Great Books and more

Q&A: Patrons Ask; Librarians Answer. Where do you keep your Level K books?

Q: Where do you keep your Level K books?cover of a reading primer called I Know a Secret

A: The short answer is that Oakland Library doesn't label books with reading levels using any of systems associated with proprietary testing...

...however, we do have areas of the library that gather a range of reading levels together. This allows readers to browse an area that encompasses their reading level and includes choices of subjects, visual presentations, genres, and writing styles. Our hope is that (without too much effort) readers will find books that appeal to them and are close enough to their reading level. 

So, when you ask us for leveled books, let us show you to the section that includes the level you need. At that point, many readers decide to get any books that look interesting and seem close enough to the right level.

We basically have 4 categories; Readers, Moving Up, Fiction (I like to call these Chapter Books), and finally Picture Books, which often means books meant for an adult to read aloud to a child, but includes many different reading levels.  Also, we have Non-Fiction Readers, Regular Non-Fiction, and Picture-Book-Non-Fiction at most library locations, so a person can find informational books at different reading levels, too.  Photo of a family all reading in bed together

However, if we have time and you're committed to finding the specific suggested level, you can get any book that looks good, and we will look it up online to find out its reading level.  The process of looking up each title is time consuming, but it is very likely that you'll get a feel for the level after a dozen searches or fewer, and then you can guess the level yourself. We would use these sites to search by title; Scholastic, AR, or Lexile

The owners of these sites do not enter every book ever published, but between them, we can usually find your title. You can also use these sites to find other titles at the same reading level. In fact, trying that sort of search a few times will give you some perspective of the strengths and weaknesses of leveling books.

Colorful chart comparing systemsQ: What does level "R" mean, anyway? How do I make sense of those "proprietary" leveling systems?

A: Ah, you want the long answer!  At my last count I found three systems that use the alphabet ("Fountas & Pinnell", "Reading A-Z ", and "Basic Reading Inventory" or "BRI"), four that use a numbering system ("ATOS" or "Accelerated Reader", "Reading Recovery", "Developmental Reading Assessment" or "DRA", and "Lexile"), and two that use terms ("Seedling" and "PM Readers").  Occasionally we find a chart or two that compares them to one another. However, another system could be invented while you are reading this blog!

The easiest one for me to make sense of is ATOS, because the numbers correspond to the grade level and the month of the school year. For example, ATOS level 3.5 means your child is reading at a level most commonly seen among students in the fifth month of third grade. It's tidy because there are 10 months in a school year – Yay for decimal systems! For that reason, I use ATOS as my benchmark to which I relate all the other leveling systems. You don’t have to, though.

1965 cover of Fun With Our Friends Dick and JaneEach proprietary system uses some kind of algorithm to calculate the level based on either the entire text or a sample of the text, some with a differential for the length of the book. For fun, paste something into this ATOS analyzer.  For example, this text is level 8.9, but the vocabulary is only 3.5, that means it was challenging, but well-worth reading, right?  

Oakland Public Library Children's Librarians are standing by to answer your questions! 

Click here to Ask a Question

Kids' magazines for your smartphone or tablet!

Zinio is the Oakland Public Library's digital magazine provider, and your library card gives you access to hundreds of titles on your iPad, Kindle Fire, smartphone or other digital device. The New Yorker, Vogue, National Geographic, Forbes and many others are available... and now, so are over a dozen popular children's magazines

Do your kids love Highlights, Cricket, or American Girl Magazine? Zinio lets you download them for free, and you can keep them on your device forever.

To use Zinio, you'll need to add the app on your digital device. Get started by clicking here!

Q&A: Patrons Ask; Librarians Answer: Will you really let my kid read whatever they want?

Summary of a conversation I had this week: 

Parent: My kid said you will let him read whatever he wants! Is that true? 

Me: The short answer?  Yeah.  Anything available to the public he is allowed to borrow. 

Parent reply: He's only 9 years old! The library is full of subjects he is not mature enough for yet! You are going to let him borrow anything!?!?!

Me: As long as he checks it out with his library card... yeah, pretty much. 

So I gave the parent the very long explanation why a child is allowed to borrow anything they want in a library. I'm sure you want the long version too. But that's a lot to read, so I'm summarizing it into two basic points.

