Dec 6, 2011

Adults Judging Childrens Books: Complexity

Whenever I tell people that I'm close to reaching my goal of reading 110 books this year (6.5 to go!), I tend to get a response along the lines of: "But those are easy books. Those are way beneath your level. So why bother?"  Putting aside the obvious problems of them taking the liberty of knowing what my level is and assuming I'm not reading books that I actually enjoy, who is to say that children's and young adult books are beneath anyone's level?

While some "grown-up" books may not be appropriate content-wise for young'ns, readability statistics for some of the most popular adult fiction is right on target for a children's audience.  The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level ("FKGL") test is a readability test that measures total number of sentences, sentence length, and syllables to assign a grade level to a selection of writing.  If you're a student, you're most likely familiar with this test from seeing it after spellchecking your papers in Word (...and then furiously hitting shiftF7 to use the thesaurus to find longer words, yeah don't deny it).  Obviously assigning grade levels is making an assumption about where each grade should be, but let's experiment.

Read this:
"'All your old drinking habits, too. Chewing Excedrin. Wiping your mouth all the time. Cranky in the morning. And you haven't been able to finish the play, yet, have you?'"
According to the FKGL, that's at a 2.8 grade level.  It's also a quote from The Shining, one of the most popular "adult" books of all time.  That quote isn't even as bad as this:
"The wedding. Her father had been there. Her mother had not been. She found she could live with that, if she had Jack. And then Danny had come. Her fine son."
That has a 0.0 rating.  Seriously. 

Now this:
"'From this point forth, we shall be leaving the firm foundation of fact and journeying together through the murky marshes of memory into thickets of wildest guesswork.'"
Yes, that's right.  Dumbledore speaks at a 13.2 grade level.

While the subject matter of Stephen King novels may not be appropriate for a second grader (depending on how liberal you are), they can definitely read it.  So should second graders deem you lazy for reading something way below your level?  I mean, it's a pretty easy read, so why bother?

Okay yes, obviously I picked specific quotes that would prove a point.  But if you put The Shining as a whole up against this test, it averages out at about a 7th grade level.  You know what else does? The Harry Potter series.  So stop judging people for reading things "beneath their level" because guess what? Chances are, so are you. 

1 comment:

  1. Did you ever post a review of The Shining?? What did you think?

    Also, re: adults judging children's books, I'm not sure they always mean "reading level" in the sense of "understandability." In my experience, children's books tend to be pretty transparently pedantic, so maybe people think "Well, I already know how to be nice to my friends" or whatever it is kids' books normally teach? Instead of appreciating the morals that children's books try to teach, I think most adults would be all "yeah, so?"

    That's not the case with you, because you're studying children's literature, which is awesome, and I'm sure it has many more nuances than I might have implied above. But as someone who is NOT studying children's literature, that's my general view of the genre, and it might be others' as well.

    Just a thought :)