The Five Finger test – How to find books that are the right level for your child.

Now schools are back in full swing, we are seeing more children coming back into the library after school and at weekends to choose some new books – which is GREAT!

It’s wonderful to see how they’ve all progressed so far in lockdown and now they are wanting to move on to more challenging reads. We’ve been asked this question several times by parents and children over the last couple of weeks – “Is this book suitable for my child to read?”

Books that are too easy can make reading time boring, while those that are too difficult can cause your child to become frustrated, skip parts, and fail to understand what’s happening. So it’s important to strike the right level.

I thought this little test might help you all in assessing whether a book is the right level for your child to move on to. It’s called the Five Finger Test.

The Five Finger test is a quick and simple way for you and your child to check whether a book is suitable for them to read on their own.

First let your child choose a book that they would like to read. Open the book at a random page (one with not too many pictures on it) and let your child begin to read.

As they read, for every word they DON’T know they should hold up a finger.
At the end of the page see how many fingers your child has held up. You can use these guidelines to assess the book.

0 or 1 – The book is most probably too easy for your child as they know all the words.

2 – A good choice that will give your child a reasonable challenge and allow them to learn new words.

3 – Your child might need some help, but still a good choice if they’re up for a challenge.

4 – May be too difficult for your child to read on their own. If you are on hand to give them help or read along with them it can be suitable, but if they are reading on their own, choose a different book.

5 – Most probably a bit too advanced, try a different book.
The five finger test is only a guideline for helping your child to find books that are right for them. It’s worthwhile remembering that if they have their heart set on a book that seems too hard, it’s probably OK to let them have a go. As long as you’re around to help them if they get stuck on a tricky
word or part of the story with they will keep going! However, if you know they’ll struggle to enjoy the story, or follow the words, put it on a list for later in the year and suggest a different book instead.

Allowing your child to read the books they’re interested in (whether they’re too easy or too difficult) is an important part of nurturing and maintaining their love of books and reading and that’s something we all want to do!

I hope you find this little test useful and look forward to seeing what you choose to read next. Claire

Library Memories: Stephen

As long as I can remember I’ve been an information junkie. Whether it was watching the Six AND Nine O’Clock News or reading cover to cover the copies of the New Junior Encyclopedia as they arrived I devoured information. So when the day finally arrived that I was old enough (and, in the view of the librarian, well behaved enough) to be allowed into the adult section of Ealing Road Library it was truly a momentous occasion. Shelves and shelves of books and subjects I had never heard of before. Who was this Hannibal person and why did he march elephants over the Alps? Where, and when as it turned out, was Mesopotamia? And so many Astronomy books!

The other chief advantage of my newfound library liberty was access to the microfiche machine. Very few people were allowed to use it, let alone someone my age. I was always worried that I’d damage it and get into serious trouble but that didn’t discourage me. I spent hours reading through old newspaper articles both local and national, followed stories from references (no hyperlinks in those days) and probably neglected my homework in the process. At the time it never occurred to me to use these nascent research skills to forge a career in investigative journalism but those early days on the fiche machine did instill an early appreciation for technology and computers which has stayed with me ever since.

And no, I’ve never been to Mesopotamia, have read lots of Astronomy books and yes, I still spend way too much time browsing new non-fiction books than is strictly necessary…

Library Memories: Mandy

I grew up in the borough and Hayes End library was my local library. I have fond memories from when I was very young of going every Saturday morning to change my books with my dad and sister. The Librarian used to wear white gloves and you had paper tickets that slipped into the front of the book to say it was out to you that they took ages finding  the right tickets in a long line of paper tickets,no computers and scanner back then. You were only allowed four books each back then not the 15 you are allowed now. 

My favourite thing about the library was the pets. No not books about pets but the library pets. Along the side of the counter used to be a large glass tank with gerbils or mice in it and you could see the burrowing down into the bedding. It was a great treat to visit each week and I can clearly remember those times. 

I then used to visit the same library once I was at secondary school on my way home to do my homework as we had no reference books in my house when I grew up. 

It was also Hayes End library that I shyly asked if they had any Saturday jobs available and was handed a form to fill in to complete for the post of weekend assistant. The rest is history and 30 years later I am still with Libraries.  When I work at Hayes End Library now it feels like home although the library is very different from how it used to be it is with fondness that I look out from the other side of the counter and remember those childhood visits.

