Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Age Appropriate Books

I am a little slow on the uptake.  The buzz about The Hunger Games series has been going strong for awhile, but I just recently finished reading all three.  It made me really think about age appropriate books.  My hope is that this post won’t be too rambling.  To begin with I teach third grade and a big chunk of my class read at a high fourth grade or higher reading level.  I push the envelop in the books I read aloud, do in guided group and have on the shelves of the class library.  I believe censorship is one the most damaging acts done to democracy.  I don’t understand why as a society it is alright for there to be very violent shows on TV and at the movies, but The King’s Speech is given an R rating because one bad word is repeated numerous times.

With that said I DO NOT think every book should be put in any hand of a kid wanting to read it.  The Hunger Games series, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and the last few books of the Harry Potter series are just a small of example of what I mean.  (I won’t mention the Twilight series because my kids aren’t even talking about them. Thank god!)  I will start with the Strange Case of Origami Yoda.  I love this book.  I love the way it is written.  I love the characters.  I love the message is sends.  I love it.  I love it for mature fourth graders and for an entire class of fifth graders.  In my opinion it is not for third grade boys.  It is not a challenging book and because of this the publisher is marketing it for boys.  I have talked to a few boys walking around with Origami Yoda finger puppets about the book.  I have asked them what they liked about the book.  They respond, “It is so funny. Do you like my finger puppet?”  “What did you think of the end with the dance?”  I ask.  “Oh, I didn’t like that so I didn’t finish it.”  UM that’s what the book is about, boys liking girls and girls liking boys.    

My first read aloud of the year was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  I realized that many of these kids had never heard the first book or even read it.  Many students in class were so engaged that they went on to read more of the series.  From the beginning I told them that if it was an appropriate reading level they could read it in class.  A couple of my highest readers want to read the last two books.  I do not have copies of them in class because they aren’t appropriate for third graders.  JK Rowling wrote the books fro kids to grow up with not for third graders to read all seven in one year.  There have been many days where nine year olds are mad at me.  I have told them and their parents that if the parents want to get them for their kids it is their choice, but I would need a note saying it was ok for them to read it at school.  To date no parent has done this.  I tell D “dude just wait until your older.  You will enjoy them even more because you will understand everything that is happening in the book.”  He still thinks I’m being a mean teacher.  He’ll get over it.

I devoured The Hunger Game series.  I downloaded all three when I got my iPad and read them non-stop.  They were interesting and have a social commentary that is important for adults to read and understand.  I had a student last year that in third grade read at a high school level and could easily done 6th grade mathematics.  He is a very smart kid.  He is funny, but not always socially in tune to what is happening around him.   The other day he was reading Mockingjay.  I said “N do you think that is a good book?  Is it appropriate for you?”  “Oh yea.  I loved the first two.”  “I don’t think those are appropriate for you.  Does MS. T know you are reading them?  Do your parents?”  I ask.  He replies that they all know.  This blog post is about my opinion on books kids should read not on the fact that his fourth grade teacher doesn’t read kids literature.  She says she doesn’t have time.  Enough said.  However, N’s parents are usually more involved in what he is reading.  I saw his mom the next day and I asked her if N spoke to her about what I said about his reading choice.  She said no.  We talked about why I felt the way I did.  That night she and N talked about the books.  N is not very mature and I still believe he doesn’t truly understand what he read.

The reason books are challenged or banned is because they are powerful.  As teachers we need to use this power for good and as important learning tools. I stride to keep an open dialog with my students about appropriate books. I look for books that will push them academically and socially.


Carol said...

I'm right there with you on this. Just because a child CAN read a book doesn't mean they SHOULD read it, or that they will enjoy it as much as they would if they were a little bit older. And I don't think it's censorship to help kids find books that are at their "emotional level." Can't wait to share this with some folks I know. Thanks for the great thinking.

Elizabeth G. said...

I agree with you fully. There are wonderful books out there but some of them are meant for a mature audience, not for young children who are great readers. Carol said it perfectly...just because you can doesn't mean you should. Great books by the way, but I agree that they are not the best fits for 3rd graders.

Iron Guy Carl said...

I see this problem all the time at the library. We have the same thing with our daughter who is 10 and reading at a much higher level. She's still 10 emotionally, as are all the kids I see in this predicament, and ready for books on older themes. Fortunately, there are enough good books that are challenging and yet age-appropriate.

Peaceful Reader said...

This is a thoughtful post. As an elementary librarian I constanstly have students ask me for the Twilight series or this series or that series. I do explain that those books are waiting for them in the high school library~and draw them over to our own shelves, packed full of other good choices. We always want to grow up before our time!
I love that you read the first HP to students-not enough read it anymore!

Lisa said...

I am having a discussion with my 6th graders right now - about half of which have read at least some of the Hunger Games series. I shared your blog post with them and asked their opinions:
They unanimously agree that this series is too much for a 3rd grader (even a high-level reader). Some think fifth grade is the youngest time a student should read it. However, they think their age group can handle it if they choose to and their parents give them permission. Below are the their specific thoughts about this series.

