Discussion: Is It Bad To Read Too Far Above Your Grade Level?

Today, I wanted to bring up a topic which has directly influenced me in my own life and, I’m sure, has affected a lot of you guys, being the voracious readers which you are.  Many kids (of all grade levels) read above their grade level, because the books that are marketed for them are “too easy”.  I was one of these kids.  In 6th grade, I was reading The Cliche (one of the best series of all times), but I was also reading Life of Pi and Jane Eyre and Wicked and other books I’d smuggled off of the “adult” shelf in my mom’s room.  Now, I wonder if I would have appreciated all of these books a lot more if I had waited until I was older.

The reason I initially thought to write this post is that my entire family decided to do a book club for “I’ll Give you the Sun”.  My youngest sister is in 7th grade (12 years old) and so considering the fact that it is a YA novel, we thought it would be an appropriate choice.  Let’s just say, we should have waited.  She read 50 pages, and after that she still didn’t know that (minor spoiler that you will figure out on page 2) the main character, Noah, was gay.  Like, if you don’t get that much, YOU’RE MISSING THE WHOLE POINT OF THE NOVEL.  Now, I’m not bashing my sister.  It’s just that she was too young to understand the language and pick up on the clues that were there.  I wonder if the same thing happened to me when I read books at a young age that are meant for much older people.

But, I mean, I understood the words.  I know what happened in Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, and Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm and all those other books I read in middle school.  But did I really understand it fully? I truly don’t know and so that’s what I want to talk about today.  If you have an opinion on the matter, make sure you let me know below.

Case in Point #2: Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm.  I read both of these in middle school and loved them, but I didn’t understand the allegorical nature of either of them.  When I later read them with my high school class, it made way more sense and I appreciated it a ton more.  I’m not sure if I would have even realized had a teacher not pointed it out to me, however.  My mom (library science major + almost english major) knew that Animal Farm was about corruption in society, but not about the full parallels to Russia and all that stuff.  It wasn’t hindering her enjoyment or understanding.

I wouldn’t change having read those classics when I did.  I enjoyed all of them (except Life of Pi that book SUCKED and nobody will never, ever change my mind about that) and I think it made me smarter to be constantly challenging myself like that.  But it also opened me up to “the world” a lot earlier than most kids were.  When I read Adult Fiction novels in middle school, I learned about the cold hard truths of the world, and I wasn’t sheltered at all.  In a way, I think that made me a better person as well.  It wasn’t that my parents were being neglectful by letting me read those books.  It was just that my mom believed that it was okay to read about things, but not to see them.  I didn’t watch a pg-13 movie until I was 13 which, in today’s day and age, is basically unheard of.  But I read books that would have been rated R when I was 10.  (note that I’m not at all talking about reading erotica or the like here.  I’m more talking about well written stories that have sexual content)

Now, for the discussion part.  I need to hear your opinions.  This debate is really multifaceted and I can’t wrap my mind around it on my own.  So stop reading this and click the little comment button, for the love of gods

Have you read books that were marketed for an older audience? Do you think that helped or hurt you?  Are you a parent, and would you allow your kid to do the same thing?

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Author: Joce

I read and I write about it. If I'm not online or with my nose in a book, I can probably be found at the basketball court.

22 thoughts on “Discussion: Is It Bad To Read Too Far Above Your Grade Level?”

  1. Great topic. I read above ‘expected level’ from the word go. I don’t think that did me any harm in itself, and there were some books I went on to reread and gain a deeper understanding of later on. I read Northern Lights (The Golden Compass,) at 9, 15 and in the third year of my degree. At 9, it was an adventure story with witches and armoured bears. At 15, I understood the atheistic subtext. In my early 20s, I studied parallels to Milton. Next time I read, I hope to learn more.

    The problem with reading ahead is, as you say, in the idea that other books become ‘too easy’. At 12, I was carrying books I did not understand or enjoy – Captain Corelli, which I went back to at 15 – rather than reading books I enjoyed. I could read a 9 – 12 book in a day, but that did not mean I should give them up.

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    1. Wow I didn’t pick all that up in golden compass and now I want to read it again!!!! I think you totally have to mix in easier books once in a while. If you do, there’s nothing wrong with struggling to read something once in a whike

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  2. I think that everyone’s reading skills and abilities to pick up implied themes, foreshadowing, etc. increases with age and that you don’t need to understand everything the first time you read a book to enjoy it or have “truly” understood it. I think grade level concerns are mostly about ability to understand vocab or complex sentence structure and that reading above your level can be good because reading books that challenge you is how you get better; it’s only a problem when it’s so hard it’s discouraging. Also, yeah, some younger readers might not be ready for adult themes. But in general I don’t think that not “getting” everything about a book is a problem. I learn new things every time I reread a book, even now when I consider myself a strong reader.

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    1. I Agree that being too young can actually help you learn better words and become smarter. I read all the classics (Jane eyre, pride and predijuice, life of pie) at a young age and I think it made me smarter and better at figuring out how to read difficult literature, which has helped me later in life.
      One thing I do wonder is that if we shelter kids from adult themes, will they be too sheltered to understand real life as well? That’s something I’ve thought about a lot lately because when kids aren’t allowed to read about something, they may not believe their parents fully about how it could happen in reality.

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      1. The adult content thing is always a tricky question for me. (I also don’t have kids, so no personal experience there, but I notice a huge difference in opinions between people who have kids–or people like teachers and librarians who are responsible for kids–and people without kids. Like, people in their early 20’s who read YA are far more likely to say “Yeah, throw in explicit sex in YA books! Young readers can handle it!” than parents are. Just an example, but the trend holds more widely for all types of adult themes.) My personal preference would be to go kid by kid and try to feel out what they’re ready for. People tend to have all different memories about their own reading habits as children, as well. I’ve talked to people who were truly traumatized by coming across something in a book at a young age they just weren’t ready for. But I do think that there are things kids need to be exposed to at the right time, and hopefully parents will be interested in what their children are reading and be open for conversations. Hopefully they also know enough about their own kids to realize that maybe Jane will be fine with reading a certain book at age 12 but Barbara might want to wait a little longer.

