More and more, publishers are fine-tuning reading levels when preparing submission guidelines for writers of children’s books. Take Simon and Schuster, for example. This well-known publisher of children’s literature has established four reading levels, as follows: (For more details, see the publisher’s website at http://pages.simonandschuster.com/readytoread/levels from which this post is adapted).
Pre-Level One: This level is characterized by “shared reading, familiar characters, and simple words.” Children at this level are most frequently “read to” than reading themselves. This is generally the age from birth to three years. It is that time in a child’s lap when she shares the reading experience with a parent or other adult caregiver.
Level One: At this level, the young child begins to “sight read” easy words. He also begins to sound out words. Stories for this age group have very simple plots and dialogue. They deal with topics familiar to the child’s world.
Level Two: The child at this reading level can handle longer sentences and simple chapters. Interest in new words increases at this level.
Level Three: At this level, the child reader enjoys more complex plots and more in-depth character development. Vocabulary words are more difficult, as is sentence structure.
It is a good idea to review the guidelines of several publishers before writing your story. While I do not believe in the “dumbing down” of our children, I do think that having a general idea of the kinds of material children enjoy at each reading level will help you to craft stories that will resonate with your young readers.