Is it OK for kids to read books outside their reading levels?

Whether your kid is a naturally precocious reader or just happened to pick out an interesting-looking (but challenging) book, she'll need some guidance to avoid age-inappropriate content and frustration and improve her understanding of the material.

Here are some ideas:

Get an assessment. Many schools offer reading assessments to determine a child's reading level. A teacher or librarian can help pick out books that will challenge her but that don't contain material that's not appropriate or too difficult to understand.

If your school uses the Lexile Measure, you can find books that match her reading ability on Amazon. Here's an example of where the Lexile Measure may appear on Amazon product pages:







Use supporting materials. If she's chosen a complex book, supplement it with some lower-level reading to help her build her comprehension of the subject matter.

Write down unknown words. Ask your kid to keep a list of all the new words she encounters so she can look them up later.

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Kid, 10 years old

I read a lot of books for young adults and honestly, although some people may think they are too difficult or inappropriate, I think a reader who reads challenging books and is mature should be abale to handle almost anything on the YA shelves. Plus, YA has some of the best books there are. We don't want to limit the books that we read.
Kid, 11 years old

If I was reading only books that were geared towards my age range at this point in my life, I would be bored out of my mind and completely uninterested in reading. As long as the book isn't totally inappropriate, LET THE KID READ WHAT THE KID WANTS TO READ. How is this even a question? And if it's too complex, then the kid will have learned that they need to read books geared towards younger age ranges (for example, if the kid doesn't understand YA literature, then they might be better suited for middle grade.) The whole "promote their understanding of the material" is ridiculous in my opinion. It's not a school, they can read their own books on their own time, learn by themselves, make their own connections, without parents constantly explaining everything to them. Sometimes I read stuff that I don't understand. This has been happening since I started reading, because duh. I either ask my parents about what it means, or I don't care enough to, and the world does not end. And also, the constant use of she/her pronouns throughout the article was weird.
Kid, 9 years old

i like what you are explaining! Just saying, sometimes kids (like me!) read books outside their reading level because they are ready for those books! I have been reading books for 7th graders for a long time, and i'm only in third! But this seems helpful for kids who need help with the book!
Kid, 11 years old

I have been reading books for young adults since I was 7 and adult novels since I was 8. let a kid self-police themselves, they generally will do a good job.
Teen, 14 years old written by skyeak

You can definitely read above your reading level! Just be aware that higher reading levels include books that may have mature and/or inappropriate themes and more complex vocabulary. Additionally, some books include deeper meanings and concepts that may be hard for a young reader to understand. Try discussing the book with an adult or older reader to help understand confusing concepts.
Teen, 13 years old written by Frogface_

I am currently reading Johnny got his gun, and even though my mom can't stand books about war, I find them rather enjoyable. I think kids should be allowed to read books above their reading level. Also, someone should review Johnny got his gun by Dalton Trumbo.
Teen, 17 years old written by Jaspony

Not to be picky but I thought it was kind of sexist how it said "her" all the time. I'm one of the best readers In my class and I'm a Male. We don't just sit around and couch potatoes playing Fortnite. I know it's hard to believe but true.
Adult written by CarynFisher

People writing articles chose male or female and go with it. In the past males were dominantly represented in books and literature in general. It is okay for this article to be about "she/her", just as other articles that discuss positive attributes can be about "he/him" or even "they/them". Some authors chose to switch back and forth throughout the article or book, and that is also acceptable. This article is not sexist in any way. It is referring to "she" and does not mean the "he" can't also be an advanced reader. When choosing to make bold statements it is important for us to educate ourselves on the issue at hand. Reading some books about sexism might help you be more able to identify it.
Teen, 13 years old written by theshadowsleuth

I’m female, but I did also find it odd. Boys can be great readers, and I know plenty of girls who aren’t great at reading.
Teen, 14 years old written by Bubbsart

It is fine as long as the content is suitable for the tween’s age and reading level. Ladder option applies to kids that have above-average reading levels, (for example one of my friends in elementary school could read up to a seventh grade level and couldn’t read books below the 4th/5th grade level.
Kid, 12 years old

