Most of the time my ten-year-old son is reading and re-reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid. But lately he’s reading The Hunger Games. We were wondering if it’s appropriate for kids his age to read, deaths and all.

I found this site called Library Thing. It tells you the reading level of books. Including Mocking Jay, the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy, which is fifth-grade reading.

The site breaks books down by reading level in a lexicographical way, rather than in a content-focused way. So the first thing I noticed is that just because Hunger Games is at a fifth-grade reading level doesn’t mean he should be reading it. But still, it makes me happy to know that whether or not his soul is being destroyed by reading about the slow, pointless deaths of fictional children, he is at grade level.

Another thing I noticed about the lexicographical map is that I have very verbal IQ, but I have poor reading comprehension. Something is wrong. I’m not sure what. But I honestly cannot stand reading difficult texts. Is this true for everyone? I looked at the list of high-school level reading and found that it’s all the stuff I can’t get through: War and Peace, The Pickwick Papers. Yet I read twenty Agatha Christie mysteries when I was in eighth grade. (I started with this one.) I always thought I was reading above my grade level, dipping into my mom’s bookshelf. But it turns out that Agatha Christie is an example of my poor reading skills. Reading level: fifth grade.

No wonder I like reading tabloids so much and the Atlantic languishes by my nightstand. I just don’t like difficult reading. But I’m not sure that matters, since I basically get paid to report on everything I read, so on some level I must have overcome my reading deficiencies. Which makes me think that it doesn’t really matter at what grade level you read. It matters that you can find something to do that interests you and you are able to read the material you need to read to get to where you want to go.

Still in doubt? When I was in graduate school for english, I got by reading twentieth-century novels, and Victorian poetry. Reading level of Lady Chatterly’s LoverSeventh grade.

 

26 replies
  1. redrock
    redrock says:

    seriously? All the pretty horses for sixth grade? Because it has horses in it and the language is not super complex? It is one of the more disturbing books I have read – disturbing because of the stuff it implies and does not state explicitely. In sixth grade I would have had nightmares for weeks.

  2. CJ
    CJ says:

    I cried, hugging myself reading the Hunger Games Tri over a three day weekend. I am still haunted and devastated by parts of the story. Nightmares and cringing. Will not see the movies, my imagination is bad enough. I am shocked it is listed for Tweens and marketed to them via the movies taboot. But, then, I have always been a sensi about people being hurt, never could tolerate horror while my little sisters always read Stephen King and loved the Halloween movies every year and neither of them are afraid of the dark like me. And the super protectiveness I have missed them too. I wonder if it doesn’t really depend on the child/person on the “appropriateness” question. My son can see a lion rip the head off then gut a gazelle in a documentary but if he hears Peter Pan got cut and bled by Hook, he weeps as though he lost a friend.

    • CJ
      CJ says:

      Ps….you must be seriously underestimating your reading level, you are able to parce out some of the most complex research just about every day. I know it’s not the fourteen letter words and implied base plots of novels, but that is tough stuff and you analyze it constantly!

  3. MoniqueWS
    MoniqueWS says:

    How to Read a Book, by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren.

    Just because you do not like reading does not mean you have poor reading comprehension. As someone else has mentioned you can read some pretty complex research and writings about the research. If it is something you have an interest in reading you will and can read it. You are a little unschooly this way. :-)

    For some people reading is an escape, an indulgence, a pleasure, their bliss. For some people reading is a tool, maybe an important tool, but a tool none the less. Most of us don’t walk around carrying a hammer or swinging it unless we feel the need to do something with it.

  4. Carla
    Carla says:

    I’m a big fan of http://www.commonsensemedia.org, because parents and kids review and rate books, giving them an age-appropriate level. My kid reads above his grade level, but I worry the material in some of the books he might choose isn’t appropriate for a kid his age.

    I let him read Hunger Games at 9, but only because I read it with him.

    Has your son read the Percy Jackson books? My son loves them.

  5. Sara
    Sara says:

    I don’t know that kids always get the same things out of books that adults do. When I was a kid, I read a LOT and my parents never censored any of it. We also had a good 4,000 or books stacked around the house in pretty much every genre of fiction imaginable. So I often read things that would probably have been considered out of my maturity level. For example, I read The Clan of the Cave Bear when I was about nine. Had absolutely no idea that there was a rape scene until I re-read it in college. It didn’t register because at that point I had no context. I just thought Neanderthals were interesting. I still occasionally run across books that that I read as a kid that I can’t believe my parents didn’t take away from me. I realize that m y point is anecdotal and not statistical at all, but I’d imagine that if your son couldn’t handle The Hunger Games he probably wouldn’t want to read it.