Library Memories: Akbar

One of my first memories of going to the library was actually a school trip to the Uxbridge Library. Being the day-dreaming, head-in-the-clouds sort I’m sure I didn’t take in much of the information, such as the difference between non-fiction and fiction for instance. The layout of the library was quite different from what it is now and I remember clearly how we all sat on the neutral brown musty carpet. The person doing all the talking seemed to be standing very far away from the class. The thing that caught my eye and seemed so intriguing was this great big wooden sculpture of the head of a hippo placed against a window. Its mouth wide open ready to engulf anyone who dare go near. It was on a pedestal and was at the perfect height. I didn’t look alive but it certainly had the scare-factor. Once we were allowed to explore the shelves I went straight to the dinosaur books. They seemed so big. I drank in the illustrations as I flicked through the books.

National Libraries Week Harlington Library staff are currently reading…

One thing we all have in common in the library service is our love of reading.  As a child my sister Clair read to me every day and kept me going even after learning to read at school proved exceedingly dull.  My parents were not readers so Clair borrowed all our books from the library, she had to pass a reading test to join and show she knew how to care for the books.  A love affair that began in childhood has continued to this day.

I am currently reading Nevernight – I have only just started but I am intrigued, in just the first chapter the author Jay Kristoff mirrors two events in Mia’s life – her first sexual experience and her first kill.  Set in a land where three suns mean true darkness is fleeting but lives within Mia as she pursues her revenge. The tag line is never fear, never flinch, never forget.  Sounds ominous.  I have just finished reading Samantha Shannon’s Priory of the Orange Tree, another fantasy novel with a strong cast of female characters, hopefully this will be as good.  Although I do wonder if it’s a darker Harry Potter for adults.

I have also  just finished reading Lizzie O’Hagan’s novel What are friends for? Eve and Max are in Love – they just don’t know it yet….the story in a nutshell!  The story is mainly told through conversation and messaging – the characters are real and you can just see them in the pub having a good time and complaining about relationships etc. It is well put together.  Tom and Becky get together online once their respective friends Max and Eve help them change their profiles when they are fed up with a series of one night stands.  They even take over the messaging both before and after the couple meet up and date for a while.  It’s a will they won’t they tale with inevitable results.  


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My Name is Leon – Kit De Waal

“My Name is Leon is a heartbreaking story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how – just when we least expect it – we manage to find our way home.”

I chose this book because having read Room by Emma Donaghue, I was interested to read another adult fiction book that is written from the perspective of a child. As Leon navigates big changes in his life, the book explores different issues such as the foster care in the 1980s and familial bonds, set against the backdrop of the 80s British race riots. I found this book honest and insightful but also really enjoyable to read. I would highly recommend it!


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Here is a little from me on the book ‘Wilde Women‘ by Louise Pentland– I really enjoyed reading this book. It’s about a single mum, Robin Wilde. She is busy with an exciting job that she loves very much and she has a new man in her life and is enjoying this new love in her life after her previous heart break. Her daughter is slowly opening up to her mum’s new partner and getting used to new family life. She has great friends who have become her and her daughter’s family. I enjoy reading this book, it’s light and simply written. 

The second book I really enjoy and recommend is ‘The conscious parent’ . It’s a book to help parents look within and embark on the journey of self reflection/growth. It’s about seeing our children as our teachers and taking a conscious approach instead of reactive parenting. Understanding it’s not our children who need fixing but it’s us who need to heal from our childhood. It’s to understand it’s not about fixing and creating the perfect child but to realise that the child has come into our lives to raise us as parents. 


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I am reading ‘The Shepherd’s Crown’ by Sir Terry Pratchett.  This is the third time I have read this book.  The first time was just after it’s release in 2015 not long after the death of the author.  I have loved all of Terry Pratchett’s books from the first to the last.  The attraction of the Discworld series is that the books can be either read in order or as stand-alone novels.  The first time I read  ‘The Shepherd’s Crown’ I did so, wanting to get to the end to see how it all turned out, and at the same time not wanting to get to the end as this is the last ever Discworld novel.  


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I have just finished reading The man in the brown suit by Agatha Christie (Arabic translation).  I like that it is a light read but still manages to keep you glued until the end. 


Eleanor Oliphant is completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is a funny, sad and touching book. It is about a girl who leads a simple life and tackles emotional challenges with grave courage.