I think it is appropriate. I started reading at the age of three, and since I looked up to my older brother, I would always want to read what he read. I read the first diary of a wimpy kid book when I was six, and read the I funny series at the age of eight. Right now, I am trying to convince my parents to let me read johnny got his gun by dalton trumbo. It is pretty violent, but I think I should be allowed to read it. It just depends on the kid's maturity and what they have been exposed to. If they read scary books, you should make sure they know that it's not real. If it is based on real events, I suggest you have a talk about it. I'm not a parent yet, so I don't know really.
Parent of a 14 year old written by Zacha76

As a child, I read absolutely everything. My mom's raunchy books included. If you are willing to answer questions, let them read all they want. I can't expect my kid will always be reading Diary of a Wimpy kid and not want to move on to V.C. Andrews. It gives so much insight and my mom and dad never bothered to look through the books I was reading. If you raise them to come to you with questions and a big dictionary. I have to say that if an 11 year old wants to grab War and Peace, I'm not going to stop them because it might be above their reading level.
Kid, 10 years old

I'm very sure that it's okay for kids to read things outside their reading level. Sometimes, it's just FUN reading a goofy lower-level book, and other times, it's EXCITING to try challenging books. They can get help from a parent or teacher when they're confused about a word. There's a difference between reading at different reading levels and reading more mature content.
Teen, 14 years old written by LilDragon2

As soon as I could talk, I started reading. Taking an assessment about five or six years ago told me that I was at a grade 12 level and I thought nothing of it until I realized what it meant. I finish books with hundreds of pages in an hour or so. I've always been portrayed as a nerdy type and most people would agree with me when I say I'm not really complete without a book in hand. Since I was six years old, I've been sneaking peeks at my dad's books and started reading in the teen section when I was about seven. When I turned nine, my dad and I started sharing books and recommending them to one another, though he wasn't hesitant to keep me from reading inappropriate content. When I was ten and summarized a book I was reading, my parents freaked out. After long, heated discussions, we decided that I was to "self-police" myself and talk about any themes that made me feel uncomfortable. I think that allowing your child to self-police as I did makes them feel independent and more in charge of their own hobby. It's never good to squash down a child's passion for reading, especially because it is so rare nowadays. Most kids are exposed to violent, bloody video games at a very young age, so if violence is your concern, you don't have much to worry about. If you think your child will be disturbed by inappropriate language, chances are that they've heard it from the "big kids" on the back of their bus already. If a book includes sexual references, your child is likely to put it down and not pick up another one like it for a while. The moral of the story is to just set your kid free and ask them casual questions about what they're reading. If they're scared and won't admit it, make them stop. However, it's more probable that your child will self-police him or herself adequately until he or she is old enough.
Teen, 14 years old written by Lucential

I’m a ‘nerd.’ Like a lot of other people on here, I have been a precocious reader since a very young age. That, coupled with the fact that my siblings are 8 and 12 years older than I am, lead to the fact that I started running out of interesting age-appropriate books. Personally, I believe that the best way to avoid your thirteen-year-old reading porn is to casually monitor their reading. Dropping questions in conversation such as “what are you reading?” or “have you read any good books recently” can give you a picture of what your child is reading, and as a result may help yo steer your kid away from books that are too mature. As a side note, know your kid. Some kids, (myself included), are afraid of almost nothing and can read violence like there’s no tomorrow. Others, however, might end up reading things (horror novels at age 8, for example) that frighten them or disturb them. If a teenager does end up reading something that makes them uncomfortable, the odds are that they won’t pick up any similar books for a while. As a syggestion, don’t put too much limit on what your child is reading. Books are a great way to expand the imagination, and a lot of the time, sword and knife fighting is what your child wants to read. And, if you’re all out of ideas, help your child write a book. In conclusion, (and if you don’t want to ready my long paragraph), don’t limit your kid too much. Almost no one is damaged by reading books above their reading level, and kids can usually decide for themselves when to stop.
Teen, 15 years old written by MissBookaHolic