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        1. Yeah that’s a very good point. In the end it has to be individualised and actual age has nothing to do with it. It’s all about maturity level and what they can handle

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  3. I don’t think it’s necessarily age that determines when you are ready for a book or how much you will understand. I am more educated than most, read voraciously, and like to read literary criticism. But that doesn’t mean I can approach any book and understand it all. Without doing research, I could very well miss things other people take for granted especially when reading in time periods or in genres that I don’t read read as often.

    We can even apply to this film. Hayao Miyazaki’s The WInd Rises, for instance, received criticism for romanticizing aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi and ignoring Japan’s history of militarism. Audiences in the U.S. are almost guaranteed not to view this film and worry about these things, however–because Horikoshi isn’t a commonly-known figure in the U.S. and the average filmgoer doesn’t necessarily think about how Japan does nor does not erase its national history through the stories its people tell. Does that mean U.S. audiences are too young for the film or not ready for the film or too ignorant for the film? No. It just means they will approach it with a different perspective, but that perspective may change as they change and as they learn more.

    I think there is something to be said for thinking about when a person is ready for a book. When I was in fourth grade I wanted to read Gone with the Wind. My mother said no. Perhaps she wasn’t ready to explain prostitution to me or delve into how race is depicted in the work. Probably she thought a fourth grader wasn’t really going to understand the racial history of the South, the idea of the Lost Cause, a steamy romance, and rape. She was probably right. I would have known the vocabulary but everything else would have gone above my head.

    But is this related to grade level? Grade level is usually measured by knowledge of vocabulary and your ability to read complex sentences. Content isn’t necessarily taken into account when books are labelled for school reading programs. I think you ought to read above grade level if you can. I was very frustrated when I was younger and the librarian refused to let me check out things I was reading at home like Laura Ingalls Wilder or C. S. Lewis because she thought I should be reading beginner readers. Even supposing I were struggling a little, that’s not necessarily a bad thing–you need to be challenged a little in order to continue to learn. I think if I had checked out C. S. Lewis and found him too difficult I would have returned to lower level books on my own. Children tend to be self-aware like that, even in terms of content. If it’s too steamy or uncomfortable for them at a certain age, they will self-censor, so to speak. But I didn’t need an adult who didn’t know me to tell me she thought I wasn’t capable of reading certain books.

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    1. I think that’s a really good way to look at it. I hadn’t thought of breaking it down by words vs meaning for understanding. My mom wouldn’t let me read some books when I was younger either, and I think it led to me enjoying them more when I read them later.
      I agree with kids self censoring because I did that a few times as a kid.
      It’s ridiculous that your library wouldn’t let you check out some books. Especially ones where there’s not necessarily an “inappropriateness” problem

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      1. Yes, there are certainly books I read too early. The Hunchback of Notre Dame in middle school was perhaps an unwise choice on my part. Fortunately, I can always go back for a reread to see what I will see the next time around!

        It was a school library and it was extremely regulated. Certain grades got to look at certain shelves. Case closed. But eventually the librarian saw my test scores and she allowed me access to the entire library. (I can’t remember how this happened.
        I think I might have gotten annoyed and brought them in myself.) But I’m not sure students should need to be able to perform well on tests to be granted access to books. :/

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes that seems like an odd system, although I probably had something similar and just forget.
          And the joys of rereading!! I think we’ll always get more about of it the second time

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  4. When I was in grade 6, I read Pride and Prejudice. However, now re-reading it, I realised I can better appreciate the humour and the social customs of that period.

    I also read “The Selection” before I was technically a teen (when it was released) and, really, I didn’t notice the indirect sexual references in the book.

    So, I think people shouldn’t read books far above their age range/grade level. It hinders their understanding and appreciation of the books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read P&P at the same age and adored it, although I can’t really say what I missed because I haven’t reread it since. You definetly do miss out on things when you read at too young of an age, I just wonder if that really matters, or if reading things you don’t fully understand will help you understand more.

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  5. I think what you are describing is reading with your current filter.

    Have 100 people read the exact same text and you will get a wide variety of responses to that text. I read with my filter (everything I have known, learned, assimilated) and you read with your filter. Now if you had those 100 people discuss the text and share their responses something interesting happens. You and I go back and read that text again and we have a different view, a different reaction because our filter has changed because of the discussion.

    Your 12 yo sister”s filter blocked her from seeing that the MC in the story is gay. When you explained it to her you changed her filter. The same thing happens if you go back and read something that you read years ago, Depending on what has transpired in your life, your filter may have changed and the reaction you get now may be different. Ever had that feeling of “This isn’t as good as I remember it”? Your filter is different from what it was when you first read it.

    Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a really good way of putting it into words that I hadn’t really thought about before. It’s definitely true that when you read something with different life experiences, you get VERY different perceptions of the book.
      Thank you for commenting!!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Yeah, I read a lot of books way above my age range. Like you, I might not have got everything out of them, but I think I got enough to enjoy them anyway. My daughter also reads above her age range, and she comes to me with questions on stuff she doesn’t understand, or sometimes she doesn’t even know that she hasn’t got the point of the text. But I think that’s ok. Some time later, she”ll get it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that’s a good way to look at it. Even if you don’t understand right now, you eventually will, and she’s learning new things whenever she asks you!!

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