My Bio

My Bio
My name is Sharon Levin and I've been reviewing children's literature for 20 years. I founded and run the Bay Area Children's Literature List. My biggest passion (outside my family) is getting books into the hands of children and teens. My favorite thing is getting non-readers to realize that they're readers. I also LOVE t-shirts that have to do with books or literature. As soon as I figure out how to do it, I'll have a click through on the above picture so you can see my entire collection (and where to get them).

May 6, 2013


 Yes, I am jumping on my soap box (this will happen relatively often).  I have been never been a fan of students identifying themselves through a number (hi, I'm a 760, can you find me a book?).  But something happened recently at the school where I volunteer, and it inspired me to write this at this time.

Okay, first I guess I should explain what Lexiles are. They are a way of 'leveling' a book (yes, that's verbizing a word and I hate that, but I'm hoping my disdain comes through when I use that term) to let children and teen readers know what books they should be reading.  Lexiles are based ENTIRELY on vocabulary.  The more often an unknown or uncommon word shows up, the higher the Lexile score, the higher the score the more difficult the book is (according to the Lexile people, at least).

Back in the day when I worked for Addison-Wesley Publishing, we called these Readabilities.  One of my jobs as a freelancer was to run readabilities on books. Let me tell you what that entailed.

I would choose random pages within the book (I don't remember how many) and type a paragraph into the computer.  Back would pop up the unfamiliar or uncommon words with a score (a reading level).  Content and context were not taken into consideration.  Now, these WERE textbooks, so plot was not really an issue.

While I don't remember most of the books I ran readabilities on, I do remember one book that stood out as an example of how stupid these levels were.  The book was a computer textbook.  Given that this was 1984 (yes, I'm old) the readability program considered the word 'computer' to be an uncommon word,  so every time the word 'computer' showed up in this COMPUTER textbook, it would bump up the reading level.  Do we see a problem here?

Fast forward to now, when I am a professional booktalker, reviewer and evangelist for children's books (in a non-religious way).

When I give booktalks I always, ALWAYS insist on talking about Lexiles as part of my talk.  The number of teachers and librarians who come up afterward to tell me they appreciate what I'm saying and that it supports their own feelings and knowledge as educators is overwhelming (and quite validating).

 A couple of years ago I gave a number of booktalks at our local high school in preparation for summer reading. It was great fun and quite a few students came up to me and told me how much they enjoyed it (as did their teachers).  I even heard from teachers this year that they had students who had been touched by those past booktalks.

So, this year I was getting ready to prep booktalks for the high school again and I checked in with the department chair to see which teachers would like me to come to their classrooms. Because of the objections of one teacher, I made sure that I was upfront with the chair about my insistence on including Lexile information in my talk (and that I would leave my opinions at the door).

(As a parenthetical comment, the objecting teacher agreed that Lexiles weren't great, but they gave teachers a starting point.  My response was that that's the equivalent of a Geography teacher starting with a 3-D model of a flat Earth.  If your tools are wrong, how are they useful?)

When I heard back from the department chair, I was told they could not use me if I made any disparaging statements about Lexiles because the district uses SRI and Read 180 programs, which rely on Lexiles to tell students what books they should be reading.

What is this dangerous information I want to share?  Why are teachers and administrators afraid to have students know a fact about the program by which they are judged?  I do not know.  Keep in mind that I was not going to give my opinion, I was not going to use the term B.S.  I was merely going to give information.

Are you ready for what they don't want me to tell their students?  Here it is:

The Wee Little Woman is a board book by Byron Barton and has a Lexile of 1300

Moby Dick (yes, THAT Moby Dick) by Herman Melville has a Lexile of 1200. (in theory, the higher the Lexile the harder the book).

Oh, and the stunning, STUNNING book The Arrival by Shaun Tan has no Lexile because it is wordless (which does not mean that this book is not complex and thought provoking, sigh).

 Shhh, don't tell the students.