I have discussed lexiles and reading levels often here. Sometimes I think I am beating a dead horse, but danged if that horse does not rise from the ashes like a phoenix and come back stronger and more emboldened. I want to come at this same sort of issue from another angle today, though. I want to talk about the appropriateness of a book for an audience. As I was mulling this idea over the last couple of days, some events, of course, unfolded nicely. Today, there was a request on the yalsa-bk listserv for a high lexile book for a fifth grader. In the past week, someone has commented on a book Imemntioned as a perfect book for older middle school kids as good for fifth and sixth graders. And YEARS ago, when I was booktalking NO MORE DEAD DOGS, an enthusiastic teacher told me her gifted 5th graders would love it. This happens over and over again. I have had parents brag to me about their second graders reading HARRY POTTER. They are usually puzzled with my response which is generally, "WHY?"
I want kids to have books that are appropriate for their age, their maturity. I want to make sure I am providing them with plenty of choices, but I also want them to hold off on some books until they can appreciate them fully. College Girl was in the GT program in school and, thus, read ANIMAL FARM in elementary school. Her teacher's take was that these were GT kids who could handle the reading level of the book. That's right, of course, CG COULD understand all the words; she could comprehend. However, she still does not understand the allegory of the novel, something she might have appreciated a few years later in her reading life.
So, as I read books, I do some filing in my brain about where these books would best be appreciated and understood and perhaps become even cherished. I see incredibly smart colleagues like John Schu and Colby Sharp and Donalyn Miller and Paul Hankins and others select the texts they will read aloud and add to their libraries with the same care as an aficionado selects a cigar or a connoisseur chooses the perfect wine for a meal. They balance all sorts of factors including age appropriateness, trusting that there will be other teachers who will share other books.
I always hold myself up as the counter example of one size fits all. From standards (CCSS, TEKS) to curriculum (AR)to books, there is simply not ONE book or standard or element or activity that will be the one that will work for all. Bruce Degen talks about how his spelling teacher would administer the weekly test to the class but allow him to spell the words out loud as he was painting in the back of the room. WOW. So, here is a plea to all of you book lovers out there: when you find a book you love, think about whether it is one you will read for your own pleasure (and that is just fine) or if it is one that can come into the classroom or library as well. It is OK to read a book and decide to send it on to someone else's classroom. Books need to float on to the hands of those who are READY for them. And you know best.