Book Leveling and Text Complexity

Article #1:

I think that text complexity can certainly be a difficult issue sometimes. Of course I agree that students should be challenged when they read in order to improve, but I don’t ever want to scare children away from reading by consistently giving them something that is just too difficult for them to get through. I like how the article went through several different factors that can play into how complex a text is. It helps to be aware of these specific factors to know what I should focus on when teaching students to become better readers (and in helping to select books for students to read). The article also discusses three important components of literacy instruction: building skills, establishing purpose, and fostering motivation. Under building skills, my favorite part was that texts should be read multiple times, and each time the students should be looking for more, deeper, or different information. Vocabulary is another huge part of learning that should be of upmost importance. 

Article #2:

This article talks about “readicide”, referring to the practices used by schools to improve reading scores but that are actually destroying students’ love for reading. The first factor associated with this is that schools develop test takers rather than readers. From this article, from personal experience, and from other’s observations, I would agree that the focus on testing seems to have taken over classrooms and the way a teacher runs things. This is so sad, and I hope I will be able to avoid this in any ways that I can when I become a teacher. The second factor this article talks about is that authentic reading experiences have been limited by schools. I agree that it is important for students to be engaged in readings about real-world things and not just isolated facts all the time. The last two factors are that teachers either overteach or underteach books. The key, of course, is to find the balance between the two. The article discusses the difference between assigning a text and teaching a text. As teachers, we should prepare students for what they are about to read and help them understand why the text is important to them today. Lastly, like the first article, this one talked about reading over texts more than once. I think this is key to help students better understand and foster more critical thinking. 


Sci Fi Book Review


When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead 

Stead, R. (2009). When you reach me. New York: Wendy Lamb Books. 

I liked this book, but it was not one of my favorites. It started off really slow, and I feel like it took me quite a while to get into it. Once I did get into it, though, the mystery of discovering who the notes were from and what they meant kept me interested. The book is about time travel, which is always something that completely blows my mind when I actually try to think about it. I think the author did a good job of making the reader think about time travel, but it was not too confusing or overwhelming.

The book won the Newbery Medal partly because of its realistic setting and portrayal of New York during the time in which it was set. I agree that Rebecca Stead did a great job of telling accurate and specific details of how a child’s life would have been during that time in that place. Students could use this aspect of the book to analyze how setting affects the tone, mood, dialogue, and plot of the story. Besides using the book for its literary aspects, I am not totally sure how it could be used in the classroom, but I would definitely love to have a copy in my library. 

Folk/Traditional Literature




The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit as told by Julius Lester 

Lester, J. (1987). The tales of Uncle Remus: The adventures of Brer Rabbit. Hong Kong: Puffin Books.

I have heard/seen many versions of Brer Rabbit stories over the years, and I am always drawn in by them. The stories of Brer Rabbit tricking and being tricked by all the other animals (especially the sneaky Brer Fox) are always very entertaining. This collection has 48 tales of all kinds of adventures experienced by Brer Rabbit. In this retelling, Julius Lester brings in some contemporary features of writing and references to more current items (such as Dr. Pepper and Adidas shoes) to appeal more to the modern-day reader, and especially to a child. I think that most middle school students would really love reading this book because of its ease-of-read, humor, and clever story lines. 

I don’t know much about it, but I know there has been controversy concerning the Brer Rabbit tales because the original version has the stories being told by a black slave named Uncle Remus on a southern plantation. In some ways, the dialect and attitudes have been perceived as racist. In the introduction to this collection, however, a woman named Augusta Baker discusses the rich African history of these tales and how they actually should provide African Americans with much pride. I think it would be really neat to have students research this topic themselves. It would be interesting to see what they discovered about the origin of the tales and what the tales portray. 

Picture Books


#1: Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe 

Steptoe, J. (1987). Mufaro’s beautiful daughters: An African tale. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books. 

Loved this book! It won the Caldecott Medal and I can definitely see why – the illustrations are amazing. There was a note saying that the illustrations were inspired by the ruins and surrounding area of an ancient city in Zimbabwe. The text of the book is about a man named Mufaro who has two daughters, Manyara and Nyasha. One day, Mufaro’s daughters are invited to appear before the king so that he can choose which one will become his wife. Manyara sets off before everyone else in hopes of reaching the king first. Her pride and selfishness, however, become her downfall, as Nyasha’s generosity and kindness lead her to become the next queen. 

The message of the book was wonderful, but I think it could be used in lots of other ways in the classroom, as well. Students could use the book to examine characteristics of folktales as well as the African heritage/culture. The book can also be compared to the classic tale of Cinderella, so this might be a fun and interesting way to have students compare and contrast texts. I found one lesson plan online that I thought was pretty cool ( and could be tweaked some if need be. Overall, a good book to have in the classroom! 


