Parent’s Guide to Reading Levels

Lori Blahey is a former Senior Marketing Consultant at EPL.

Did you know that our children’s collections include hundreds of thousands of books? With so much to choose from, it can be intimidating to choose books for your growing reader.

Some educators recommend that children learning to read choose reading material based on its reading level. This is common in a school setting but can be confusing to parents who may not be familiar with the term or how it applies to their child’s journey towards learning to read.

What are reading levels?

Reading levels are assigned to books as a tool for teachers and educators based on a particular readability formula. Levels scale from easiest to most difficult, with each one corresponding to a grade in school, starting in Kindergarten and ending in High School.

Using levelled books is one way to support a child’s reading journey. However, it is only one of many possible approaches. Reading levels don't necessarily mean a book is appropriate for a child’s age, or if the topic will be of interest to your young reader. A level is a teacher’s tool, not a child’s label.

What are the different reading level systems?

There are several systems you may come across:

  • Fountas and Pinnell is perhaps the most widely-used levelled reader series for classroom assessment. There are 27 Fountas and Pinnell reading levels, starting at A for students in Kindergarten and going up to Z+ for students in High School age and above.
  • The Accelerated Reader (or AR) program uses a system of levelling books called the ATOS® reading formula. ATOS levels are numerical and the lower the ATOS® score, the easier the text should be.
  • The Lexile Framework is another numerical system. Generally, the lower the number, the simpler the text as well. You may also see letters before the Lexile numbers. These are Lexile codes, two-letter designations to give more information about the book such as their developmental appropriateness, intended use or format. Here is the full list for reference:
    • AD (Adult Directed): Books that are usually read to a child, rather than a child reading them independently.
    • NC (Non-conforming): These books are suitable for high-ability readers but are appropriate for a younger audience.
    • HL (High-Low): Meaning “high-interest” and “low-readability”, these books are useful when matching struggling or reluctant readers with books that have engaging content.
    • Illustrated Guide (IG): Nonfiction materials often used for reference
    • GN (Graphic Novel): Graphic novels or comic books
    • BG (Beginning Reader): Appropriate for emerging readers
    • NP (Non-Prose): Poems, plays, songs, recipes and text with non-standard or absent punctuation.

To help simplify things here are all three systems for easy reference. Please note that the grade levels are not correlated with the Alberta Curriculum.

Approximate Grade Lexile Level ATOS Fountas and Pinnell Level
K BR160L to 150L 0.4 to 0.9 A, B, C, D
1 165L to 570L 1.0 to 2.4 E, F, G, H, I, J
2 425L to 795L 2.5 to 3.5 K, L, M
3 645L to 985L 3.6 to 4.2 N, O, P
4 850L to 1160L 4.3 to 4.9 Q, R, S
5 950L to 1260L 5.0 to 5.5 T, U, V
6 1030L to 1340L 5.6 to 6.3 W, X, Y
7 1095L to 1410L 7.0+ Z
8 1155L to 1470L 7.0+ Z
9 1205L to 1520L 7.0+ Z+
10 1250L to 1570L 7.0+ Z+
11 1295L to 1610L 7.0+ Z+
12 1295L to 1610L 7.0+ Z+

In addition to these systems, publishers may also produce series organized into their own levelling system.

For example, HarperCollins produces the popular “I Can Read!” series, which has six levels. The Batman title shown is a level 2, which the publisher says is geared towards kids who read on their own but still need a little help. These systems vary from publisher to publisher. In addition to these systems, publishers may also produce series organized into their own levelling system. 

How can I support my child’s reading?

You can foster a love of reading by creating a book and language rich environment in the home. Provide access to a wide variety of reading material, allow your child some choice in what they read and model reading behaviour. Don’t worry too much if your child sometimes reads above or below their current reading level. They may be interested in a certain topic so let them explore. As with the learning of any skill, progression isn’t strictly linear. It can be helpful for young readers to give their reading brain a workout with more challenging material. After a literary workout, they may need a rest day and read something a little easier to practise and build confidence. 

With kids, the most important thing to do is to encourage reading—any reading—whether it’s fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, comic books, chapter books or picture books. Check out some of our favourites for students in Kindergarten and up, including Canadian stories and stories en français. Bonus, nearly all the titles are also available in eBook format. We also have booklists for early Elementary students.

If you’re visiting us in-branch, don’t be shy! Library staff are happy to help you navigate the collection and recommend amazing stories that are a great fit for your growing reader. You can also us a request for a personalized booklist to suit you or your child’s interests.

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This blog post is published as part of The Kitchen Table Classroom: A Series to Support Learning from Home, a partnership between the Edmonton Public Library and the Calgary Public Library.