ample help in figuring out the words.

When he finished the book, J. suddenly realized that he’d forgotten to bring along his copy of Monsterology to show me. “It’s okay,” I assured him. “I’ve already read it!” J.’s parents read this book aloud to him, but he also enjoys looking over the pages on his own. We discussed a number of the creatures in the book, chiefly unicorns.

Then J. grabbed the playaway he’d checked out from his local library. And what book do you think was on it? Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! The recording, from the snippet I heard, has a lovely British accent. Between the British accent, the medieval time period, and the high reading level, surely this was too difficult for him. “Is this a little hard to understand?” I inquired. J.’s mother said that he did occasionally ask questions, but he loved wandering through their house, listening to this audio recording of the 2008 Newbery winner. So much for my preconceived ideas about what books a soon-to-be first grader might be interested in!

Jackson Bud cover A little later, J.’s mom mentioned Jackson and Bud’s Bumpy Ride, which I’d given him for Christmas. This is another one his parents read to him. What’s his favorite part of the book? “All of it!” he enthusiastically replied. I can’t wait to find out what he’s reading the next time I see him. . . .