Library Memories: Claire and Elaine

We have a double header of memories today! The first memory is from Claire who remembers joining the Ickenham Library club when she was 5 years old! The second is from current Ickenham staff member, Elaine, who remembers a “wow” moment from 2010.

When I was small, aged about 5, I joined Ickenham Library Club which was an after school club for children. It was held in the tiny back room at Ickenham Library once a week and there must have been about 15 children who turned up every week. We always had lots to cram into our hour  – drawing, paintings, making things and nature walks and obviously lot of stories and books! I thought it was great to be a member of what I considered to be a ‘secret club’ as it was in a room that not everyone could go into and staff often read us the newest books and stories, I loved it. 

As a child it really fuelled my passion for books and libraries and showed me that you could do lots of interesting things in libraries and make new friends, the club only lasted a few years and i was sad when it stopped by my love of libraries has stayed with me for life.

By Claire, West Drayton Library

There are so many memories from my time at Ickenham library, but one fairly recent memory is from 2010 when we had a massive refurbishment. The library was built in 1962 so was ready for some serious updating.

Five months later and after many weeks of hard work, the day of opening arrived and was attended by many local dignitaries, but the most wonderful part was the excitement of our local residents once word got round the village 

I vividly remember a lovely married couple who came rushing into the library, then came up the stairs three at a time and threw their arms around me saying “You’re back! You’re all back!” Also, at the weekend, there were more visitors to the library than I’ve ever known, with every nook and cranny being filled with students, voracious readers, families with their children and elderly residents enjoying a newspaper or two.

I particularly enjoyed seeing a group of teenagers (who probably hadn’t been inside a library since they were toddlers) come in and say “WOW” in unison!

Wow indeed!

By Elaine, Ickenham Library

Megan shares her review of the Palm-Wine Drinkard

Cover image for The Palm-Wine Drunkard : and his Palm-Wine Tapster in the Deads'Town.

The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola

ISBN: 9780571049967 Published by Faber 1969

Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard has been hailed as the seminal work of post-colonial African literature. Tutuola spins a vividly colourful yarn from Yoruba folk tales, combines it with European fairy tale structures and ends with a piece of art that has come to define the era. 

Tutuola was born in 1920 in Abeokuta, Nigeria. As a boy, he and his father reached an agreement with a wealthy acquaintance that Tutuola would work in his home in exchange for school. The acquaintance paid for Tutuola’s schooling for six years, but Tutuola eventually left, as he was not getting enough to eat from the penny-pinching household cook. From there, he went on to work as a blacksmith and joined the RAF as a coppersmith. 

The Palm-Wine Drinkard was published in 1952, it was the first Nigerian book to gain international acclaim. As such, it holds a special rank as one of the first and most significant works of postcolonial African literature.  As in The Palm-Wine Drinkard, many of the early postcolonial novels are wrapped with twin twines of hope and freedom, and are joyfully bathed in the authors’ own culture. 

As time marched on and the post-colonial dream turned into a nightmare for many African countries, the novels became darker, grimly imparting the horrors that Europe had cleared the way for and left Africa to deal with on its own when the horrors came marching through. These later authors write with despair and rage at the way the world had allowed them to be treated. 

After this period of stark disillusionment, African fiction began to change shape. Authors took up the pen more with a mind toward individualism. They began to focus on their individual reflections on culture and politics, which turned the topic from postcolonial Africa to a more artistic, individualistic expression of African writers within the frame of a realistic portrayal of national and cultural concerns.1

In The Palm-Wine Drinkard, the reader meets the palm-wine drinkard at his father’s home, where he is employed to drink palm-wine day and night. Already, the reader feels there is something supernatural about our protagonist. How can someone be employed to drink palm-wine? How can he possibly drink so much? He is living a carefree existence, always with friends about, drinking, talking and dancing until the small hours of every night. That is, until his palm-wine tapster falls from a palm tree one day and dies.

 Without the palm-wine tapster, there is no more palm-wine, the drinkard’s friends wither away, the talking becomes polite chat in the streets and the dancing grinds to a halt. The palm-wine drinkard is determined to find where the dead live and bring his palm-wine tapster back to the land of the living, so he sets off to find him, encountering many strange, magical and supernatural things along the way. On his journey, he is constantly side-tracked—for a total of ten years!—and made to use his status as “father of the gods who can do anything” (for that is his name) to help people in various villages accomplish impossible tasks, such as rescuing a woman from a bewitched skull in a forest, trapping Death in a net and escaping sinister magical creatures in the bush. 

