Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein

Lemoncello Library OlympicsINFORMATION

Goodreads: Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics
Series: Mr. Lemoncello’s Library  #2
Source: Library
Published: 2016


Kyle Keeley and his teammates won famed game maker Mr. Lemoncello’s scavenger hunt in his new library, causing them to become household names as they start in commercials for all of Mr. Lemoncello’s new games.  But library lovers around the country are upset they were not invited to participate in the last game.  Surely they are way smarter than Kyle and his friends!  So Mr. Lemoncello launches a new game in the library, but when books start to go missing, a group of adults intent on censorship see a way to gain control.


When you consider the premise of the book and the motivations of the characters, it must be admitted that Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics does not make a lot of sense.  But it’s supposed to be a humorous middle-grade book and I suppose its target audience is not overly critical of the way library boards are chosen or how libraries are funded or maintained.  If you are willing to ignore the ridiculous premises on which the main plot rests, the book is fun.  Who doesn’t love a story about the power of literature?

The book brings back many of the elements that made the first book so popular.  Mr. Lemoncello walks around in ridiculous outfits and says ridiculous things, a little like Albus Dumbledore declaring “Nitwit!  Blubber!  Oddment!  Tweak!”  Puzzles fill the pages as do allusions to books.  Kyle and his friends once again face down a mean adversary who is determined to win the game. But this time the game stops a little short.  The problem is that there are adults who want to take over the library.  The library, it seems, is just too fun.

Suddenly a bizarre subplot becomes the main plot.  Charles, loser of the last games, wants Mr. Lemoncello destroyed.  So he enlists his mother to take over the library.  She does this by declaring that public libraries have boards to oversee them and that she and her new friends will be that board.  Okay…  Public libraries do have boards.  But you can’t just walk in and declare yourself on it.  If her argument is that the public should get to decide what happens to the library, she should be suggesting some sort of public vote.  Not wresting control.  But no one ever points this out to her.

Instead, everyone acts like it’s perfectly normal for people to take control of libraries under the guise of being a board.  The “board” gains momentum by crying foul when it’s discovered some books are “missing.”  (One book and some encyclopedia volumes are missing.  The rest are checked out, but no one makes this distinction.)  They will make sure the library has books in it!  (Again, they are not happy that 35 of the 36 copies of this book are checked out–apparently it’s bad if people use the  library.  Even though no other library in the U.S. is likely to have enough money or room to hold 36 copies of the same book in the first place.)  No one ever points out how ridiculous this all is, or asks how the board intends to personally ensure no book will ever again be stolen or possibly just moved by a patron to the wrong spot.  Or checked out. Remember– the books are not to be checked out.

Suddenly after all this, the plot is about censorship.  The new “board” is going to decide what books are on the shelves and which are not.  This new twist occurs very suddenly almost at the end of the book.  No one really questions this, either, even though boards as defined in the book simply oversee the mission of the library and raise funds.  I guess censoring books is what they see as their “mission”?  No one asks, but it’s unclear if this is because no one takes them seriously enough to ask or if people just assume this can all be accomplished.

Fortunately, Mr. Lemocello has a solution to the vaguely annoying (because so nonsensical) “board” members.  [Spoiler] The book has been reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the whole time, so it’s no surprise that the game is really a way for Mr. Lemocello to find library-loving kids to be the real board.  And no one questions this, either.  Kids being a board.  Twenty-eighth out of thirty-three of them living nowhere near this library but in different states.  I guess it’s being funded by Mr. Lemoncello and not by tax dollars so the community can’t protest that people not in the community are running it?  But if it’s being solely funded by Mr. Lemoncello and not by tax dollars, Charles’s mother and her friends had no argument from the first. It’s not a public library and thus does not need a board with members of the public to run it. It’s all very strange.  But I suppose Grabenstein does not imagine a middle-grade audience knows much about library boards or public funding.