I am 15 and have been reading "adult" literature since I was seven. I believe that most recently written works are peppered with content much too dark and sensual for children to comprehend and properly process. While children should be encouraged (as I was) at an early age to read good literature like Lord of the Rings or books on philosophy and logic, most books nowadays labeled as "teen" or "YA" should be monitored. Quite frankly I believe a lot of books written recently and labeled as such are not worth reading whatsoever. If a young child is eager to read beyond their "reading level", let them read good stuff. If they are advanced at eight, give them Charles Dickens, Jane Austin, Lousia May Alcott, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, or Jack London. But for heaven's sake don't think "wow he's so advanced I think my eight year old should be reading Twilight or the Hunger Games". Books like these are unhealthy for a child to read and will only develop unhealthy behavior. Please use common sense when giving a child "adult" literature.
Teen, 14 years old written by Lucential

In what way? If you need a reading level for a lower school student, usually their teacher or librarian has that information. Otherwise, you have to just go through their books.
Teen, 13 years old written by Suited Casually

I am at the reading level of a graduated senior I have been ever since 2nd grade, Or at least that's what it says because the curriculum doesn't go any higher. The problem with that was how boring the books around me were for a while. Especially with this thing called RIF where we could take a book to keep and they only showed us certain books at our presumed level! That of which drove me to wanting a challenge sadly any book I have read has been easy which is why I am always looking for tougher books. These books with sexual content I have understood since 1st grade at the latest. So I would seek out these books because they were the best thing I could find for a while. So I would personally say you have to really critique and measure what kids are taking in and what they can handle. For me I could have read some books that are really "hard". One I'm going for currently is War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (The book not the movie). So I would say it honestly just depends on the person.
Teen, 14 years old written by theladyawesome

Um...yes?????????? When I was 12 years old, I had pretty much read everything worth reading in YA: ~Harry Potter ~Percy Jackson ~Mortal Instruments ~Hunger Games ~Maze Runner ~Throne of Glass ~Divergent There are sexual references in many of the books I listed above and some mild language (hell, damn, ass). There is also explicit sex in CITY OF HEAVENLY FIRE and TOWER OF DAWN. And you know what? 12 year old me didn't like that, but she skipped over those sections and read those books as nothing had ever happened. And it did not scar me for life, big shocker. If my mom or dad had intervened and told me to not read those books, however, I don't know where I would be. Teens/Tweens: If a book catches your eye, most of the time, definitely check it out. Parents: Please, let your kids read the things that they love.
Teen, 13 years old written by Moviegirl700

Totally let them! Of course, an advanced 7 year old should not read Twilight, and an advanced 12 year old should not read graphic murder mysteries. All kids should be encouraged to read! Advanced 5-7 year olds should start Harry Potter, Jane Austen books, and classic books like Tom Sawyer, the Little Princess, etc. 8-11 should start things like Harry Potter, Jane Austen, and teen books like Divergent, and the Hunger Games (HG should be the 9+ crowd-prepare kids for the near rape scene in Divergent). 12+ can start adultish books, but watch for sexual content and serious violence. Tough words? Explain!!
Kid, 12 years old

I enjoy reading, and am above my friends' reading levels except two of them. I recently read Breathless and it is 14 and up. I really enjoyed and understood it. It isn't on common sense media but it should be.
Kid, 10 years old

I am outside my English reading level but it's a bit hard to find books in the school library because a lot of them are easy for me
Kid, 12 years old

If the book they are reading is appropriate for their age group (like no sexy stuff) they should be fine. I read books that are to young for my reading level because most books in my reading level are boring to me. If you kid likes reading books about fairies but they are in a 9th grade reading level, it’s gonna be hard to find books about fairies in their reading level. Let them express themselves by reading below or above their reading level and just let them read what they want (if it’s appropriate).
Kid, 8 years old

I think it's okay as long as it does not have anything too inappropriate. It's great to stretch your reading level a bit in fact the more the better. It will encourage kids to read more plus the early readers can be a bit boring.
Kid, 10 years old

As long as it is appropriate, it is OK! It is completely pointless to try to limit kids like myself to their reading level!
Adult written by The Parent of two

