Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Five Finger Test

I got a chance to work in the children's department the other day, a delightful departure from my usual routine. A former elementary school teacher and a former parent of young children (I'm still a parent, the kids are out of the house and on their own), it was fun to be in the children's section.

I approached a mom and her daughter. The mom had long dark brown hair, some of it clipped on top of her head. She was wearing an off-white sweater and jeans. Her daughter looked to be seven or eight and had long brown hair.

"Can I help you find anything?", I asked.

"Actually you can," the mom said. "Can you help us find a good book for her to read?", she asked as she gestured to her daughter, who was holding THE SISTERS GRIMM: A VERY GRIMM GUIDEicon.

"Sure," I said. The book you have there is part of a series, THE SISTERS GRIMMicon, which is fun, though I have heard is a little scary," I say as I walk over to where the series is on the shelves. I pick up the first one in the series and hand it to the girl. "Do you know how to see if a book is not too hard or not too easy for you?"


She shook her head.

"Here's what you do," I said. "It's called the Five Finger Test. Start reading a page, any page. You aren't reading for the story, all you're doing is looking for words you don't know. When you come to a word you don't know, hold up a finger. If you have more than five words on a page that you don't know, the book is probably too hard for you, and it would be frustrating for you to read. If you have less than one or two words on a page that you don't know, then the book is probably too easy for you."

"You are wonderful," the mom whispered to me, smiling. "This is great. I've never heard of doing that before."

I opened the book to a random page and handed the book to the girl. "Go ahead, just start reading. When you find a word you don't know, hold up a finger."

She started reading to herself, mouthing the words. She got to a word, shook her head a little bit, and said, "I don't know that one."

"Okay, hold up a finger," I said. She kept reading. Right away she found another word she didn't know, and then another and another. She got to five before she was halfway down the page.

"It looks like this book is probably a little too hard for you right now," I said. "You don't want to choose a book that's too hard, you'd just get frustrated trying to read too many words you don't know and you wouldn't enjoy the story. If there are a couple of words you don't know on a page, you can usually figure out what they mean from the rest of the story." She nodded, looked up at me, smiling shyly, and handed me the book.

"What have you read before that you've liked?", I asked.

"IVY AND BEANicon," she said quietly. "I just read the first one."

"Oh, great! That is a series, so there are more of those right over here." I took them over to the IVY AND BEANicon series, and handed her the second in the series. Her eyes shone.


The mother said, "Thank you so much! My name is Olivia, and this is Camille."

I held out my hand and shook Camille's hand. "Thank you for coming in today," I told the girl. "Enjoy your book!"

The mom whispered to me again, "You made her feel so important, I could tell. Thank you so much!"

"Sure," I said, smiling. "Have a good day!"

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  1. Great test!

    I like that she got Ivy and Bean too. :)

  2. Love this! And I'll have to remember the five finger test. I have an 11 year old who is a voracious reader and a 3 year old who is quickly teaching herself. :)

  3. Thanks so much for the great tip - glad to have that one one in my pocket.
    I work at a small independent bookstore and really enjoy (and relate) to your stories. Great blog!

  4. What a sweet story! I love stuff like this, it reminds me of why we go through the tough customers. I bet that girl likes reading better for the rest of her life. I would have. :)