Frankly, I just want to overlook all the weird board action.   I appreciate Chris Grabenstein trying to talk about censorship, but that discussion feels a little too random here and not very serious–[spoiler!] they begin by trying to burn books about squirrels because one guy doesn’t like squirrels.  This just makes the guy look crazy and not like too much of a threat. Plus he wants to burn library books he checked out along with a few he stole, so he’s presumably going to be arrested or fined for theft and for breaking any burning laws, and then he’s just going to have to pay to replace all the burned books, especially since a bunch of them are on his card and he’s therefore already financially responsible for them.  And these books are recently published and not rare,so the library will easily replace them once he pays all his fines.  So…I’m really not sure what to make of all that.  Sure, once the board tries to get control and ban books it will be more serious, but what we actually see of the censorship issue is either ridiculous or sad.  Will middle-grade readers be inspired to fight censorship if it’s seemingly defined as a nutty man who hates squirrel books?

If I ignore all of the preceding weirdness, however, the book is pretty fun.  I, like I suppose many readers, enjoy books about books and books about libraries, and I am fond of middle-grade stories with puzzles. In this area, the book delivers.

4 starsKrysta 64

If You Like This YA Book, Try This Classic


If you like Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Read The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

In Brown’s YA dystopian novel, protagonist Darrow discovers the origins of his society and what actions humans are capable when the comforts of civilization break down.  Golding explores similar themes in The Lord of the Flies, when a class of young boys is stranded on a island and left to fend for themselves.

If you like the Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce

Read Ivanoe by Sir Walter Scott

If you like stories in set in medieval or medieval-inspired time periods, you’ll want to read Ivanhoe.  Scott’s work was written in the 1800s, when the Romanticists indulged their own obsessing with studying and recreating the medieval world. This means you get all the flavor of England in the Middle Ages without having to read an actual Middle English text. Plus, Scott’s protagonist has to prove his worth as a knight, a theme that will resonate with fans of Tamora Pierce.

If you like The False Prince by Jennifer A Nielsen

Read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Nielsen’s novel is all about a clever, spunky protagonist who pulls off amazing plot twists.  But no classic author does intrigue and surprising twists than Alexandre Dumas.  His books do tend to be heavy on the history, but they’re also full of passionate characters with the smarts to pull off amazingly wild schemes.

If you like Monstrous by MarcyKate Connolly

Read Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Connolly’s fantasy novel features a starry-eyed, kind-hearted protagonist who wants nothing more than to help others and have a place where she belongs.  Even though she’s not fully human, this means Kymera has a lot in common with Montgomery’s red-headed orphan Anne Shirley. Readers will fall in love with both girls and their big dreams.

If you like A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin

Read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Baldwin’s series introduces readers to a school of smart, sometimes sassy girls who don’t mind a bit of romance in their lies.  Fans of the Regency period will want to see where it all began with Jane Austen’s own tales of delightfully witty women finding the loves of their lives.  (Biting social commentary is also a highlight.)

If you like The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey

Read The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

If you enjoy alien stories, you can’t miss out on Wells’s classic story of an alien invasion.  Though Wells’s writing style isn’t necessarily about adding suspense and action in a way familiar to readers of YA, he does know how to tell a thought-provoking story.  Readers won’t want to miss out on his version of earth vs. aliens.

So What’s It Like to Work in a Public Library? (Guest Post)

Our anonymous guest poster explains what it’s like to have one of the jobs book lovers covet!


I’ve got to admit that working in a public library is pretty great.  I get to watch children experience the magic of a story for the first time.  I get to help people solve their computer problems, submit job applications, and find the address of that one restaurant they always wanted to go back to.  I’m surrounded by books and I can see what’s going to be available on the “new” shelf before anyone else.

And one of the biggest perks? I get a lot of social clout. If I tell someone I work in a library they immediately assume I’m educated and cultured.  It’s like my job surrounds me an aura of intelligence that other people feel compelled to acknowledge.