When I was 3 I learned to read. By 4 I was reading chapter books made for 5th graders. At 5 I read every classic I could get my hands on, Dickens, The Secret Garden, and The Wind In The Willows. My Mom told me I would grow out of it. She told me that everyone would catch up to me in reading level, but it never happened. In 5th grade I was reading wuthering heights and my love for stories and books has only grown.
Teen, 17 years old written by Rcarroll4515

Most definitely. In 2nd grade I was on.y about 4-5 months ahead of the reading level. I decided to read Jurassic park, and through context and google learned unknown words and finished. This encouraged me to read more advanced books. By 5th grade I had read, an adult version of treasure island, moby dick, farenheit 451, 1984, huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, les miserables, the complete collection of Robinson Crusoe, 3 Sherlock Holmes stories, the trial, all the hunger games and divergent books, 1 James Bond book, 6 other Michael chrichton books, and had bought the Martian and the great gats y to read. I had reached a college reading level by 6th grade. I finished most of these books in a week because I genuinely enjoyed them. I think if you stick with what you know and don’t challenge your self you never learn. Choose books that you will enjoy and you will ha e finished before you know.
Teen, 13 years old written by Helloobooks

Of couse it is ok. I read Dickens at the age of 10 and Le morte d Arthur, unabridged, in old english when I was twelve. It hasn't damaged me. I undersrood them perfectly
Teen, 13 years old written by plox

I love to read. Most of the reason I have a huge vocabulary and good writing technique is because I've never stayed at my reading level. I was reading the Harry Potters in first grade, and I never had problems with advanced words because I used context clues. My parents were very supportive, and that's why I'm the kid I am today. I agree with the others, though. Parents should check for inappropriate content.
Teen, 17 years old written by Line2023

Reading books outside one's reading level can give a kid a good challenge, and as long as it's not inappropriate it's fine.
Kid, 9 years old

Yes, I did find this article helpful. I have read a ton of mature YA books that are above my age group reading level (The Librarian Of Auschwitz, John Green) but I always make sure to okay them with my parents first.
Kid, 11 years old

Yes. If they are young kids, they might not even understand some of the inappropriate stuff in a book so you don't have to worry. Also, some kids (like me) don't like the type of books on their reading level.
Kid, 11 years old

also, when you think about it, there may be kids who dont like reading not because they cant, but cause they dont like the material on their level. mind you, I am on a high school level.
Kid, 12 years old

Same. I love reading books my 16 year old brother reads. I also think it improves your spelling and grammar when you read a lot.
Kid, 8 years old

Yes, I've read all the Harry Potter books with no help. (I can read 7th grade reading level I'm gifted)
Adult written by bigskycamper

Yes! Reading levels(lexiles, guided reading levels etc.) are not a 1 to 1 match to a child's abilities on a given day or overall. Interest and background knowledge of a subject can greatly effect a child's ability to read a book as well. Due to specialized vocabulary, nonfiction books often get leveled fairly high, even if lower level readers can read them to to familiarity with the language or with picture clues. (With a young boy I find this especially frustrating as he is often told at school he "can't" choose books he's very capable of reading). Also, if kids never try and reach for harder books, they'll never know when they are ready for the next level. Kids should be encouraged to self-evaluate books as being too hard or just right instead of relying on outside metrics. Some good strategies are to have kids start reading and hold up a finger every time they get to a word they don't know. If it's more than 5 in the first few pages (or a page for a chapter book) maybe wait on the book or have an adult read it but if they are determined and highly-interested, why stop them? Reading levels were designed to mitigate kids who are frustrated by too hard books but if your child isn't frustrated, let 'em learn! A good rule of thumb on the flip-side, there is absolutely nothing wrong with reading below level or books that are "too easy" unless it's a time when kids should be specifically working on reading skills. Reading is like training for a marathon. While you will need to run some fast miles and do some speedwork, 90% of your training is about laying a solid base, which includes lots and lots of easy miles.
Parent written by [email protected]