  1. The public library doesn't censor materials because you have a right to free access to information. All of you. Your kids too. I repeat: YOU. HAVE. THE. RIGHT. TO. FREE. ACCESS. TO. INFORMATION.  Don't believe me check out this link: Library Bill of Rights.  So does this mean I'm recommending materials to your children that are not age appropriate? No, no of course not.  We recommend age appropriate materials to our patrons so they have the best library experience.  So no worries, if your kid asks for scary movies I'm recommending Scooby Doo, not Saw V.  Disclaimer: If your kid asks for something specific, I will give him his specific request, because I don't censor.  So if your kid asks for Stephen King, he is coming home with 
  2. It is my job to fight for your freedom to read. Actually it's my passion and the passion of mild mannered librarians everywhere.  We don't mind if you decide a specific subject, author, or book is not a good choice for your family. Librarians will happily help you find something enjoyable that stays true to your family's values. BUT when people decide their values must be enforced upon others, and that the materials they find objectionable must be removed from the library, we librarians morph from mild mannered storytellers and fine collectors into...


Why? Because again: YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO FREE ACCESS TO INFORMATION!  It is your job to decide what materials are best for your family. Not mine, and not anyone else’s. The public library holds materials of different subjects and tastes for everyone. It is the passion of the Book Avengers to make sure it stays that way.

Are you thinking we librarians take this Book Avengers stuff a bit too far; that I'm being a bit over dramatic?  Okay well maybe a little bit, but the fight is real folks. Hundreds of books get challenged (that means people are trying to have them removed from libraries and bookstores) and banned (the book was successfully removed from libraries and bookstores) every year by individuals/groups who are offended by its content. Here are just a few examples:


This is based on a TRUE story about penguins in the New York Central Park Zoo. It is a story about two male penguins who raise a baby together. This book was the MOST challenged book of 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010  (it won 2nd place in 2009) because a conservative political group called it "a misleading... disingenuous, inaccurate way to promote a political agenda to kids."   The point that this book is based on verifiable factual events was totally irrelevant I guess. 

This is a story about a little donkey who finds a magic pebble and accidently wishes himself into a rock. This sweet charming story was challenged because the police in the story are drawn as pigs. Cops were offended, so the book had to go. Or not. 

The story of Max traveling to the land of Wild Things has been challenged and banned for two opposing reasons: On one hand a parent group was upset that the book glorified Max's temper tantrum, while the other group was grossly offended that his mother punished him by sending him to bed without supper. Mothers are supposed to provide food donchaknow! So the fact that mom addressed the behavior issue and provided hot soup at the end of the book is totally missed by both offended groups. 

 Of course the story of Dorothy visiting Oz is offensive. She encounters a witch, or two, or three if you count the one she dropped her house on.  But what is more horrifying to a religious group in Tennessee was that Glenda is a "good witch." They were offended by the idea that a witch could be good because that is "theologically impossible." To be fair, librarians cannot diss' anyone’s theology. But to remove this book from the library at the demand of the Tennessee group would in essence devalue those whose religious theology believed in “good witches” and those who didn't believe in witches at all.  So in respect of all theological viewpoints the book stays; we have plenty of other books available that do not contain witches.

And my personal favoriate book that was banned: 


In 2010 the Texas Education Board banned the beloved picture book about colors and animals because the author's name was Bill Martin Jr.  The overambitious board members wanted to ensure that nothing written by  Bill Martin (no relation), author of Ethical Marxism  was accepted as a part of the school curriculum; so they banned EVERYTHING ever written by any author named Bill Martin. It never occurred to anyone on the board to iduhno... read a few of the books they decided to ban first. So I guess checking to see if any authors shared the same name but wrote for a different audience was also out of the realm of possibility.

You can find all of the above books in the library, because the Book Avengers fought to keep them there. Without the Book Avengers fighting for your freedom to read, the above books and many others you love would be inaccessible to you. Fun books, enjoyable books, books that make you think, and yes, books that express opinions and ideals you do not agree with. So pick up one of these books and enjoy your freedom to read at any age. Your mild mannered librarian is proud to offer them to you.

Q&A: Patron's Ask; Librarians Answer: I'm out of time, can we do this later?

Q: I love coming in to my local library to get one-on-one help from a children's librarian, but I only have a few minutes! A clock - meant to show time is running out.How can I get your expert help faster?  My middle-school-age daughter is dyslexic, her younger brother is an avid reader of comic books - exclusively, and my toddler has just figured out how to undo her seat belt on the stroller. I need book recommendations for all three of them, and I have to get to the market before dinner. Actually, forget it, I have to take this call from the pediatrician. We'll come back next week!

A: We love it when you come in person to the library, because speaking with you one-on-one allows us to be our most effective. Getting to know you helps us figure out which materials will be right for you. First of all, thanks for making time to bring your kids to the library!  I know it's often a challenge, but observing your child's responses when I hand her one book helps me figure out which book to try next.  Please keep trying, and don't worry about offending me if you run out the door in mid-sentence.

