Wonder Librarian

Exploring the wonder of school librarianship, the superhero way.

I was going to do a post about the start of a school year, how things are going, general stuff happening in my school library, but then I received a text from a friend this weekend, and it’s like the third text/inquiry I’ve received in the past 4-6 weeks about this topic.  So, I changed my mind and am climbing on top of my soapbox for this post.

We’re talking about Lexile levels, people, and the adults that insist on kids reading at their Lexile level, and nothing but their Lexile level.

First of all, I get why inexperienced-in-literacy people like to refer to Lexile levels to help a child find an appropriate book for them.  I really do.  I even think Lexile levels can help jump start a search for that “just right” book.  I really do.  Where I have a problem with Lexile is when it’s used to prevent kids from reading books they love or will love.  For instance, a 5th-grade student named Dylan (just a random name chosen. I’m not talking about anyone in particular.) loves to read graphic novels or the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, and reads those titles over and over.  It is determined that Dylan has a Lexile level of over 1300, which puts him reading at an 11th-grade or higher level.  So, his parent, teacher, counselor, maybe even his librarian, want to challenge him, and insist he now only read books at his Lexile level so he can grow even more as a reader.

What’s the problem with that?  Aren’t we supposed to challenge students, so they continue to grow and develop academically?  Absolutely!  But, why does that mean we demand students stop doing something they love in order to accomplish that, especially when reading graphic novels and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or Captain Underpants, or whatever they want has already put them at a reading level SIX levels above their grade level?  Do we tell Oscar-winning director Martin Scorcsese that he should no longer make mobster movies because he needs to challenge himself more?  Do we tell master musicians and virtuosos they should no longer play scales or simpler pieces of music they enjoy playing because they’re playing below their skill level?  Do we tell top athletes they should no longer do drills or watch previously played games or practice because they already know how to play the sport? Do we tell religious leaders they should stop reading the Bible, Torah, Koran, etc. because they’ve already memorized the entire text and they need to read a religious text that’s more challenging?  Of course not! So, why do we ask students to stop reading what they love simply because they’re reading something that’s at a lower level than what they’re capable of?  Why do we laud the getting back to basics or finding your love of something again, yet want to force students to do the opposite of that?

Studies have shown that if students just read and read what they like, they’ll have and maintain a proficient or higher reading level.  It’s as simple as letting them read what they want and encouraging them to do so.  Also, Lexile is just a number and just because a book has a higher Lexile, doesn’t mean it’s more challenging.  For example:  according to the Lexile website, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has a Lexile range of 950-1060.  To Kill a Mockingbird, which is studied in 8th grade at my school, has a Lexile of 750.  Want proof to show?  Here’s a link to the Lexile website showing the Lexile of Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  And here’s a link to the Lexile website showing the Lexile of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Plus, I can’t help but think that if a student is reading nothing but Diary of a Wimpy Kid and other similar books and has achieved a reading level several years beyond his grade level, then isn’t reading those books working?  And hey, bonus, the student is actually enjoying reading.  For further research, read this article by Donalyn Miller about Lexile levels.  Or, this article.  Or, this article from Psychology Todaywhich talks about why you shouldn’t use reading levels to determine what books students should and should not read.

Students will be challenged in with their class reading and with non-fiction, informational text.  Fiction and pleasure reading should be for, well, pleasure.  Also, there simply aren’t many books with a high school or greater Lexile, that doesn’t have inappropriate content for middle school or younger.  Also also, if they’re only allowed to read big, thick, older books that don’t interest them in the slightest, then they’ll just learn that the better reader they are, the more boring the books are, and then they’ll lose interest in reading altogether.  I mean, how many of us adults are truly interested in reading a book like War and Peace, just for fun?  When you pick out a book to read for pleasure from the library, bookstore, from a friend, etc. what makes you decide to read that book?  That it’s on your Lexile level?  

Literacy leader extraordinaire Colby Sharp went on an epic rant about the similarly problematic Accelerated Reading program.

So, if you’re a parent, guardian, tutor, teacher, counselor of a young, advanced reader who wants their child or student to continue to grow and flourish as a reader, let them keep reading what they want!  I’m not saying that you should never encourage or guide them to other books and genres that they haven’t read before, but also don’t allow Lexile and other leveling programs become the be-all, end-all of determining what’s best for young readers.  If you don’t know what to recommend, ask a librarian!  That’s what we’re here for!  I’d say for probably all librarians, the reason we became librarians was to help foster a love of reading in people and help them find their next favorite book.  There are tons of books out there that are great read-alikes for anything that anybody likes to read.