The truth, of course, is a little different.  I am educated and I do like to read.  But I don’t spend my days reading the books that surround me–that’s definitely not allowed on the job!  I don’t actually know the contents of that thermodynamics book and or of that  best parenting practices selection. I don’t know French, even though you can learn it through the library, or German or Latin.  And my job certainly doesn’t ask me to analyze literature or do a close reading of a poem.  In fact, no one has ever asked me what I think about a book, much less required me to use any higher education or analytical skills to dissect one.

What do I do?  What skills do I use?  Well, disappointing at this may sound, working in a library requires most of the same skill sets that working in retail does.  It’s just  that a quirk of society makes me out to be more qualified and intelligent than a sales associate.

The Job

Obviously there are tons of different duties a library worker may have.  Some library workers are on the floor helping people.  Some just check out books.  Some work the reference desk and put in ILL requests.  Others work behind the scenes acquiring, cataloging, and coding books-you may never have seen some of these people even if you’re a frequent library user.  But let’s do a simple list of duties one might expect:

  • Inspecting returned materials.  Making sure the audiovisual materials are clean, all the discs are present in a boxed set, no book is torn or water damaged, etc.  It requires attention and detail.
  • Mending broken items.
  • Shelving returned materials.  This means you have little patron interaction and, if your job is only to shelf books, you might not talk to anyone all day.  Some people enjoy this, but others don’t.
  • Shelf reading and straightening the shelves. This means you stand there and walk down the rows making sure everything is in alphabetical order.  Most people seem to find it mind numbing.
  • Cleaning up the children’s area.  You don’t want anyone to trip on a stray toy.
  • Helping patrons find books.  This usually means they don’t know how to read the online catalog so you will have to explain that if it says “Due on [Date]” it’s not available.  Or they just want you to point them to the paperbacks.
  • Checking out materials to patrons.  Checking  materials in.  Taking  payments for overdue items.  Smiling sweetly when the patrons complain about the late fees.
  • Helping library patrons get a library card.  Renewing library cards.
  • Doing research.  Sometimes patrons just want you to do a quick Google search for an address because they aren’t sure how to use a search engine.  Other requests take more time.
  • Computer help.  This mostly entails explaining to people how to log onto the computer, how to access the Internet, how to type in an address, how to use Google, and how to get to their email.  Many patrons like you to walk them through how to send an email or save a Word document.
  • Assisting with programs.  If you’re working with children this may mean that you are there mainly to keep order and try to keep the screaming to a minimum while someone attempts to read a story or explain a craft.
  • Designing programs and storytimes.  This is usually the job of more experienced workers.  They are also the ones who will order books, plan the summer reading program, and be in charge of other major projects and events.
  • Weeding books.  That means if it hasn’t been checked out recently, the library gets rid of it.  It will be recycled or donated to a library book sale.
  • Inspecting and sorting materials for book sales.  You get to dig through the grimy boxes people dig out from their attics.
  • Coding materials. Going on to the book’s record to ensure the catalog shows it in the appropriate spot–the “new” section, the children’s picture books, the “new” children’s picture books, etc.
  • Designing holiday book displays. This isn’t always as creative as it sounds.  If you only have five books about Kwanzaa, you don’t need to think much about what should be in the display.
  • Running summer reading.  Counting minutes read and handing out prizes.
  • Cutting out crafts for programs.  Doing other art projects for programs.
  • Advertising programs to patrons.
  • School visits.

Most of these jobs require that the individual be conscientious, detailed, and thorough, and good with repetitious and mundane tasks.  You need to have a good memory and be familiar with the materials you have to offer.  People skills are also required.  You need to be polite and helpful even when patrons are upset.  Most of it, as you can see, doesn’t really necessitate a degree, though most libraries want you to have one anyway.

When Patrons Ask About Books

But where’s the fun part?  The part where people ask about books?  As I stated above, no one’s ever started an intellectual conversation with me about literature.  Most patron requests fall into similar categories.

Parents Want:

  • A book their non-reader will read (or, even better, an audiobook)
  • A book for their child’s school assignment (usually with oddly specific directions so you have little room for creativity in your recommendations)
  • A book on a certain reading level

Usually preferred genre is irrelevant to parents.  In fact, most will say that their child doesn’t like any books so you just have to guess what to give them.

Children Want:

  • Books they like already
  • Really small children want books they already have at home
  • Older children will ask for things like more books with fairies or want to know where you have Magic Treehouse or Geronimo Stilton books.  They know what they want and aren’t really asking your opinion.

Adults Want:

  • Books by authors they already like
  • Similar books if the author they like hasn’t released anything lately

A Library Is Much Like a Business

Okay.  So I keep suggesting that working in a library generally isn’t intellectually challenging, that you don’t need an advanced degree to do it, and that many of the tasks performed are ones you might do in retail.  But a library is above the market economy, right?  It’s about intellectual freedom and giving access to knowledge to everyone.

That’s true in theory and sounds nice, but consider how public libraries are run.  Most aren’t operating with theories of knowledge and collection and acquisitions in mind.  They’re running in such a way as to encourage maximum patron usage so they have the statistics to demonstrate that the city should renew their funding every year.

How do they decide what books to acquire?  Books the catalogs indicate will be popular.  Books by authors that are checked out a lot.  Books they know the local schools assign.

How do they decide what to weed?  Books that don’t go out a lot.  (Unless it’s Jane Eyre or something.  Classics only ever seem to go out once every few years for a school assignment, but you have to keep them around.)

How do they decide what programs to run?  Every now and then some outside organization has a great idea and offers a grant for a program on earthworms or bees or something they find educational and worthwhile.  These often don’t have great attendance.  The library is going to run programs on things like Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, not because they’re saying these are valuable cultural touchstones or anything, but because they want people to show up.  Other programs are offered simply because a library worker has an interest in that particular area.  The worker who writes poetry will suggest poetry workshops and open mic nights.  The worker who’s into social justice will suggest panels relevant to current events.

A lot of programs aren’t even about books.  You might have a movie night or a game night or some sort of competition.  People like events that aren’t about books because then they can just show up without having to find time to read the book.  Libraries are diversifying offerings to try to attract people to their events.

How do they get people to attend programs? You’ll notice the children’s and teen programs typically provide snacks.  The summer reading program is mostly successful, not because children love reading over the summer, but because they win prizes.  Anything to get people in the door.

Do you need an advanced degree to figure out any of this?  Do you even need to be current with the book market?  Actually, no, you don’t.  The main guiding theory behind it is “What do people want?”

The Logistics of the Job

So after reading all this you still want to be a librarian.  What should you consider?

  • There are hardly any full-time jobs.  Most library workers I know are working more than one job (maybe in the dreaded retail or restaurant sector), are being supported by a spouse, or are there because they don’t want to fully retire.
  • Working part-time means not only that you will get less money but also maybe that you will receive no benefits.
  • Most libraries want you to get a Master’s in Library Science at least for the upper-level jobs.  My coworkers would hate me for saying this, but the MLIS is, as I’ve demonstrated above, generally is not necessary for the job. It’s just a way to winnow down the pool of applicants to those who can afford to spend the time and money on the degree.  Most people need to take out loans for this, but working part-time means that you will almost certainly never earn back all the money you spent to get this job in the first place.  
  • There is little room for advancement.  Full-time jobs are scarce and people don’t tend to leave them until they retire.  A full-time job opening is a rare event that causes great anxiety among library workers as they assess their odds of snatching it up.  After all, it will probably be years before there’s another opening.
  • You’ll probably have to work weekends and evenings, at least sometimes.  This may be something you like or not.  For instance, you may like having Thursday off to run errands, but the rest of your friends will have off on Saturday when you’re working, so finding time to socialize may become a problem.  If you work until 8:00 or 9:00 at night you may have to figure out child care arrangements (and it’s certainly not easy to pay for professional child care when you’re only working part-time).