Here are a few ideas to save time and keep track of what you want to read:

Use your phone to snap a photo of any book that looks interesting. Maybe your son's friend's book, or a book your daughter's teacher had on display at back-to-school night. That's enough information to find it later. Show me the photo on your phone, and I'll grab it for you. After you take it home, you can figure out if it's really right for you. ("You" in this case meaning you or one of your children.)

Use our online catalog to put a hold on a book you want - if you have time on the internet. (Does that ever happen? Maybe when everyone else is asleep?) Then, you can run into the library, grab the book, and run out again. While you're in our online catalog, looking at any specific book, take a quick peek at the feature "You Might Also Like..." - and put a hold on one of those, too.

Logo from Biblionasium webpageUse an online bookshelf like Goodreads or LibraryThing, or (for kids) Biblionasium. With these, you can keep track of books you want to read and ones you've already read, and also find related-reading suggestions. For younger kids, Beanstack will suggest titles, and keep track of your reading. If your phone supports either email or the apps that go along with some of those websites, you will always have a book suggestion at hand.

Talk to your local children's librarian, if & when you do have a minute. Get the one-on-one help that is most effective - by telling me what you've been reading, what's been driving your reading, and which direction you'd like to steer next. Even if we get interrupted, we can get started, and build on our familiarity over time.

I can email you the reading suggestions that were not readily at hand if we get interrupted, which makes it super-easy to place holds on the titles, in which case you can grab them quickly when they arrive.

Sometimes the best thing about your children's librarian is the fact that she accepts wherever you are with regards to literature. There is no curriculum and no pass/fail grading system, because there are infinite variations in readers. 

We are here for you even if you only have 5 minutes to spend at the library.

How hot was it? Too hot for these joke books!

How hot is it in Oakland right now? Well, this morning I saw two trees fighting over a dog!* LOL

If that joke made you want to punch me in the face, chances are you're a lil' cranky over this heat wave we're having. And if that is the case, for the love of pickles, do NOT let your child anywhere NEAR this number:


That is the Dewey Decimal number for joke books. Your local OPL branch has a treasure trove of irritating, groanworthy jokes that are sure to make your kids howl with laughter, while you howl in pain. Whatever you do, keep your child away from 793.735, or risk getting pummeled with awesome jokes like these:

Q. Why don't cookies go to the library when it's hot out?
A. Because they feel too crummy.*

Q. Why did the lady leave her purse open when she went outside?
A. Because the newscaster said there would be some change in the weather.*

Q. Why do we want you to come to the library when it's hot out?
A. Because we need all the FANS we can get! 

Ha ha! Seriously, though, come visit us. And if you need a nice, cool break from the heat, Asian and Chávez branches have air conditioning.


Just Joking 2: 300 hilarious jokes about everything, including tongue twisters, riddles, and more!

Meet George!

There's a new girl in town: George, a fourth grader who loves acting and dreams of playing with makeup. George was assigned male at birth, but knows she is really a girl--but how can she tell her best friend, her teachers, the classmates who bully her, and most importantly, her family?

Oakland resident Alex Gino's new middle grade novel is a realistic narrative of life as a transgender child. The writing is honest and kid-friendly; it doesn't water down the hardships George faces, but there's no content that's inappropriate for a very young reader. It would be a great family or classroom readaloud.

OPL has ordered George by Alex Gino, and it'll be on shelves soon--place your hold today! But if you simply can't wait that long, come to Oakland's own Laurel Bookstore on Saturday, August 29 at 4pm for the book release party. Alex will read from their book and sign copies too. EDIT: The release party happened, and you can read about it here!

George, by Alex Gino


Q&A: Patrons ask; librarians answer: Feelings About Starting School

Q: School is starting in a few days...we’re excited and anxious – both!  Do you have any book suggestions to calm our anxieties? 

Poster from the movie Inside OutA: It sounds like today you’re looking for ideas about the emotions you & your child are feeling, rather than the facts of what will happen the first week of school.  You can read about either, or both…This time of year gives parents and children a great opportunity to practice recognizing your own & others’ feelings, identifying them, expressing them, and responding to them. 

When children read books or watch movies that have any emotional content, they learn about those emotions. Even if it's just one feeling, they learn how to identify it, express it, and some possible ways to respond to it. Even if the characters in the story respond badly, children can learn what not to do! 