OK.  I’m stepping off my soapbox now.  

Have a comment for this post?  Please let me know what you think!  We all learn better when we share our knowledge.

Keep reading,



I thought I’d write my first post here about how I became a school librarian.  It seems like every school librarian I know or encounter has a different path that led them to it.  For me, the path was a little winding, but looking back, Google Maps couldn’t have taken me a better way.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to read.  My parents restricted me on movies and television shows that I was allowed to watch, but they never restricted me on what I could and could not read.  I never knew how to get anywhere, because I was always reading a book whenever we got in the car.  My parents would also punish me by taking away my books. HA!

We didn’t go to the public library very much, but my parents would usually buy me at least one book whenever we went to the mall (which was often, as my mom liked to shop!), and I would usually go to the mall bookstores of yore, B. Dalton and Waldenbooks, to look around while my mom shopped.  I also rarely went to my school library in middle and high school unless I went for something specific in mind.  After elementary school, we never went to the library as a class unless it was specifically for a research project, so the library was never really on my radar growing up.

Fast forward to college.  I was student teaching at a middle school in Nashville, where I started talking one day to the school’s new librarian.  She was still finishing up her degree in school media, but had been hired as a school librarian on a waiver.  Somehow, we got to talking about it and that was the first time I heard about the Master’s degree in library science.  Yes, I was one of those people long ago that asked incredulously, “There’s a degree for THAT?!”  She talked up all of the advantages and things you could do with a library science degree, and I listened, fascinated.  I never thought of this!  I think I just assumed the school librarians just volunteered at the libraries and just never left, LOL.

Even though I was intrigued, I was pretty burnt out on school at that point, and wanted to take a break from classes, papers, studying, etc.  So, I instead looked for employment while still trying to find a career that I thought I would enjoy.  I worked for my dad, worked at the Tennessee General Assembly for a while, and even attempted law school for year before quickly realizing THAT was not the path for me.  Throughout all of this trying to find my bliss, becoming a librarian remained in the back of my head.  I finally felt the pull of librarianship and felt ready to do school again. So, in 2003 I applied at the University of Tennessee for the Master’s program in Information Science (or Library Science, or Library and Information Science, or whatever your school or program calls it).  I received my acceptance on my 28th birthday!

I graduated from UT Knoxville a year later in August of 2004, but I did not pursue the school media library route.  I originally thought I wanted to be a corporate/business librarian, but those positions are pretty rare.  I worked part-time as a circulation clerk at a public library while looking for a full-time position.  I was hired for my first “real” librarian job at the Spring Hill Public Library in Spring Hill, TN, which is just south of Nashville.  As the head librarian, I did many things and wore many hats.  I trained paraprofessionals, planned programs, cataloged, started a graphic novel and DVD collection, started and ran a teen book club, ordered books (my favorite!), went to meetings, and more!  While I loved working there, I was starting to feel ready to move on to something else.

I was reading some school-based books at the time, and it was making me think of that middle school librarian in Nashville and getting back into the schools.  A colleague told me that MTSU in Murfreesboro had a school media program, and that it was online, so I applied there to obtain my school media certification.  Since I already had an education degree and a library degree, I only needed to take about six classes, plus the two practicums (an abbreviated version of student teaching for those that already have an education degree and have student taught before), and enrolled at MTSU as a non-degree seeking student.  I took the classes while working full-time.

While doing the elementary rotation of my practicum, I was told of a middle school librarian position that was still available, even though we were about four weeks into the school year already.  I didn’t think I stood a chance since I didn’t have my school media certification yet, but my supervising librarian encouraged me, and I thought I would at least get my name out there since this was in the school district I wanted to work in.  Lo and behold, the principal called me that afternoon and offered me the job!  I was so excited!  I started a couple of weeks later after I finished my elementary practicum, and I’ve been in this wonderful position ever since.  Ten years!  I still can’t believe I’ve been here this long and have no desire to be anywhere else.  I am truly living the dream with a supportive administration, collaborative faculty, a gem of an assistant, amazing district librarians who push me to better myself as a librarian every day, and most importantly, terrific students who are the reason I come to work.  Fairy tales can come true!

   I told you it was a long and winding road.

If you’re a librarian, how did you get there?

Thanks for joining me! I’m still building this site and blog, but you can follow me on Twitter @JulieCaudle. I will tweet when this blog is ready and I have my first official post up, which I’m planning on doing early next week! I hope to make this a learning community for teacher-librarians all over.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton