ALSC Online Courses

Leveling and Libraries

The questions are familiar to children’s librarians:

– “Where are the ‘K’ books?”
– “My son has a Lexile of 850. The teacher wants him to read a book on his level.”
– “Can you tell me which book has the most points on the Accelerated Reader test?”

These are examples of questions that result from instructional systems used by schools. These instructional programs incorporate leveling methods which attempt to identify books that match a student reading level. Leveling strategies are well documented for teachers and classrooms.

Since 2008, I have been teaching an ALSC online course, Reading Instruction and Children’s Books. Librarians who enrolled in this course have explored methods of calculating readability using mathematical formulas such as this one:

The mathematical formulas for calculating reading level are based on numbers such as word length, sentence length, sentences per paragraph and pages per book. Reading levels are communicated to students by sorting books into bins, preparing book lists, searching databases or publishing numbers on book covers.

Publishers put large numbers on covers of their beginning book series in an attempt to attract emergent readers. Here are some examples from five series with level 1 on their covers:

An examination finds that the difficulty of text varies from one publisher to another and even varies within books of the same series. Lisa Taylor, who took my course in 2009, wrote in Children & Libraries about “The Conundrum of Choosing Book Levels” (Winter 2010, pg. 84). She discussed publisher numbering of easy books and asked, “…why one publisher’s Level 1 may be so different from another.”

This year I have been teaching the ALSC webinar, Leveling Easy Readers. I started by searching Library Literature, the Wilson database that indexes over 155 library periodicals, for articles on leveling. I was surprised to find that nothing has been published about how this topic applies to libraries. This was particularly perplexing to me since I recall discussions with librarians who indicated they have been leveling their books for several years, are currently designing a leveling system or are partnering with local schools to provide access to leveled books and quizzes.

I have begun to collect some examples of leveling from public libraries and have made them available on a wiki: If your library has a leveling system or you have a story to share about leveling, please send it to me at so that I can add it to the leveling wiki.

Kate Todd has worked as a librarian for The New York Public Library and Manhattanville College. She is currently working on independent projects, including online teaching for ALSC. Her webinar, Leveling Easy Readers, will be offered on Tuesday, August 23 at 1:00 pm Central time.

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