A mom came up and asked if I had any suggestions for her 8 year old son. He's liked the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, but that's ALL he's been reading, over and over again, and she'd like him to branch out. Mom said he doesn't really like fantasy, he LIKES the Wimpy Kid books, is there anything else kind of similar?
I showed her a few things, Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox (book, not the movie), his James and the Giant Peach (ditto), any of his other ones as well, Dan Gutman's The Homework Machine, Andrew Clements' Frindle, Judy Blume's Freckle Juice, Thomas Rockwell's How to Eat Fried Worms, Oliver Butterworth's The Enormous Egg...Mom was thrilled, and showed them to her son. He didn't seem very interested in any of them, so I gave him my little lecture.
"Here's the deal. You can pick some of these books to look at right here, in the store. You have to start READING them here, before you leave the store. If you aren't interested in the story after a couple of pages, then that's fine, you don't have to get that one. If you start reading and you LIKE it, and you want to keep going, well then, that's one you might want to get. (and here's where I kind of get in his face a little bit) You do NOT get to just look at the cover and decide that you don't like it. You have to open it and start reading. That's the deal."
"I like you already," the mom said to me. "I like you a LOT."
I turn back to her, "And here's a way you can help know if the book is right for his reading level or not. Pick a book. Pick a page in the middle of the book. Have him read the one page. He's not reading for the story, he's just reading to see if he knows the words. If he comes to a word he doesn't know, he lifts up one finger. Each time he finds a word on that page he doesn't know, he lifts a finger. If there are more than 4 or 5 words on the page that he doesn't know, then it's probably too hard. If there is one or less than one, then the book is probably too easy. If the page has 2 or 3 words on it that he doesn't know, then that's just about right, he should be able to figure out the words' meaning from the rest of the story, or he can ask you or look them up."
"That's GREAT," she said. "I'll do that."
They gathered a selection of books, left them at the customer service desk while they went to Starbucks to get drinks so they could spend time deciding. They left with two Roald Dahl books.
Sometimes my past life as a third grade teacher comes in handy...