Yes. There are 3 basic benefits to allowing this. 1. The obvious ones about increased literacy and the simple fact that each child learns at their own pace. Example: my son is not a great reader, but his appreciation of narrative is way advanced. So I read a lot of higher level fic to him at bedtime. 2. The not so obvious such as the 'rights of the reader' (Daniel Pannac) to choose what to read when they feel like it. As already pointed out adults choose to read up or down depending on their present mood, so why do we tell kids that a book is below or above them. Example: I may read Alain de Botton when I'm having a smart day, but often I read Wired magazine because I'm tired. 3. And finally, for the love. As a school librarian I often see 5yr olds with a Harry Potter under their arm. I know they won't read more than a few pages and so do they, but they want the Kudos of carrying it around. Love of books is a culture value that we all want to encourage, not just of the written word but the actual book as a culturally important artifact. This love of the book is chosen, and like all love, it cannot be forced.
Adult written by D-Rae

From special educator standpoint I have a lot of kids that want to read what their peers are reading. My students come back from the library with books that are so high above their grade level they would never be able to read, let alone comprehend them without reading with someone . When that happens I encourage them to take the book home and read with their parents but also borrow books that are at their level to read when reading by themselves . This allows them to save face in front of their peers . Remember though there are many high interest low-level books available .
Adult written by D-Rae

Absolutely!! Whether kids are reading above or below their level they are still reading! When kids are being graded on their comprehension level that is a little bit different story. In that respect they are being graded according to the reading level that they tested at throughout the year. If a high level reader wants to read a low level picture book, let them. It's enjoyable for adults to go down a slide or run through a sprinkler, isn't it? When kids read above their level and challenge themselves that's a great thing too. My daughters both read way above their grade level. This is only a concern to me when the content that they are reading could be too advanced socially and emotionally for them. For a long time I would go to parent review sites for books before I would allow them to read books that possibly contained inappropriate material. That's the main reason I signed up for Common Sense Media. This site along with a few others that I have found really help me decide if a book is something I want my child to read . Many of their friends read books that I won't allow them to read and it makes for some heated arguments but parents should always have the final say in what their child consumes, either by reading or by watching. You will find many parents that are way more liberal than you and you will find more parents that are more conservative than you. It's your child. As a side note, both boys and girls read high-level books books that are above their reading level. Common Sense Media, I am disappointed as well that you referred that girls are the ones reading above their levels.
written by Letsbeweirdtogether

I've been reading outside of my reading level since I learned how to read. This year I read Anna Karenina and The Portrait of a Lady. Maybe not too much when they're young so that the kid isn't exposed to content that could be considered inappropriate (so 1st-4th) but after that they need to start developing a good, solid vocabulary and sometimes -especially classic novels -it can teach a child a valuable lesson about life. To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, has been my favorite book since third grade and the first time I read it I learned not to judge people by what i hear or by how they look -because I didn't understand the significance of the court case assigned to Atticus and so I put more thought into Boo's story line and drew a good lesson form it for my age. Kids will ask questions if they want to know something and if they aren't interested enough they will take from each book what they need to.
Adult written by Bookwmn1

From my thirty plus years of experience in working in libraries with children and books, my answer is a resounding YES. Most often I encounter parents who do not want their child to read a book that is below their grade level. There is little harm in this unless the child is reading books for a competition or reward of some kind such as a class pizza party or reading club prizes. In those cases children are expected to be reading material on their own reading level. Adults enjoy easy leisure reading and children should have the opportunity too. If the material is too difficult for the child to read on their own they may tire of it and put it aside until later. Parents and teachers can greatly help in the ways already mentioned like keeping a word list and looking for additional less difficult materials. In learning language we can understand words when we hear them even though we may not be able to read or write them. This would be a great opportunity to read the material together and/or supplement it with the book on audio. This allows the child can hear and read the words at the same time. Additional media materials such as DVDs and games may also be available. Or course, as a parent I'd opt for the warm cuddly experience of reading aloud together.
Teen, 13 years old written by werewolf10100

I don't think it would be good for kids to read outside of their reading levels because kids tend to learn at a slow pace so forcing themselves to do something higher than expected could confuse them and they won't be able to understand whats going on.