The library is a wonderful and a magical place.  I truly love working there.  But I do find the ideas people have about working in a library highly amusing.  In many cases it’s a customer service job or a stocking job.  We don’t sit around reading the books while sipping tea and discussing how faithful an adaptation Clueless is.  Most of the time we’re answering simple questions about where a book is on the shelves or how to attach a document to an email.  The most successful librarians are those who have the ability to do boring tasks for a long time without cutting corners and who have some people skills.  No advanced degree required.

How To Write an Academic Essay for Your College English Course

College Advice

In a previous Academic Success series, we discussed the importance of making an original argument in your academic paper and some of the details of writing the academic paper (down to whether you should start with a quote or end with “In conclusion.”)  But what does it mean to make an original argument?  And what really sets an outstanding academic paper apart from the rest?

An Original and Complex Argument

A successful thesis statement engages your audience and encourages them to want to respond.  That is, you don’t want to make an argument that’s obvious such as “Art is important,” “Pollution is bad,” or “This text raises questions about ethics.”  Your audience will just nod because, of course, pollution is bad.  You want to make a specific and complex audience that your readers can’t just answer with “Yes, of course.”  If they were to answer you, they’d have to write an essay of their own!

So how does one do this?  A complex question will answer the questions “Why?” and “Why should we care?”  That is, “Art is important because….” and “This text raises questions about ethics in this manner and that means…”  If you’re unsure where to start, just naming the texts you will work with already adds more specificity to your argument.  You can try something like “In this essay I examine the nature of heroism in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit” and then add “I argue that…”  Even just starting with “I argue that…” may help you think about the complexity and specificity of your argument.  After all, who says “I argue that pollution is bad.”  No one.  Because you don’t actually have to argue about this with most people.

Generous Reading

Before you criticize a work, you are expected to understand what the author is saying.  That is, you can’t erect a straw man argument to destroy an author because you don’t like their worldviews or disagree with their statements.  So if you’re reading C. S. Lewis and you’re not Christian, you have to begin by understanding why Lewis believes what he does and how his thoughts are consistent within his own worldview.  Only then can you begin to criticize his work.

But keep in mind that you also want to stick to the assignment.  If the assignment asks you to discuss the nature of heroism in Narnia or gender roles or how the work compares to other children’s literature with talking animals, you’re not being asked to address Lewis’s religion or worldviews (unless, of course, you need to talk about it in light of what heroism means in a Christian context or something like that).  Talking about how Christianity is stupid or “brainwashes” people or how Lewis is contradicting the Bible, etc.  is outside the purview of the assignment; you don’t want your own personal beliefs to take your paper off topic.

Avoiding Value Judgements

Along with the above statement, you want to avoid adding remarks like “Happily, the artist ignored criticisms about whether his art was exploiting individuals and kept on doing his thing” or “This character was an awful human being.”  These read as your personal opinion and your’re ignoring issues like why some people might think that exploitation in art might be a problem without explaining why you think we don’t need to worry about exploitation.


It’s tempting to want to pigeonhole texts into certain boxes to make them easier to engage with, but you don’t want to claim a work or an author is doing something they’re not.  For instance, if you’re working with Dante, you need to find a way to deal with the fact that he’s both extremely orthodox in his theology and that he sometimes seems to question his faith.  Assuming that he’s either a brainwashed religious fanatic or some sort of religious reformer like Martin Luther because it makes your argument about him easier to write does no justice to the complexities of his work and makes you look like you misunderstood it.

Anticipating Counter-Arguments

If you make a statement like “Of course the sciences are more important than the arts,” you should immediately realize that not everyone is going to agree with you.  You can’t just assume that all your readers share your views.  How will you answer people who raise questions about or oppose this statement?  Anticipating counter-arguments makes your own argument stronger.

Supporting Evidence

If you make a claim, you must support it.  You can’t simply write “Millenials are all irresponsible and living in their parents’ basements.”  Why do you think they are irresponsible?  Where’s the data for how many are living with their parents?  Also beware historical generalizations.  If you say “The [specific government] was totally corrupt in [insert century]” you have to say specifically what the government was doing at that time that makes you see it as corrupt.


