Book Tips for Older Readers

I am addicted to listening to audiobooks and Podcasts while gardening – it’s my Saturday catch up time! This morning I listened to the current Lomah Podcast episode with the amazing Sally Clendon. If you haven’t caught up with this, the Lomah Podcast is running a special 15 episode series at the moment on literacy instruction for students with significant disabilities. The series host, Kim Albrecht, is the mother of a teenager with complex communication needs and the podcast focuses on issues that concern their family. Luckily for us she is currently investigating comprehensive literacy instruction and doing an awesome, and entertaining, job.

This week, the episode focus was Conventional Literacy instruction. Sally shared a wealth of information – and even though I have been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Sally, I still learned a new way of talking about and looking at some of the topics they discussed. Yay Sally!!

At one point, Kim asked Sally about finding appropriate texts for her 17 year old daughter. This is a question that I get asked at least several times a year, so I thought it was a good time to blog about this topic again!!

Tips for Emergent Older Readers

Baa Baa Smart Sheep By Mark Sommerset

For students who are emergent readers and writers, we have so many more options! We want them to engage with anything print based that they are interested in. If you want to use the resources for shared reading, then they need to be a text that you can finish in one sitting and that you can read repeatedly. But there are other texts that they might engage with on their own which you also want to have available to them. Remember – we are aiming for at least 20 – 50 texts for them to choose between.

Tar Heel Reader – this was Sally’s first suggestion and it is GOLD!! Many of you use it daily, as I do. It’s a fabulous resource that I have blogged about before. For older students you can find so many books on age respectful topics. During the episode, Kim mentioned that her daughter has a bit of a “thing” for Justin Bieber. I just checked Tar Heel Reader and found 11 books about Bieber that could be added to her bookshelves straight away! Sally mentioned other topics such as fashion or cooking – think about your learner and what they like, and there’s every chance you’ll find some options. Thanks to Gary and Karen and everyone involved in keeping Tar Heel Reader going for us all to use!!

PS Check out the caution category for some great teenage options. The first book in the caution category at the moment is one I wrote earlier this year called “The A to Z of Hot Guys” but there are many more to check out.

Magazines – there are lots of teen magazines which an emergent older reader might enjoy engaging with. Kim mentioned how much her daughter engages with these and that magazines with cute boys or girls can be a real motivator! You might not be using these for shared reading (although there might be an article or two you could do shared reading with), but they are a good resource to have on hand for independent reading time. In the episode of the Lomah Podcast with Sophia Benson-Goldberg she talks about how important this time is where individuals just go “hands-on” with texts – so if magazines will help this time to be more successful, you definitely want them in the mix!

Cooking books (and magazines) – for some of the teens and adults that I have worked with cooking books and magazines have been one of their favourite independent reading time resources. I never seem to have time to cook these days, but I still love leafing through and looking at the pictures – yum!

Picture books for Older Readers – this was another resource that Sally referred us to in the podcast episode. She and I collaborated on a list years ago which I turned into a blog post. But the most up to date version of this is the Pinterest board at This list started when I stayed with Sally – and her family introduced me to the book “Baa Baa Smart Sheep” – a fabulous New Zealand book. I loved it so much that when I saw it at the airport on the way home, I immediately bought it.

The next week I was working at a school and read Baa Baa Smart Sheep to a group of teenagers. They loved it! But what impressed me even more, was that the staff in their classroom loved it so much that they told their peers – and I got a request to stand up and read it at staff meeting!

I told Sally about this – and this led us to generate our first list of “Picture Books for Older Readers”. To be added to this list, the book needed to suitable for shared reading (we needed to be able to read it in one sitting and read it repeatedly as needed) – and it needed to be a book that most teens and adults engaged with! So – welcome to the world of original books such as My Dead Bunny and parodies such as the Very Hungry Zombie and the Very Hungry Bum! Enjoy laughing!!

Tips for Early Conventional Older Readers

For students who are early conventional readers and writers, we have a few more guidelines.

For these students, we need to know their reading comprehension level. The books we use in both comprehension instruction and in self-selected reading need to be at or below their reading level. Always keep this in mind – because it’s very hard to get better at something when it is too difficult. And once again, we are aiming for a range of texts (20 to 50) for them to choose from in self-selected reading.

Finding the level of texts isn’t always easy! You can Google the book and sometimes find a level. Of course, some reading schemes also have levels which can be helpful – although as Sally mentions in the podcast, the books in reading schemes aren’t always the most engaging and we are definitely looking for engagement in this area!

Here are couple of suggestions for levelling books. Far from perfect but hopefully helpful!

Teaching Books – this is a great resource, with 1000s of books listed. It provides you with a range of measures of text complexity for each text – and is free to join up and use.

Scholastic Book Wizard – only works for books published by Scholastic but is helpful for those!

Readability Checker – there are a range of Readability Checkers that you can find using a web search. There is also a free one built into Microsoft Word. These only work if you have a copy of the text of the book that you can copy and paste – but they will give you an indication.

And here is a table I put together from a range of sources to help determine levels if you are using a specific levelling system. Once again, it isn’t perfect!

Tar Heel Reader – Tar Heel Reader is useful again! You will need to check the readability level of the books you select but there are many appropriate books for early conventional readers on the site.

Magazines – may be appropriate for leisure time and maybe for self-selected reading, but be aware that many magazines are written at a grade 3 or 4 level or above. This means they are not generally suitable for early conventional readers.

Picture Books for Older Readers – again these might be suitable for self-selected reading, but again be aware that many children’s picture books are written at a higher level than you might think. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is actually a grade 2/3 level and some are as high as grades 5/6. Check out the level of any book before using it.

Readers – this is a generic term for books from a range of reading schemes. These are designed for early conventional readers, and have the advantage of having an easily accessible reading level – often in small increments. Unfortunately, sometimes these books are not the most motivating – and we definitely want motivating! They are also not always appropriate for the older readers I am writing about as they are often written for young children and are not age respectful. However, there have been some changes in the world of readers which has made things a little easier.

Superhero Readers – there are a range of readers focusing on superheroes aimed at beginning readers. These are enjoyed by many of the teens I know! There are so many of these, in fact, that Amazon has a search dedicated to them now.

Disney Kids Readers – these have provided another option for some of the students I work with who love Disney movies and find books with their favourite characters very motivating!

Reading A to Z – this is an online reader scheme that I now use every week. The books in the scheme can be used online or printed and made up and there are a large number of non-fiction photo based books which have the advantage of being interesting to our older students – and which don’t look so juvenile! If you are interested in checking this out, they have a free trial available.

And I’d love to hear if you have any more suggestions for resources! It’s an area we all need more ideas in.

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