#2: Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett 

Kellogg, S. (1995). Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett. New York: Morrow Junior Books. 

Most of us have heard of Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier! I know I was obsessed with him when I was kid :). But before reading this book, I do not think I ever remember hearing anything about Davy’s wife, Sally Ann. This book tells the backstory of Sally Ann and how from the time she was a little baby she could out-talk, out-run, out-swim, out-everything anyone else she knew. It tells several tales of her greatness, including sending a group of alligators flying across several states! The stories are based on tall tales found in the Davy Crockett almanacs. It could definitely be a cool book to use in the classroom if exploring American folklore.  



#3: Rapunzel and the Seven Dwarfs 

Claflin, W. (2011). Rapunzel and the seven dwarfs, illustrated by James Stimson. Atlanta: August House LittleFolk. 

This one was definitely interesting and different from anything I’ve seen. It basically took a combination of the tales of Rapunzel and Snow White and made it over-the-top silly and wacky. Middle schoolers (especially if they are familiar with the traditional fairy tales) would probably LOVE this book because it is so out-there and ridiculous. I think it could be a really fun resource to use in a classroom to introduce and get kids thinking about fairy tales and how they have been adapted or changed over centuries of retelling. 



Historical Fiction


The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis 

To me, this book was all about family and relationships. I think the main point Curtis was trying to get across is that the Watsons, a black family living during the time of the civil rights movement, were exactly like any other family one may come across. The majority of the book is simple, everyday stories told from the viewpoint of Kenny Watson. He tells all about his life with his misbehaving brother Byron, his sweet-as-can-be sister Joey, and his two loving parents. I loved the book for this mundane, story-telling aspect because I could relate to it, and the way that Kenny told it was extremely entertaining.

The author really did not bring up the question of race until towards the end of the book. When the family travels south to Birmingham, some of the realities of racism and discrimination hit them hard. Although the characters are all fictional, the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist church bombing actually happened. I was crushed when I thought that Joey died in the bombing, and relieved when I discovered that she had made it out okay. The struggle that Kenny faced afterwards, though, was almost just as hard to read. Curtis did a wonderful job of showing how a family and a child might respond to such a tragic event as this. 

I would certainly recommend The Watsons Go To Birmingham to my students and have a copy available in my  classroom library. I think upper elementary or younger middle schoolers would love this book. It could be a great resource for getting students to think from the perspective of a black family who lived during the time of the civil rights movement. 


Response to Historical Fiction articles: 

Brown, Joanne. (1998). “Historical Fiction or Fictionalized History? Problems for Writers of Historical Novels for Young Adults.” The ALAN Review, Volume 26, Number 1.

This article by Joanne Brown did a great job of explaining the hardships in writing and finding good historical fiction. People disagree about what constitutes historical fiction, how much of it should be history and how much of it should be fiction, who should write about what times periods, etc. Writing historical fiction is definitely not an easy task in that it requires extensive research of a particular time period as well as the ability to develop an engaging plot with interesting characters. Writers of historical fiction not only have to create a good story, but they also have to be sure to be as accurate as possible in their portrayal and depiction of history. This article touches on the question of accuracy even when it is brutal or hard to handle, especially for a young reader. Brown leans toward the stance that it should certainly be as accurate as possible, because that is what really happened. I agree with this stance, but I also do think that there may be some things that are not age-appropriate for a teacher to expose to students.

My favorite part of the article is when Brown explained the “interpretative nature of both history and fiction.” This is why I think historical fiction is so great. Yes, we know some of the facts about history, but history itself is also a story. Different people construct different meanings and interpretations of the same historical events and times. So to me, creating an imagined story based on historical facts certainly seems to be an awesome way to connect history to today’s students.


The other website we looked at had the opinions of several educators on using historical fiction in the classroom. Here are my reactions to two of them –

1. Keith Barton: Barton saw the good and bad in historical fiction. The main good thing he discussed is that students can usually better find meaning in the past through this type of reading. The narrative style allows students to find patterns and relationships in history, rather than just viewing it as a list of events. The main bad thing is that students will look at history in view of individuals rather than as a collective thing or in a broader context. Overall, Barton thinks that historical fiction can definitely be useful as long as it is carefully examined and discussed within the classroom.

2. Andrea Hayden: Hayden loves historical fiction, but she emphasizes the importance of pairing it with nonfiction texts in the classroom. She talks about using fiction texts as a way to begin a more in depth study using nonfiction resources.  I really like the questions she shares for helping students to look more closely at historical fiction. They are:

1. How does the book help me understand daily life in the past?

2. Could the events described in the book have happened? What evidence do I have?

3. Which events really happened? How do I know?

4. Which characters really existed? How do I know?