Sunday, December 16, 2007

But My Child is So Advanced!

OK, sometimes other buzz words are used.

But basically, some parents believe that any book ever published should be written in a way that is OK for their child to read. Whatever the age, interests, etc. of that child are

This belief is especially true when the child is reading "above grade level;" any book written "above grade level" should be appropriate for their child.

Which is where we get the angry parents of an 8 year old who cannot believe what is found in a book for a 14 year old. Because, over and over, some parents seem to equate any type of grade level of books with being only about the vocabulary; sentence structure; the page length; rather than the content. And then are shocked and appalled at the fact that an age/grade recommendation also takes into account both what the book is about and the reader's maturity.

Alex Flinn has a must-read post about this. She links to an Amazon review that is also a must read so click through; I wanted to laugh because basically, it's the mother of a 4th grader (advanced reader of course!) whose child read a book for ages 12 and up and was shocked by the content and is rather angry that now she has to closely examine the books her son reads and the author should have geared the book towards a more mature audience.

First, I think everyone agrees; the book in question wasn't right for younger readers. But I cannot get over the mindset that it should be. And that somehow, she missed that the author did indeed gear the book towards a more mature audience, to use her phrase.

Second, it's a bit sad that the people getting books for this child didn't look further at the books being bought and ask questions of knowledgeable teachers, booksellers and librarians. Because if your child is truly reading that far above grade level, yes, you either have to closely look at what books your kid reads (something that this mother finds unacceptable) or speak to people who know more about the books and already took a closer look.

Anyway, what I also liked about Alex's post is she also addresses that wonder of how all kids seem to be above grade level and about how different kids start reading at different ages so why all the pressure to be reading HP at 4?

Edited to add: Christine raises a good point. What about the situation where it is the book being read in school? Now, we're not talking book banning and the like; we're talking the teacher having the "but they are so advanced" attitude so is using book(s) that are "too old" for the students.

Edited to correct Alex Flinn's name. This is what happens when you try to move and blog at the same time.


Megan Germano said...

Oh yeah, and we can thank Accelerated Reading for some of this issue. Or all of it if you are so inclined. ;)

christine M said...

Liz, you know how I deal with all of this. It can be a tricky line to walk. But I did let K read DragonFlight (the parts that were too mature for her, I do think went kind of over her head - and she loved the story) - and I'm not letting S read the 5th Harry Potter yet.

That said - K is unhappy with Swallowing Stones - that she is reading in PEG - she says the book is too old for her class. I don't think the teacher did a good job picking that one. (and the questions they are answering for it were written for High Schoolers - the teacher told them that much). These kids might read above grade level - but they are still only fifth graders.

Liz B said...

Megan, I was trying to remember the reading thing that gave 3rd grade levels to high school books; AR. Thank you.

Chris, K has more common sense than her teacher. While there may be no sex/drugs/etc., it still is, well, a high school book; as K accurately put it, too old for her class regardless of vocab etc. And how odd that the teacher didn't adjust the questions for her audience, either!

Tricia said...

Hi Liz,
I wrote a bit about this for MR's carnival last month. I'm constantly amazed by the need parents seem to have to brag about how advanced their children are. In the end, it isn't about the kids, it's about how much mileage the parents get from talking about them.
I also included a link to the darn Hooked on Phonics commercial that seems to be fanning the flames in this regards.

Unknown said...

Thanks for linking to the post Liz - and AMEN sister to Megan. I am an elementary school media specialist and when I interviewed for my current job, one of the questions I asked in the interview was if the school had AR (they did not) - if the school was heavily into AR then it was not the school for me!

Anonymous said...

I hear this sort of thing all the time from other parents: the kindergartener who reads Harry Potter, the second grader who reads The New Yorker (true story), the third grader who's "too old for picture books," etc.

I'd chalk it up to the competitive East Coast mentality but I don't think it's limited to geography!

Thanks for the links.

Susan T.
Chicken Spaghetti

Anonymous said...

Definitely not limited to the East Coast! In the northern Chicago area, we call it the "North Shore mentality." But I think it's (over)educated, career/money/success-oriented families everywhere.

I have a lot of parents coming in asking for books of a certain Lexile range (not sure if/how that's related to AR, but it's at least as useless and misleading), and many of these parents were referred to Lexile by teachers! Shouldn't teachers know better, too?

Alex's post is great. It sounds like she has just the right perspective.

- lisa

Brian Mandabach said...

Though reading levels serve a limited purpose, relying on them too heavily is a problem.

Not only are parents competitive, but teachers face a lot of pressure to have kids reading at their so-called level. Enter the Accelerated Reader program. To be in the zpd, a kid in 8th grade with advanced vocabulary gets choices like Les Miserables and The Count of Monte Cristo. I've had a few of them finish Les Mis, which is great, but they'd rather read a good YA or adult novel that's less than a century old. And concepts found in both of these can be plenty advance, regardless of the level.

Anonymous said...

Great post! That amazon review on Alix's blog was very interesting. I linked to you on my blog, and wrote something about appropriate books for younger readers. Attempts to keep more mature books from the really curious kids sometimes backfire, as well-intentioned as the parents are.

Jen Robinson said...

Great post, Liz, and Alex's, too. That Amazon review is just sad. I recently had a parent ask me for recommendations for her 7 year old daughter, who is reading at a 10th grade level. She wanted to make sure that the books weren't too mature for her daughter. Kudos to the mom for that. But I think that I still included Clementine in the list that I sent her. I mean, just because a child CAN read above age level, does that mean she should miss out on wonderful books written about kids her own age?

andalucy said...

Hi, I've been lurking on your blog. I love it!

I'm coming out of lurkdom to admit that yes, I used to be a pushy mom who tried to get my early-reading kids to read increasingly difficult books (though I can't imagine letting my child read a YA book with mature content and then complaining that the book was too old for her). I finally realized how lame and pointless it was and that I was in fact doing more harm than good.

I didn't start reading until third grade and yet by sixth grade I was reading way beyond "grade level," whatever that means or whoever cares.

This is was an interesting read in the Boston Globe suggesting that pushing kids to early academic accomplishment really does do more harm than good:

Anonymous said...

Also delurking to say that I have had librarians suggest Judy Blume for a first grader because she was reading "at the fifth grade level." All the books that librarian recommended were contemporary. She'd never even heard of Edward Eager.

As a parent of some of those "advanced" readers, I did okay when they were younger, because I knew lots of books to recommend, but by the time my kids hit age ten and started reading books faster than I could screen them, I really could have used a good librarian and they just aren't that easy to find. It's especially hard to find one that realizes that "mature" isn't just a code word for "sex." Sex isn't a problem all by itself. But a librarian just recently gave my son a snarky, funny engaging book that halfway through turned out to be about teen suicide. He so wasn't ready for that.

xemilyx said...

Did anyone else see the Times article about how publishers have decided to put "recommended age bands" on all children's books? I got it off Book Ninka. Very appropos.

heather (errantdreams) said...

I've seen this in other forms as well---where someone picks up a book not bothering to notice that, say, it very explicitly says in the subtitle that it's erotica, and then is outraged that there's explicit sex in it. Which to me is like picking up a horror novel when you're looking for fluff poetry and being outraged at finding horrific things in it. People picking up books are responsible for making sure they're appropriate to the purpose---whether that purpose is their own tastes or the maturity level of their child.

Mind you, sometimes books do inaccurately or deceptively market themselves, but that's a different issue. If you're just ignoring the age or content labeling then that's your own fault.

--K. said...

As many of you have so aptly pointed out, just because a child can handle a book vocabulary-wise, doesn't mean they are necessarily ready for the subject matter. I was lucky enough growing up to have a mom who was an avid reader, and who helped me to find books that were appropriate to my ability AND emotional maturity. And who was always willing to talk if I did read something that bothered me or that I didn't understand.

A funny side note-- fast forward to the present, as an adult in my late 30's, and the tables are turned a bit. I do a lot of recommending and loaning books to my mom now... and on several occasions have found myself saying things like "umm, I think you'll like this... but there's a couple of racy (or violent, or graphic) bits, just skip over those!" To which she always laughs at me. :)

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Great post and loved the links! As a new YA author, I didn't realize how many times I would have this conversation with people. And my book really isn't too PG-13 . . . it's just that when people hear that it's got fairies in it, suddenly they're imagining fluffy pink pages suitable for neo-natal readers. I feel compelled to tell them that there is nookie in it.

Jennie said...

Oh Lexile Levels...

I had a kid come in with a list of books in her lexile band. A Chair for My Mother and The Skin I'm In were both on the list. Excuse me?! In what world are both books appropriate?

And then there was the mother who assured me her 8 year old was ready for Oedipus Rex because he was really advanced. When I pointed out that I didn't read it until high school, she said yes, but her child was homeschooled. Uhhhh... of course, the same mother thought that Dostoevsky was a classic Greek, so, there were other issues there.

My favorite though, is one kid who comes and asks for books to read. He always tells me very matter of factly that he's in 4th grade but reads at a 6th grade level and likes reading challenges. He wants a funny book, but something that's funny for a 4th grader, because 6th graders have a weird sense of humor.

Why does he understand this so much better than the adults in his life?

Kelly said...

What a great post and what fabulous comments. Everyone has so many interesting things to say.

In my experience, kids themselves know what they will enjoy (Jennie's got it right with her example)

I hate Lexile stuff. Hate it. Talk about limiting. Why shouldn't kids be able to read "above their level" and "below their level" based on interest. I don't get it.

Anonymous said...

Great post. The trouble I have is when my almost-8-year-old wants to read something that I think is above his emotional maturity: this morning he was pretty mad that we had said he shouldn't read the 4th Harry Potter book yet, when his best friend is now reading the 6th one.

Well, our son has been quite sad over the death of a friend's brother a couple months ago, and had trouble sleeping for quite some time, and I think the grief in the book at Cedric's death could be too much for him right now. I hate telling him he can't read a book he wants to read, but I think we do have to make some judgments based on what we know about the books. I do get him great books about kids around his age like Clementine, Phineas L. McGuire books, etc.

Anonymous said...

Very good post and comments. Just wanted to add that with some of the books I've read-the publisher is even suggesting younger than I would want my kids to read. Ex. some books about the Holocaust and black/slavery issues were too intense for me to want to introduce at the 4th-5th age level. I want them to know and sometimes I believe it is good for kids to read things they never would pick out, but still. Also I find this all slightly funny too since we are mostly adults reading way under our age/ability level and find the writing meaningful and enjoyable. Ironic.