    • cris
      cris says:

      My daughter read Lord of the Flies when she was 10, then again when she was 12. I had to fight it both times but I refrained from asking her questions about symbolism and characterization and the like and instead let her lead the discussion about what she read and how she understood it. I have maintained this approach to Reading (as a subject) for a few years now and it seems to be working, as she is just as likely to pick up Anna Karenina off my bookshelf and give me a complete (and accurate) run-down of the story as she is something that other kids talk about (Hunger Games).
      What’s interesting to me is that her overall score on standardized tests (CA) is extremely high, with the lowest section being “Literary Analysis”. My green-homeschooling self would have taken that and bought the latest curriculum on analyzing literature to “supplement” her “deficiency”. Five years in, I know that such a thing would serve only the test score, to the detriment of the love of reading.
      Your parents seemed to understand that reading has just as much to do with who you are and what you bring to the content as the content itself. That’s why some call truly great works “living books”; they get deeper as you develop the ways to receive them. Unfortunately, many modern publishers are widening their audience (market$) by printing highly mature content (50 Shades) at lower and lower reading levels (3rd Grade), allowing access without understanding or even guidance since reading is most often an individual activity.
      The whole concept of reading level serves no one but those in the business of defining it and those with the need to wear it as a badge of honor. Fill your shelves with quality of all sorts, make time to read aloud from books YOU love (even into their teens), and let them see YOU reading. They will follow suit. Exposing them to great literature is akin to acclamating them to a healthy diet. And just as fast food is okay once in a while, it’s the good stuff that makes them feel good and helps them develop.

      “Ultimately, works of literature are not things to be contemplated but powers to be absorbed.”
      -Northrop Frye, The Stubborn Structure: Essays On Criticism and Society

  6. toastedtofu
    toastedtofu says:

    Um, I’m looking at this Lexile site and it rates textbooks about Shakespeare at higher reading comprehension than his plays, which are full of archaic words that pretty much no one but Shakespearian scholars could actually USE. Does it automatically give non-fiction +300 points? That doesn’t seem right.

    p.s. the hunger games would be a fun-fiction addition to a unit on classical studies and the roman empire.

  7. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Something I’ve wondered for a long time, does “reading level” only apply to the things you will read to yourself? For example, my 11yo son only reads a few book series for himself (one happens to be the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.) However he will listen to me read anything and everything to him. Right now we are reading The Hobbit together. So should I find his actual reading level or his ability to understand anything he will listen to? His comprehension of what I read to him is very good and he retains everything. He just prefers our time together reading and will wait for me before picking up a book on his own.

    • cris
      cris says:

      My second daughter (8) loves to be read aloud to but is lukewarm on reading otherwise. We are at the end of Peter Pan, too, but I’ve also read the original Grimm’s fairy tales, Pinocchio, titles from Roald Dahl and Laura Ingalls Wilder and Astrid Lindgren, just to name a few. The one that really thrust me forward with believing in reading aloud was when I was reading Treasure Island (unabridged) and my then-6-year-old would be able to summarize what was happening in the story when we had left off the night before. She still isn’t the voracious reader her older sister is, but her vocabulary is worlds above her age/ grade level. Decoding is so overrated and only a small part of what it takes to read. But it’s the easiest to quantify so schools love it.

  8. Lynn Lawrence
    Lynn Lawrence says:

    Hey Penelope,

    Have you ever read any of the really in-depth articles in Vanity Fair, like the one they did a couple months back on Germany and the economy? I don’t like to read really dry stuff, but there’s something about how they take a deep topic in VF, and fill the article full of facts, and yet, it’s a delight to read.

    Something else notable about reading that comes to mind is how shocked I was when I realized that whole language reading was really the method that worked for my kids, instead of phonics. I believed in phonics, but could never get my kids to slow down and sound words out. What I came to know that was truth for us is that the visual-relational mind initally reads by inferring words aka whole language. So there were things we could do to support that like switching on closed captioning on the TV and going for high level vocabulary in anything auditory we experienced.