Cons/Objectionable Content they brought up:
• Violence
• Torture
• Culture (political structure)
• Alcohol
• Sexual content (when I asked they brought up kissing and pretending to be pregnant)
• Being forced to kill others for entertainment
• Distribution of wealth (this wording came straight from one of my students)
• Black market, lying
Redeemable Qualities/lessons worth taking away:¬
• A good way to learn that not all places are perfect just because your life is perfect
• Example of bullying (the capital and districts 1,2,3 are bullies, district 13 is a bystander, everyone else is being bullied)
• Well-written, well-developed plot, strong word choice
• Makes you able to transfer lessons to real life – if you see similar situations in real life, you can stop them or help prevent them (animal cruelty, school relationships, people being abusive, politics in countries, being forced to love each other or kill each other)
• Teaches you about people in charge trying to control others with fear and illusions (like in The Giver)
• Teaches you that the abuser/bully is really, maybe afraid (like Mr. Curtain in The Mysterious Benedict Society)
• Easier to learn these kinds lessons than to experience them in real life or watch them in a movie (too real)

Quite a few of them said they were not planning to see the movie because it would be too scary. One girl said she read the first and is saving the second two for when she’s older because she can tell they’ll be too much for her.

Thanks for providing a place for us to have a conversation about this series.
(The kids constructed most of this response while I typed it on my laptop, projecting it on the screen. They’re hoping to see some responses to this comment … ) ☺

Kyle said...


What a great discussion your class had over an important book. It is exciting to see such thoughtful insight in to an important topic. I am going to share their comments with a fifth grade teacher in my building, so she can have a similar conversation.

Jill Fisch said...


Thanks for the thought provoking post.

Lisa and Crew,

I wish I could have been there for your discussion. It sounds like it was fascinating. You made great points on both sides of the issue so I can tell that you were thinking deeply about this. Do you all have any thoughts or opinions about whether Diary of a Wimpy Kid is an appropriate book for a first grader? I would love to hear your ideas. Thanks for sharing your thinking with us.

Cab Lover said...


Wow! What a Crew of critical thinkers. Your post made we want to download the series on my Kindle...right now! I do plan on reading them with my girls this summer as a book club. Can't wait to share my thinking with you, and hopefully, your crew.


Shannon said...

I have issues with the other end of the spectrum. Teachers and sometimes parents question whether a middle-schooler should be reading a book b/c the book level being too low for them. I then have to have the conversation about content vs. reading levels. A good book is usually b/c of the story content and not how many syllables are in a word or how many ords are in a sentence, etc.

Lisa said...

Kyle and Jill,

Thank you for your comments on our deep thinking, Jill. We appreciate it! We’re hoping to hear what your school’s fifth graders think about the Hunger Games series, Kyle.

Some of us had a discussion Friday morning about the Wimpy Kid series and we have mixed feelings. Here are our opinions:

Yes – Wimpy Kid series ok for first graders:
• It’s funny (although they may not get it)
• The pictures are descriptive
• If you read it with your parents, your parents can explain it
• Teaches you life lessons (doing something wrong and fixing it – although Greg only did that once and he lied about it)
• Greg has a good imagination

No – Wimpy Kid series not ok for first graders:
• Some of the pictures – inappropriate (kind of like Mad magazine)
• Bad example - They will think doing mean stuff to people is cool and might copy it (shooting a person with a BB gun, being mean to little kids, ding-dong ditching people, locking someone in a bathroom)
• First graders won’t get the humor
• Teaches you to do things that might hurt you or get you in trouble
• Might scare them because everything is over-exaggerated
• Greg doesn’t really try – he thinks homework is stupid and wants a machine to do it
• Greg abuses Rowley (broke his arm, throws things at him) – bad examples of friendship

We had a bit of a debate about whether or not first graders might copy the bad examples and how sophisticated first graders are. We think that if a first grader wants to read this series, the first book is the most appropriate. They should definitely not read the fifth book (they won’t get it, it makes fun of fifth graders, and it has puberty in it).

We hope that helped.

Ms. Lisa’s Wimpy Kid series readers

P.S. Note from Ms. Lisa: These thoughts and opinions are only my students', as I have not finished a Whimpy Kid book.

Jill Fisch said...

Lisa and Crew,

Wow! I am once again impressed with your deep thoughts. You really looked at both sides of the issue. You gave me a lot to think about as I ponder whether Wimpy Kid books are appropriate for first graders. Great discussion.


What a great discussion! Thanks for getting this started and providing a forum for it.

Sandra Stiles said...

I have some mature sixth graders as far as reading goes. If I have a student wanting to read a young adult book I also require a parent note. I send the parent to several blogs where they can find reviews. I tell them my concerns. I have 2 parents who have asked me for the books because they had purchased the others in the series for their kid but I had an ARC. In that case I send it home.