This goes along with supporting evidence.  You can’t just make up evidence because it sounds good and you can’t assume you know what you’re talking about.  Imagine writing an argument about how Shakespeare is incomprehensible and old-fashioned because he’s writing in “Old English.”  If you had looked up Old English, you would have realized that Old English stopped being used around 1150, that it’s the language Beowulf is written in and that you probably can’t understand a word of it, and that Shakespeare actually writes modern English.  Oops!  Doing a quick search will help you avoid such mistakes.

A Conclusion That Doesn’t Moralize

Academic papers aren’t about finding a moral or a message in a work.  That’s seen as unprofessional and unscholarly, often because trying to provide a moral oversimplifies a problem.  Ending a paper with a statement like “Love is so important!  If only we were kinder to each other [genocide or war ] would have never happened!” is a really blithe and facile response to a major tragedy.  Try to find another ending that’s more directly related to your specific topic and doesn’t make easy generalizations.

Krysta 64

The Life of Christina of Markyate (Trans. by C. H. Talbot)

Christina of MarkyateINformation

Goodreads: The Life of Christina of Markyate
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: Translation from 1998; Text from the 12th century

Official Summary

Here is the remarkable story of a twelfth-century holy woman, Christina of Markyate, who endured terrible physical and mental suffering in order to devote her life to God. This fast-moving narrative vividly describes her trials and temptations and her visionary experiences, all set against a backdrop of scheming and corruption and all-too-human greed. Determined to devote her life to God and to remain a virgin, Christina repulses the sexual advances of the bishop of Durham. In revenge he arranges her betrothal to a young nobleman, but Christina steadfastly refuses to consummate the marriage and defies her parents’ cruel coercion.

Sustained by visions, she finds refuge with the hermit Roger, and lives concealed at Markyate for four years, enduring terrible physical and emotional torment. Eventually Christina is supported by the abbot of St Albans and she became prioress of Markyate, and her reputation as a person of great holiness spreads far and wide. Written with striking candor by Christina’s anonymous biographer, the vividness and compelling detail of this account make it a social document as much as a religious one.

The editors provide an introduction which sets Christina in her social, historical, and religious context, and examines the visionary quality of her religious experiences and her powers as a seer.


I’m always tempted to go off on an academic tangent about medieval texts.  How does this compare to other vitae? What’s historically interesting about it? How should we interpret it?  However, I realize that the majority of my audience is not comprised of people particularly interested in medieval literature, which leads me to the most pressing question: Will this book be engaging for those without an established academic interest in the topic? I think it can be.

The primary hurdle for medieval literature newbies may simply be the unfamiliarity of the writing.  This vita was originally written in Latin, so the modern English translation makes the language quite accessible.  However, the structure of the story simply doesn’t line up with the expectations readers may have for modern novels.  The pacing is different, interiority isn’t  a goal, etc.  However, once one gets into the writing as it stands, the story is quite interesting.

Saints’ lives were a pretty established genre, with a number of expected conventions.  Please note that (contrary to what some people are saying on Goodreads), not everything in saints’ lives is intended to be taking literally.  Miracles were taken seriously, but the question of whether a saint (or generic holy person, if not officially sainted) performed literally the miracle described in the story was not always important.  Here, the main points are that God performed miracles to help Christina avoid violating her vow of chastity, and Christina was supposed to have experience visions and could predict some of the future.  Whether she had the particular visions described could be up for debate.

So, accepting the writing style and the medieval belief in miracles, the narrative is really action-packed.  The text is a great look into the life of twelfth-century woman, and an admirably strong-willed one.  There’s definite historical value, even if not everything is literally “true.”  Yet the plot is also engaging just for the sake of a story.  Christina faces a lot of obstacles trying to maintain her vow of chastity and avoid a marriage she never wanted.  Her parents go to incredibly absurd lengths to attempt to force her to marry, and as much as it’s horrifying and sad, it’s also fairly amusing to envision the whole city going mad trying to make this girl get married.

