How to Be a Book Detective

April Porter
How to Be a Book Detective

How to Be a Book Detective

When I was younger, I read a series of books that focused on Leroy Brown, a boy detective with the nickname “Encyclopedia” because of his intelligence and broad knowledge. In the series, Leroy has many adventures while solving mysteries around his small town. Oh, how reading these books made me want to be a detective when I grew up!

Teenager reading a book

As youth development professionals, we know that every child’s journey is unique. Providing children and teens with creative outlets to explore their full potential is one of the many ways we support those journeys. As we transition from summer reading habits to the school year, encouraging youth to continue developing their literacy skills opens doors to future possibilities. But, how can we best be effective at supporting literacy growth in a short amount of time? This can feel like a mystery…

Good news! Inspired by Leroy Brown, I have uncovered some of the “clues” to success, including teaching kids how to be book detectives.

So, what is a book detective? It’s a child who knows how to investigate whether or not they are choosing a “just right” book. And the essential job qualifications for any summer sleuth is to be armed with a set of questions when choosing a book to read alone.

Post the following three questions1 on a wall near reading materials as tools for your reading detectives:

1. Clues to uncover if a book is too easy

If the answer is ‘YES’ to each question, then this book might be too easy. Encourage your super sleuth to share or read it to a younger sibling or friend.

  • Do I know and understand all of the words on a page?
  • When I read aloud, can I read it perfectly smoothly?
  • Do I not need to use any of my reading “muscles”?

2. Clues to detect if a book is too hard

If the answer is ‘YES’ to each question, then this is a book that can be saved for later as a “someday” book. That day may come next week, next month or next year—that’s the fun of goal setting!

  • Are there five or more words on a page that I don't know, or am unsure of?
  • Is this book confusing and hard to understand by myself?
  • When I read it aloud, does it sound choppy and slow?

3. Clues to discover if a book is a good fit or “just right”

Answering ‘YES’ to each of these questions means that your reading detective has solved the mystery! They have discovered a book that is enjoyable and supports building literacy skills such as fluency and comprehension.

For more tips on how staff and families can support literacy skill development, visit Reading Rockets.

1. Rogers, K. (2008). Selecting Books for Your Child: Finding 'Just Right' Books. Retrieved November 7, 2008, from

  • Do I understand what I am reading?
  • Do I know almost every word?
  • When I read it aloud, can I read it smoothly?
  • Do I think the topic will interest me?