Cover of CD Free to Be You & MeEducators and psychologists expressed enthusiasm for the movie Inside Out - not solely for its entertainment value, but as a tool to explain how human being process emotions. Younger children might still like to listen to Rosey Grier singing It's Alright to Cry - from the early 1970s! - or the whole album 

Like any life transition, starting school can bring up strong emotions. Helping your child understand her thoughts and feelings -- and explore the thoughts and feelings of others -- helps her grow and understand. Reading books together gives you a way to start a conversation and find out how you can support your child.

Children each have their own point of view, and their own inner thoughts to sift through. The themes within back-to-school stories often include important life lessons about some or all of the following:

    • Being a friend
    • Getting along with new peoplebook cover of How to be a friend
    • Accepting differences
    • Mending relationships with difficult people
    • Protecting yourself from dangerous people
    • Calming general anxiety
    • Conquering specific fears
    • Facing new situations
    • Accepting separation from loved ones
    • Celebrating accomplishments (your own & others')


  • Being ready for and open to learning 

So, here are my updated lists of school stories, categorized roughly by the level of school your child is attending. You can print a list in order by author to make it easy to find, or come in and ask one of us to help you find the right book for your family: 

cover of book Feelings by Aliki       Preschool  cover of A Kiss Means I Love You


       Elementary School  

       Middle School     

Even if the book you read together doesn’t match your own thoughts and feelings, it could spark a discussion that helps clarify your observations, or helps your child relate to the other students she meets. The most important thing is to make time to talk to and listen to your child. 

In the Comments below, would you share your feelings about the First Day of School – one you remember, or one you anticipate?  And if you have a question you'd like us to address, click on the button: 

                                                    Click here to submit a question for our blog.

Q&A Patrons Ask: I want to read a book that is “too hard” for me…

Hello Everyone,

Over the past week I have answered the same question many times, so it must be a trending topic in Oakland right now:

  • My second grader wants to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid but doesn’t read chapter books yet. Do you have any suggestions?

  • I borrowed The Sorcerer’s Apprentice DVD from the library and my kid loved it. Now she wants to read the book, but she isn’t a strong reader. Do you have any suggestions?

  • I want to read a book with my child but I am not the best reader, do you have any suggestions?

  • I want read with my child in English, but I need help with my pronunciation, what do you suggest?


Every one of these questions can be answered with the same answer:

Read along with an audio book!

An audiobook, otherwise known as a recorded book, is an audio recording of a talented thespian (that is a fancy word for actor) conducting a performance-style reading of the book for your entertainment. In addition to enjoying a wonderfully read story, your child can develop and/or strengthen their reading skills.

Following along with audiobooks will help children:

  • Recognize the letter patterns of words with many syllables. Words like "multiply", "indifferent", and "Constantinople" can be hard to break into pieces in your head. Hearing someone else say the word can help them break up the syllables and learn to read it independantly. 
  • Learn all of the different ways to say “OUGH” in English. “OUGH” is one of the most tricky letter combos in the English language because really are no rules or reasons for how it is supposed to be pronounced.  But listening to an audiobook may help a child (or anyone really) figure out the different sound patterns for "OUGH". If by chance listening to audiobooks doesn’t help you figure out all the different "OUGH" sounds, I’d recommend using this handy website as a cheat sheet.
  • Become familiar with words that they have never seen before. Younger readers need help with words like "spaghetti" and "croissant." And let’s be honest, unless you studied Latin or linguistics, Expelliarmus and Sectumsempra threw you for a loop the first time you saw them too. Reading along with an audiobook is wonderful for learning these newfangled (or old fangled in some cases) words. If by chance your child wants to know the English translation of Expecto Patronum...

                   Harry potter


If reading along with an audiobook interests you we have many  audiobook kits available for you to borrow. An audiobook kit is a picture book with a CD recording included for your convenience. Most popular chapter books are also recorded to CD for your listening pleasure, but you have to borrow two items and create a kit yourself.  Ask a librarian to help you find a chapter book and its accompanying audiobook. We would love to help you out. You are allowed to check out up to 10 audiobooks on your library card, which are included in your 40 item limit.

Here are some suggestions of great audiobooks:

                           Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows

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Q&A: Patrons Ask; Librarians Answer. Help! My preschooler won't sit through a whole picture book!

Q: My Preschool-aged child is having trouble paying attention while I read her an entire picture book. Can you suggest books that will better hold her interest?

A: First of all, don’t get frustrated if your child isn’t paying attention to books as long as you would like them to—it’s totally normal for kiddos to tire of a book or get distracted before you think reading time should be over. The important thing is to make reading a fun and special time, so if your child becomes restless go ahead and move on to another activity! You can always return and finish the book when your child is ready.