A short, accessible text, this is a great read for anyone who wants to know more about medieval women or religious life. It’s also just remarkably entertaining.


Week in Review (10/16/16)

This Week at Pages Unbound

We joined Bookstagram!

You can check out our new bookish photos here.


We hosted an L.M. Montgomery event

Ok, this is from the past two weeks. You can find reviews for lots of L.M. Montgomery books, as well as a fun personality quiz and a review of a Youtube web series.


We Posted Some Discussions

I Went to the Library

And got a bunch of books I haven’t even started reading.  Have you read any of these? Did you enjoy them?


The Trouble with Assigning Grades in School

College Advice

The educational system needs some way to inform students of how they’re doing in school.  Did they grasp the content or not?  Do they understand what they’re supposed to be doing?  Did they write a successful essay or not?  Even so, the grade system is deeply flawed and it’s troubling to see how much value students attach to the letters on their transcripts.  Below I list some reasons I wish we could move away from our current grading system.

Grades in a course Are Somewhat Arbitrary.

Students often ask for rubrics when they have an assignment.  Seeing that a thesis is worth 10 points and that the Works Cited is worth 20 makes the grading system seem so logical.  In reality, however, there’s no intrinsic reason a thesis should be worth 10 points rather than 8 points or 15 points.  Even so, students still seem to find it comforting to attach a solid number to everything.

Further, students will  sometimes dispute whether a paper is really deserving of an “A-” but if an instructor tells them it’s a 92, for some reason they’re convinced that this number reveals the paper’s true worth.  Even though deciding whether a paper should merit a 93 or a 92 or a 91 is also pretty arbitrary.  What is the difference between a paper that receives a 91 or one that receives a 92?

Grades Across Classes Mean Different Things.

Prof. Y gives bonus points in her English 101 class.  Prof. Z does not.  Prof. Y gives everyone an “A” on the assignment if they do all the revisions she points out.  Prof. Z won’t give a paper an “A” unless she really thinks the paper deserves an “A,” no matter how much it was revised.  Two students doing the same work could receive entirely different grades depending on whether they take the class with Prof. Y or Prof. Z.  So how does someone looking at transcript know how much weight to give a grade?  How would they know that it’s actually more difficult to receive a “B” in Prof. Z’s class than it is to receive an “A” in Prof. Y’s?

Grade Inflation Has Made Grades Meaningless.

Thanks to grade inflation, a good many students have 4.0 averages or above.  In some classes, you may find students who say they never received less than an “A” during all of high school.  It immediately becomes clear that they’re not working at “A” level (though they don’t know it).  All this means is that looking at a person’s transcript and seeing a column of “A’s” and “A-‘s” tells you nothing about the level of work an individual has performed.  When everyone has an “A,” how do you tell who’s outstanding?


Students attach so much value to grades that they often consider anything not graded as not worth doing.  Reading a book, writing a response, sharing their thoughts in class–none of it seems valuable to them unless someone’s measuring how well they do it.

Ironically, this attitude ends up putting more pressure on students.  Instructors may find themselves having to give a grade to everything just so their class does the work.  Otherwise the students are obviously going to spend all their time doing the work for someone else’s course–the course where they’re going to get a grade for every little assignment.


Many an “A” student has found themselves emotionally devastated by receiving their first “B” for an assignment.  Of course, receiving a “B” usually means nothing about the individual in question, other than that they didn’t perform all the work of a certain class.  Even so, it can be difficult for students to accept that they’re still valuable and intelligent after such an occurrence.  Their self-identity is too tied up into their grades.

This attitude can affect other areas of the student’s life.  Some students tend to view the world as another type of school.  They look at things and want to assess them like an assignment and give them a grade.  But life isn’t graded.  No one’s going to assign a number to how well you do your job or to how successful of a poem you wrote.  You have to find other ways to value things.

Krysta 64