It might not be widely known that there is an enormous difference in children’s book reading levels between publishers and sometimes even within a single publisher’s guidelines. For example, Dr. Suess has two easy reader levels: Bright and Early Books for Beginning Readers and Beginner Books. Within these two divisions there is large variation in reading difficulty. Not all Beginner Books are created equal!
Many, many publishers have similar internal labeling, often using numbers like Level 1, Level 2, etc. While a publisher might keep their own similar books grouped along their own specific levels, the tricky part is that these evaluations are not consistent across publishing houses. A Level 1 from “Let’s Read and Find Out Science” is not always the same as a Level 1 “I Can Read Book,” which is not necessarily the same as Level 1 “Hello Reader!” book, which again may not be the same as a “Step into Reading” Step 1 title.
Additionally, many of the books that are labeled by their publisher as Level 1 easy readers are actually quite complex. These books might be the lowest reading level that this publisher has released, but that does not mean that this is the lowest reading level needed for learning literacy. Many books labeled as “easy readers” are often not that easy to read, certainly not for a child who is just starting on their journey to develop reading fluency.
Since each publisher has its own reading level labeling or numbering system, there is little continuity between various books that are labeled Level One. The exception to this are the books are labeled “Reading Recovery Level 1,” since that reading support program is not publisher-specific, but is text-specific. Another set of reading levels that are text-specific are the Fountas and Pinnell Guided Reading Levels, which generally cover books expected to be used in Grades K-8, and are labeled using the letters A-Z. Personally, I believe that these levels are easier to interpret than the older Lexile levels or the Advanced Readers program. One might say that the letters employed as labels by the Guided Reading System are more parent-friendly and kid-friendly, and less teacher dependent.
The complete Guided Reading Program is massive and was developed by professional teachers for use in the public schools, to meet the enormously varied needs of students in any given classroom population. While this program can be very effective in a large group setting, it is my experience that the reading levels used in guided reading do not require extensive teacher training to be used effectively in a small group or a home setting. In other words, Guided Reading Levels can compliment whatever method you choose for teaching reading.
In Guided Reading, an established set of criteria is used for evaluating the text of a book, any book. I have a manual, and am very pleased with this specificity of this leveling system. While I am not actually a big fan of how this program teaches the basics of reading, using Guided Reading Levels is one way to compare apples to apples when choosing books to help a child build reading fluency. I find this much easier than trying to determine which “Level 1” books, if any, are the easiest for emergent readers.
Unfortunately, many, many books that have recently been published to conform to the early levels of the Guided Reading system are not that engaging. Although I am thrilled that more emergent readers are being published, it has been hard for me to find the ones that are best for very first reading experiences. I like the leveled reading system for this reason. Within those “Level A” and “Level B” parameters, I can look for the best literature that can be used by children who are just learning to read.
Some of my own home educated children would have jumped through 10 levels or more in 2 weeks within the Guided Reading leveled reader system. Others really would have benefited from steady practice with truly easy-to-read books, making very gradual progress through the easiest emergent reader titles. It all depends on the child, and which books you choose depends on how many times you want to read those books with your child. There are some good ones out there! I will post some of the guided reading levels for classics, and eventually will be ready to share some leveled reading book lists.
Meanwhile, for leveled readers, I am a big fan of the Bella and Rosie series, which is put out by Pioneer Valley Books. I’d like to have them all! Currently, my shelves are full of beloved higher level I Can Read books and Step into Reading Books and Beginner Books. When I get eventually them cataloged, I will be adding these Guided Reading levels to all my own books. I have a somwhat grumpy website I like to use to check the reading level for these old favorites: