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What’s in a Reading Level?

on July 25, 2017

Recently a six-year-old, I know, went to one of his favorite places–the school library.  This kindergartener loves books and has recently made the jump from picture books to chapter books.  The reading world was opening up for him and he and his family were excited about his achievement.

Unfortunately the librarian told him he could not check out anything except the books on the special Kindergarten cart.  With some disappoint he did choose something and took it home that night.

When he pulled out the book, his mom, a teacher, was very surprised that the book was a simple board book.  Then the boy told her what had happened.

It is sad to say but some schools or school districts have rules that limit what books a child can or cannot choose.  The rules, while undoubtedly well-meaning, are limiting some young readers.  On the other end of the spectrum, there are also rules (in some schools) that forbid third graders and up to read picture books.

Whether designed to prevent the new reader from “biting off more than they can chew” or pushing struggling readers to elevate their reading level, the rules leave out the exceptions.  The excellent kindergarten reader is told, that’s above you and the third grader who needs help reading is told, that picture book is below you.  Really, who is to say?

I was that lowest-reading-group reader, in third grade.  I had eyes that did not focus well and so it was hard for me to read quickly.  That was only discovered after I was already labelled a poor reader and sent to the school basement with others who had “disabilities.”  As a very good math student, I was upset.  As the student who loved history, I became worried.  For the reader in me, sent out of the room for special reading class, I was embarrassed.

Turns out…I was really okay.  Interestingly, I was allowed to read picture books or anything else I wanted to check out from the library, grade level or not.  My parents encouraged me to read and I loved pictures.  After a while I found the words were coming quicker and the pictures were not as important.  If I had not been allowed to checkout picture books, I would not have read very much and reading takes practice.

I especially liked funny books or tall tales or fairy tales or myths.  These books had adventure and great pictures.  Now, guess what I write.  Yep, funny books and tall tales; twisted fairytales and fantasy with myths.  (There are other things too but the ones I mentioned are what got me started.)

I hope that schools and parents will let the child have some choice in books.  Just because someone wants to read something at a higher level than is expected doesn’t mean they are fooling themselves or arrogant.  Perhaps they can, and that is a good thing.  Just because someone wants to see a picture book, doesn’t make them slow or “a baby” or childish.  I know plenty of adults who enjoy picture books.  And that’s a good thing.  Authors need readers, no matter the age.

Besides, that struggling reader just might turn into a writer.  I did.


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