Tutuola’s repetitious style combines with his knack for transporting the reader to far-away worlds to create one of the greatest pieces of literature I have ever had the pleasure of reading. He often uses the adventure-quest format common to fairy tales, where we have the hero, a sidekick (in this case, our hero’s hefty supply of juju) and a mission that sometimes takes three tries to complete. 

However, Tutuola differs from fairy tale tellers Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm in weaving an unrelentingly detailed tapestry. Rather than imparting an colourless story focused on the driving action, Tutuola dives right in, describing creatures, environments and even atmospheres in a tactile way so that the reader not only understands, but feels the predicament our palm-wine drinkard has gotten himself into. 

By using a style clearly reflective of oral tradition, Tutuola soon consumes the reader and we hear the story from his belly—warm, familiar and vivid. Each adventure is full of just the right amount of wonder and suspense culminating in a satisfying conclusion. The reader feels like a child sat on grandfather’s lap listening to fantastical stories, completely wrapped up in the moment with wide eyes and bated breath.

This book is simply a phenomenal read. The cast of characters, vibrant settings, astonishing events and clever tricks all cook down to provide a substantial story that sticks to your ribs long after you’ve finished it. The Palm-Wine Drinkard has been rightfully crowned as a monumental piece of African literature. 

1“Postcolonial African Literature.” eNotes, Accessed 02/10/2020.,nations%20gained%20political%20independence%20from%20their%20colonial%20rulers.

Library Memories: Darren

As a child, I was taken to Hayes End library – I can’t say how often, but I think pretty frequently as I always had a pile of books on loan. I mostly read about ghosts, mythical creatures, and the Vlad the Drac series of children’s novels. It’s amazing I didn’t become a goth, really.

As a teenager I would visit Uxbridge library most days on my way home from school, using the computer catalogue (black screen with green writing and a flashing cursor) to look for books about David Bowie, experimental cinema and speculative fiction  – stuff that to this day still fascinates me.
When I started working for the library service (a long, long time ago), one of my favourite things was browsing the returns trolley. Some of the best books I’ve ever read have come from seeing what other people had just brought back, and I’m happy to say it expanded my reading well beyond dystopias and art rock. So, I guess I should say thanks to other library users for turning me into the well-rounded individual I am today!

By Darren, Senior Service Manager – Libraries, Museums and Theatres

Books that shaped my world

A few selection of my favourite books —  one is my all time favourite —  but they all have shaped me as a reader, writer and person. They were there when I needed them. 

The Handmaid’s Tale — Margaret Atwood 

I have read this book so many times — for myself, for college and for a 10,000 word essay. Somehow I still love it, though it has left me dreading university deadlines. It is utterly quotable, heartbreaking and brutal. It is a novel that reflects on how history is constructed, which has reflected the way I think about it.

Quiet — Susan Cain

The book for introverts! I feel this book allowed me to accept myself and find a career that allowed me to focus on my positive treats and fit in with my interests. 

Never Let Me Go — Kazuo Ishiguro

It does what science-fiction does well, confronts an idea through metaphor. There’s a subtle argument in it about environmentalism and animal rights, which slowly evolved into my own ethics and values. 

Zadie Smith — N-W 

I did a class on contemporary identities, this was one of the books. We had to complete a creative writing assignment. I chose to do an autobiography short story influenced by NW. I related to one of the central characters’ accounts of childhood, which was written in a fragment and minimalist style. It allowed me to tell my own story. 

By Emma, Botwell Green

Library Memories: Sharon

Chiswick Library was my childhood library , it was very conveniently located between my primary school and the bus stop so it was the perfect place to visit after school. I would have happily spent every afternoon there, but my mum had to limit my visits to once or twice a week. The main library was a huge old building which always seemed really intimidating to me , but the children’s library was bright and cheerful and filled with wonderful books. I can imagine myself back there looking through the shelves of books , discovering new characters and adventures and snuggling into the cosy chairs to read.  As I got older my friends and I used to sneak into the adult library to look at the ‘grown up ‘ books , and see what all the mystery was about. As a young girl I was an avid reader and I imagined how brilliant it would be to work in a library, now I get to do just that every day and watch as other children create their very own library memories.

By Sharon, Ruislip Manor