I have a question about how to gauge the actual reading level/complexity of a text in Japanese.
I LOVE children’s literature… it makes up a large chunk of what I wind up reading for pleasure on my own in my native English. I’m trying to read more in Japanese, and I was just gifted (!!!) a bunch of middle grade novels from a Japanese mom friend of mine whose kids had outgrown them or decided they weren’t interested in them. They are all translations of English texts as she was trying to keep her kids interested in reading Japanese by giving her kids texts that their schoolmates in American public schools were also reading. I’ve read most of them before in English.
The majority of the books have no “suggested audience” on the cover or in the front- or back-matter that I can discern. The two that do say 小学校中級以上/小学中級から respectively but also seem like they are wildly different levels…
In English markets, the target audience of a middle grade novel/ YA novel is often based almost-entirely on the age of the main characters. The assumption being that children want to read about children their age or else slightly older, and have very little interest in reading about “little kids” once they are beyond a specific age. This stratification is far less true for Classic texts (which may use extremely rich vocabulary for a story about a very young child), but that is the way modern books are marketed. Modern books tend to therefore limit the “reading level” to the target reading level of that age group, but that can be quite wide (8-12, 5th-8th grade, etc.).
However, I’m noticing that this has seemingly VERY little bearing in Japanese looking across these books. Some books have tons of furigana, others a little, and others none at all. All from within the English “8-12” target audience level. I also can’t seem to just be able to tell at a glance whether the kanji included without furigana is 四年生 or 六年生…
Since I can’t tell JUST by looking at the cover, or just by discerning whether the book has lots of furigana or not… how do I tell? I mostly want to know this information so I can organize these books as I want to progress through them. So I’m moving slowly upward in reading level and not wading through a “reading pain” level book for me where I have to look up tons of words only to pass onto a book with maybe less furigana but much simpler vocabulary that I can just breeze through that might have encouraged me to learn some of the same words with much less pain.
I organized my books according to their Lexile Measure number in English, ranging from about 300 to 1100 (so about 1st-8th grade). That might be how I wind up reading them (advice appreciated). That’s relatively convenient as I can tell the complexity of the original vocabulary for these texts as they happen to be English origin books… but seriously… how do Japanese parents/students/teachers tell whether or not children are ready to read a certain text? I haven’t been able to find any sort of comparable information and of course vocabulary-level is only one piece of the puzzle as the number of kanji and whether or not those kanji have furigana must have a huge bearing on whether or not a child can attempt to read certain texts with pleasure and ease… wtf do kids do?
I also have 魔女の宅急便 which of course has many English translations so it was also easy to find the Lexile number for that, but I have 川の光 that I’m very interested in reading this year or early next but it seems REALLY hard for me right now. There is absolutely no furigana in the whole 450 page kids novel AND the vocabulary seems relatively complex… and yet I can’t easily find any information on 読者対象 or 読者レベル or anything of the sort… how do I figure out where to put it amongst the books I have?
As a frame of reference I’m currently reading 魔女の宅急便 and having no problem with it. I can read it easily and pleasurably and understand nearly every word and grammar pattern. However, when I try to get through a bit of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, ハリー・ポッターと賢者の石, I cannot even make it a few paragraphs in without needing LOTS of dictionary and kanji help. BOTH of these books would be considered about a 5th grade reading level in English, though the Lexile Measures are quite disparate (670 vs. 880).