      • Lynn Lawrence
        Lynn Lawrence says:

        OH, but of course, it had to be an article about Deep Springs! DS really frustrates me because, as unique as it seems, for those of us who live rurally with agriculture, we realize that this model is replicable and scalable. If it does such great things for young men, why aren’t there many of them? Surely there are many more great teaching minds from top schools who would want to participate in such a model, in the same way as Deep Springs. Why must the world be satisfied with only a handful of DS grads? Note to homeschoolers: If we can tap into help from the type of faculty that DS offers, we often have all the raw materials at hand to provide similar environments. Surely, for the agri-homeschooled, the dairy flooding problem, or something parallel has been experienced and surmounted, especially by 18 yr old men?

  9. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    Also what the lexicographical approach also misses is the variable of focus exhaustion, or attention deficit over time (no, not the disorder, just the normal tendency that everyone has to lose the ability to focus after focusing for a while). Reading comprehension has more to do with mental endurance for reading, IMHO.

  10. Sadya
    Sadya says:

    John Rawls isnt easy reading, yet you have alot of knowledge about his work. So the comprehension isnt a problem, especially for someone who is always digging into research material.

    Whatever happened to your reality TV show? No updates on the main blog or here.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      A ha! All the comments on this post converge! Above, there is a comment from Monique about Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book. That’s how I read John Rawls.

      But here’s the thing about someone like Rawls: All you need to know is the concept of the Veil of Ignorance (google it: totally interesting) and then you know everything.

      The rest of the book is him arguing over minute details.

      Penelope

      • Gregory
        Gregory says:

        Ha, I’m totally writing about the implications of taking a Rawlsian approach to health policy. Or at least I was, until I got distracted by your blog.

        I find I’m in a very different mental mode when I read complex texts compared with popular texts. It is almost as if I have to slow my thinking down. I enjoy that experience. I find fast-mode thinking very tiring.

  11. Margaret M.
    Margaret M. says:

    I remember reading and rereading unabridged Grimm’s Fairy Tales. They are dark, violent stories. Ursula Le Guin wrote a great essay about them, asking “Are these stories for children?” She answered that by saying they’re stories for anyone who will listen.

  12. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I think attaining higher levels of reading is about patience and setting goals. I’m currently reading The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran. It’s over 700 pages, and I think most people would opt out after hearing that…much less after reading any of it. But I am really interested in middle eastern history. I don’t understand everything and I have to look up a few words but I’m plugging through because it is more important for me to learn the subject matter than to have fun. Could it be that nobody considers the harder levels of reading material easy to read?

  13. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    What’s funny here is while I watched my niece and two neighbor kids recently (their parents went to meet their school teachers), I saw the book “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” on a table in the living room. I didn’t pick it up though. Instead I leafed through another book that had the word “simple” in its’ title. I’m a firm believer in the KISS principle. So next time I go over to their house, I’ll have to check out the other book.
    I entered your last career blog post (Lessons with 9/11:How to live without regret) into an online document readability calculator to calculate the Flesch Kincaid Grade level, Flesch Reading Ease, Gunning Fog index, and other metrics. They were, in order, 6.67, 73.81, and 8.23. Wikipedia has more background information on these scores.
    One last thing, regardless of one’s reading level and comprehension, the worst thing to do is “fake it” and attempt to make other people believe you understand it. Ask questions even if it may make it appear to others that you’re the dumbest sh*t in the room. The fact of the matter is that most likely there are other people present with the same question afraid to ask
    it.

  14. Bec Oakley
    Bec Oakley says:

    The disparity between verbal IQ and reading comprehension is a very Aspie thing. Comprehension is an executive function, verbal IQ not so much. It’s probably the reason why you like Agatha Christie, they’re very formulaic and literal. Here are all the people who were in the house, here are the clues, therefore the murderer is… (I also suspect that you’ll hate Vanity Fair).

    I had such a hard time getting teachers to understand that my son shouldn’t be reading texts five years above his level just because he could. Emotionally he was years behind his peers, so the content of those books were crazily inappropriate. Not only that, they weren’t interesting to him so were never going to stretch his reading skills.

  15. Zellie
    Zellie says:

    What I learned from my kids is that visualizing while reading increases reading comprehension greatly. When I read medical or educational material comprehension is fine, but when reading fiction or history comprehension is poor. It’s not the language I don’t comprehend. It’s recounting after the fact what has occurred in the text that is poor because I don’t visualize.

  16. Stef
    Stef says:

    How do you use the Library Thing website to find the reading level? I have looked around the site trying to figure it out, but I must be missing something.

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