The Danger of the “Just Right” Books and Other Helpful Reading Interventions

My mother never told me what to read.  Neither did my teachers.  Sure, I was an insatiable reader, a child that loved riding her bike to the public library only to return with the biggest bag of books my handlebars could handle.  Sure, I would sometimes stay up past midnight just to see what would happen next.  Sure, I used to be able to read in the car without getting carsick.  And yet, it wasn’t because I read just right books. It wasn’t because I logged how many minutes I read at home and at school so that I could see the pattern.  It wasn’t even because my teacher told me I would love this book and I had to read it next.  It was simply because I loved the freedom of reading.

 The freedom of reading….

How often do we discuss that in our classrooms?  How often do we just let our students read whatever they choose and then let them discuss however they want why they just loved reading whatever they chose?  How often do we let them sing the praises of a certain book even if it is not just right for a majority of the class?  How often do we let them try that book even if we think it may just be a tad too hard, too long, or too boring?

The freedom to read….

We seem obsessed with the particularity of reading.  Of breaking it down into nothing but strategies so that students understand what great readers do.  Of logging every minute and every page.  Of finding “just right” books through levels and forcing them upon children because we know best.  Yet the problem with breaking something down is after a while all of those pieces become just that; pieces, and we lose sight of why we did it at all.  When reading becomes a strategy to master, we forget about the love that should be a part of it as well.  When we take away students freedom to read, we take away a part of their passion, a step of the path to becoming kids who just love to read.  And when we continue to tell them what to read, we take away part of what it means to become a great reader: knowing thyself.

So when we discuss “Just right” books don’t forget that that may just mean just right for that kid.  Just right for their interest.  Just right for their passion.  Just right for their curiosity.  Just right for their need.  And that may have nothing to do with their reading level.  When we discuss strategies don’t forget the big picture and what the goal is.  When we discuss logs and minutes and genres, well, just don’t discuss reading logs, please.  In fact, do your students a favor and get rid of them.   If you want to see why, read this post by Kathleen Sokolowski titld “How Do You Know They Are Reading?” and then think about it.


Give students the freedom to read so that they may want to read.  How powerfully simple is that.

12 thoughts on “The Danger of the “Just Right” Books and Other Helpful Reading Interventions”

  1. I’ve been thinking this very thing the last couple of days, but didn’t know how to express it. You did it for me!

  2. I think “just right” has its place at times, for example in small group instruction when you are working on particular things with a group of students with similar needs. However, that term “just right” can mean MANY different things when it comes to independent reading, as you mentioned toward the end of your post. I get frustrated when I hear about schools that mandate students choose their independent reading books from a particular guided reading level or lexile band. Kids are more than levels or lexiles…

  3. I think, like everything, it’s all about balance. I expect my first graders to choose some books for their book boxes that are “just-right” in terms of readability. They also have the freedom to choose some books that they want to read or look at (which makes them just right in my eyes–a different kind maybe, but still just right). I want them to pick books that they enjoy, and I also want them to pick books that they can read. Allington’s work on volume reading shows the importance of students spending time reading books that are at their independent level. That being said, I would echo Mindi’s frustration with kids being pigeon-holed into levels or lexiles. My library is not leveled. I also have a pretty good amount of time every day to read whatever they want. We start each day like this. At the end of the day, my biggest goal is for them to LOVE BOOKS.

  4. A “just right book” is a book the child is engaged in so much that they choose to read another book – and another and another and another … Leveled readers are rarely literature. They are just “school books”, unrelated to the real world and joy of reading great stories. I am speaking as a (now former) elementary school principal whose job included making sure kids were reading the other kind of just right books, the ones based on so-called “scientifically based” reading programs. I saw the intense boredom on too many kids’ faces. It’s one of the reasons I had to leave.

  5. This blog post really hit home with me. Thanks to my mother, I was saved from being force fed the usual chapter books available to elementary school kids of the early 1960’s that I never cared for and was allowed to read the likes of Edgar Rice Burroughs and other more mature authors which gave me the desire to read even more than I had before. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew were great for those kids that liked them but I never did. I wanted something different and I still do. Thanks, Mom, for standing up to the people who wanted me to read what ‘they’ wanted me to and, instead, let me read what pleased me, what entertained me, what excited me, what challenged me. It became the template of my life.

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