Oakland Public Library also has MANY interactive and sensory-friendly read-aloud picture books that will grab your kiddo’s attention and not let go! Interactive picture books are a great way to involve your child in the story, by asking them questions, inviting them to dance or move around, or providing flaps to lift.

Check out these super fun and interactive picture books at your local Oakland Public Library branch—or put these on hold in our online catalog using your library card!

Wiggle book jacketWiggle by Doreen Cronin

This rhyming picture book encourages kids to do something they’re already good at: wiggling! As the book asks questions and encourages participation (“Can you wiggle in the water? Wiggle one fin on each side”) wiggle along with your kids and join in the fun!

Can You Make a Scary Face jacketCan You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas

The narrator of this funny, action-packed picture book talks directly to the reader (“Hey, you! Yes, I’m talking to you! Stand up!”), and encourages kids to get up and move, dance, pretend, and—of course—make a scary face! Great to read one-on-one with your kiddo or to a group of children.

Press Here book jacketPress Here by Herve Tullet

This book begins with a single yellow dot on a white page, and invites you and your child to follow the clear, simple instructions (“Press here and turn the page”). Watch your child’s excitement grow as each action builds to a satisfying finale! Besides being a lot of fun, this picture books offers learning opportunities such as following instructions, practicing left vs. right and up vs. down, and identifying colors.

Peek-a-Moo book jacketPeek-a-Moo! by Marie Torres Cimarusti

Kids love books with flaps to lift, and kids love books with guessing games—and this picture book has both! It’s a simple premise—which animal is playing peek-a-boo?  Invite your child to guess which barnyard animal is hiding behind the flap, and then have fun learning animal names and sounds together! (“Guess who? Peek-a-COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO! Says the Rooster!”)

Your local library branch will have lots more wonderful picture books that encourage participation and will grab your child’s attention. If your librarian never seems to be available when you come to the library (waiting in line is SO hard for kids), try our new online service called Book Me! to ask for help finding a book, or call your local branch library to find the best time to ask for personalized help. 

As always, if you have a comment, leave it below, and if you have a question you'd like us to answer online, click the button below.

Q&A Patrons Ask: My Kid Only Reads Junie B. Jones....

Q: My child only wants to read Junie B. Jones and Junie B is a bad influence. How can I encourage my child to read more substantial literature?

A:. I don’t know when it happens, but somewhere along the process of raising children and wanting only the best for them, we forget that sometimes kids just need to have fun. Unlike too much television and video games that have a negative effect on a child’s physical and intellectual development, excessive reading will only have the opposite effect. Kids who read regularly perform well in school, become critical thinkers, have quality writing skills, continually improve grammar and vocabulary, and a host of other benefits.  The only way to develop a voracious reader is to allow the child to read what interests them. So if you want the best for your children, (and I know you do) my professional advice is to relax and let the kid read any age appropriate material they want to. Yea, I’m drawing a line in the sand at your 6 year old kid reading E.L. James. I am not recommending that!

Remember children have similar interest as adults, and before we judge their reading choices for being “too easy” or a “poor influence” let’s just quick look at an adults guilty pleasure reading habits: 


Compared to Dexter,  Junie B. is an angelic cherub. 


Considering Tressa's exploits,  Junie B. is merely precocious!  


 As compelling as Anna and Christian's romance may be, no one can mistake this series for “quality” literature. And we won’t even begin to mention how many holds are placed on the movie!

Based on the three examples given, it is clear that adults enjoy reading a diverse collection of books with unorthadox writing styles, and about characters with questionable morality.

Adults don't mind that the writing is not at a collegiate level,  the characters do not converse in standard English, or the plot does not promote the highest ideals of morality. So why are we holding our children to a high standard when it comes to selecting reading materials?

Don't be so quick to judge your kids choice of reading materials. Remember, children love anti-heroes too!  So Junie B Jones, Stink, Captain Underpants and other such characters are enjoyable for the fact they are NOT role models. The vast majority of children understand that Junie B is a misbehaving protagonist. When a child picks up a Junie B Jones (or other similar story) they are reading purely for the enjoyment of reading. At the end of the day, isn’t that what is best for our children; they learn to love reading?

So the next time you visit the library borrow another paperback/mystery/erotic romance/urban fiction book,  understand your son or daughter wants to pick up Junie B for the same reason:  READING IS FUN!

Hey parents, teachers, anyone interested: Do you have a question for us? Click on the link below and we will happily answer it for you.