Teanna Streng
Teanna Streng asked:

A 4th grade student asked me about this book. I tried to find information on reading level, but couldn't. Is the content appropriate for elementary students? How difficult is the vocabulary?

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Angel The book includes rape and other violence. I would not read this to elementary students without parental consent.
Hedel If a grade 4 student is willing to read it, i'd say let them.
It's hard enough to get kids to read at all. It has some mature themes but I'm sure they've seen much worse in movies.
Since it's your student and not your child, might want to check with what you're allowed to say. I believe some parents are pretty strict on books.
Jane It is very emotionally disturbing and I wouldn't recommend it for children younger than high school.
Doren No!!! As a former teacher and school counselor, no matter how erudite and intelligent this child is, subject matter is not appropriate.
Danielle In addition to the rape and violence of the slave ship and plantation scenes, there are also very graphic (though for adults, beautifully handled!) sex scenes between the protagonist and her husband. I'm a teacher and i would not have even my high school students read it as part of my class. There are students who could handle it, but I would get way too much flack to recommend it to a young child.
Beverly I agree that the content is perhaps beyond a 4th grade level emotionally. The vocabulary isn't difficult but the content is graphic at times.
Nicole Lane I don't think we should hide the atrocities of our nation's past from children but I agree that you should leave it up to the parents.
Andrea I first learned about the horrors of slavery through Addy's books in the American Girls series. Granted, that series was written at an elementary-school level. I think it would be OK so long as you/a teacher/a parent is around to discuss some of the horrors in the book. I don't believe in discouraging reading, nor in hiding real-life atrocities, but I think some heavy caveats would be in order first.
Mary Mercy! No. I'm 64 and not a naive reader. I'm not too far into this book, and find the descriptions to be some of the most graphic and horrible that I've read. Although a novel, this is not pretend stuff. It's way beyond the emotional maturity of a 4th grader (age 9-10). I'm all for having reading/literature stretch kids' minds, but this is just too much. I would suggest a much less graphic book that deals with some of these same issues.
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Míchílín This would be very challenging reading for a student in grade 4 -- it's "Literature with a capital 'L'". I would probably try to steer the student toward the same story written for younger audiences -- Sharon Draper's Copper Sun would still be a "reach ahead" novel for a grade 4 student, but wouldn't be as graphic. If the student is adamant despite attempts at steering to a more age-appropriate book, however, allow them to cultivate their own reading life. If a student is old enough for an atrocity to have happened to them, they are old enough to read about it. Definitely discuss with student and parents first -- Book of Negroes is full of graphic depictions of every brutality committed during the transatlantic slave trade -- definitely written for a mature audience. Give the student strategies for dealing with the disturbing bits (e.g. skip past gory details to where plot continues) and check in with them often to gauge impact and help them process.
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