Two sons, two grades apart, reading the same book: Should I be worried?

My fourth grader and sixth grader are reading the same book in school right now.  That’s right. The book is The Lightning Thief.  And what’s more,  my sixth grader already read (and loved!) this very same book when he was in fourth grade at his prior school.

Both schools, one charter and one traditional district school, are similar in that they exist within the same zip code and yet, one sees The Lightning Thief as a fourth grade book and the other sees it as a sixth grade book.

And according to the grade range listed with the book, both are right. The book has a Lexile Score of 740 which indicates a precise grade level equivalent of 4.7 (fourth grade, 7th month) but Scholastic and others list the book as appropriate for grades 4-8. ((A Lexile Score is the measure of how difficult a text is.)

The point of this post isn’t to criticize any one school’s curriculum decisions. It is to help people see through my own children how expectations and/or opinions about appropriate reading choices vary greatly even between schools just a few miles apart and to ask two things:

  1. Is it even a problem?
  2. And if so, what can we do about it?

While in the grand scheme of things, it definitely falls into the “no biggie” category, we can’t ignore the fact that expectations matter and that some schools push kids more than others.  Is the reading choice based on lower expectations for sixth graders? Or is it possible that those reading it in sixth will actually be pushed harder because the depth of analysis expected will be much greater?

The truth is, there are no guarantees. Some teachers really push their students hard in their thinking and writing and some don’t, regardless of the grade they teach. And no book choice is going to change that.

So what makes one school decide to push its fourth graders to read the Lightning Thief, another to pick it as a sixth grade book, and yet another to pick it for even older students?

And who has it right? Or does it depend?

Some Helpful Answers

In thinking about this conundrum with my own boys and the Lightning Thief, I started looking to those who have both an interest and an expertise for insight.

One blog, Unleashing Readers, caught my eye when I saw this post from January 16th, 2016 called “This is my Anti-Lexile, Anti-Reading Level Post.”

Ricki Ginsberg writes:

I cringe when I hear about parents or teachers who strictly adhere to reading levels alone and won’t let children read books that are “too high/low in their Lexile number.” I watched a mother tell her son that he couldn’t get the train book that he wanted so badly because the number on the back cover was too high for him. He was disappointed, and he was even more disappointed when his mom selected a book that was not interesting to him. It really sucks the fun out of reading when you have to pick a book within your required sentence length instead of within your interests.

Makes sense. Three cheers for this writer.

The problem that this doesn’t address, however, is how to choose the books that the entire grade is going to read. But she does provide more helpful perspective by showing how silly we can be about what our kids read. Below is a list she includes in her blog that illustrates the absurdity of a singular focus on lexile scores in choosing books.


I decided to seek out Ricki Ginsberg, the author of the blog post, and ask her for her thoughts about my own situation and she was quick to respond.

So, I’m grateful to Ms. Ginsberg for providing some nuance to something that was really bugging me as a mom. While I have no control over the quality of the instruction or the depth of the lessons to accompany The Lightning Thief, I have at least been convinced not to assume out of the gate that the book was a bad or wrong choice for sixth grade. And keeping our knee jerk reactions in check is always a good thing.
What do you think?
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Erika Sanzi

Erika Sanzi

Erika Sanzi spent a decade as a teacher and school dean before becoming a full-time education advocate. Her love for writing coupled with her willingness to take on people in power has led her to spend much of her time responding to status-quo protectors inclined to put adult interests ahead of kids. She is particularly focused on inequities in the system, persistent but surmountable achievement gaps, and what she sees as a culture of low expectations that disproportionately impacts low-income students of color. She is the mom of three young sons and you can often find her on the sidelines of their countless sports practices and games. She is committed to the belief that zip code isn’t destiny, that parents deserve choices when it comes to educating their children, and that too many “good” schools are falling down on the job in too many ways. Born and raised in Massachusetts, she now calls Rhode Island home with her boys, her husband, and her big fluffy dog, Griffey. She writes about her corner of New England at Good School Hunting.

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