The other day I was helping a grandmother select early readers for her granddaughter. She said specifically that she wanted “…Level One books.” I walked over to our spinner full of the early readers and pulled out several level one books from the following publishers: Penguin, Harper, Simon Spotlight, and Scholastic, and found a vast difference between each publisher’s definition of what a level one book.
As the grandma looked at each book I couldn’t help but see the differences, some enormous, between the books. For the first time in a long time (I’m ashamed to admit) I really looked at these and found there is absolutely no consistency with what a level one book is supposed to be. Some were what I would expect: bold, easy to describe pictures with a limited number of words on the page. Each publisher describes what a level one clearly on the back of the book with a range of reading abilities required. Perhaps it’s just me, but I think most of my customer think level one books are for kids who are just learning how to read; these are the easiest books to read. The customer started rejecting book after book because they were too hard.
I’m not sure when we moved from the very simple: “The cat sat on the mat.” of the Bob books. Here are random sentences from four different level one books that highlight the range of language and sentence structure in these books. “Have fun with your balloon,” from Hippo and Rabbit: Brave Like and then,” Let’s go home!” from Clem and Clara Take a Ride to, “Trucks in pink,” from Trucktown. And then finally, this sentence from Fancy Day in Room 1-A: “Lionel makes the points on his crown look like bloody shark teeth.”
I think the differences between these sentences is fairly obvious. It’s clear the sentence from the level one Fancy Nancy book is not only the most complex, but the scariest. As someone who struggled learning how to read, some of these books would have been far too hard for me. Which leads to the inevitable discussion of consistency among the publishers. It’s probably too much to ask that the publishers all have the same sentence structure in each leveled reader.
So, I’ve decided that my job as a bookseller is to know how each publisher treats each leveled reader. Now I know Harper level ones are far more advanced than others’ level ones. This is making me rethink how we shelve the I Can Read spinner. Rather than going alphabetically within each level, I think it makes more sense to shelve by publisher. But then it’s hard for customers to find books, although I have noticed that most parents seem to know which publishers are good for their kids.
Booksellers, how does your store treat the leveled readers?