In a study measuring language difficulty, statisticians have analysed the text of more than 33,000 books and determined that the language used in Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Men title Mr Greedy is only slightly less complex than that used in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
Renaissance UK, which carried out the research, uses a readability formula to conduct its research, analysing average sentence and word length, and word difficulty level, to pinpoint a text’s complexity. The Renaissance scale of difficulty returned scores between 0.2 and 13.5. According to the analysis, Mr Greedy by Roger Hargreaves has a “book level” of 4.4, making it only slightly easier to read than The Grapes of Wrath, at 4.9. Mr Greedy is ranked as harder than Roald Dahl’s The Magic Finger, at 3.1, and Fantastic Mr Fox at 4.1.
Renaissance attributes the high level for Mr Greedy to Hargreaves’ “creative use of slightly unusual words and his habit of stringing them together in long sentences”, giving the example: “Over on the other side of the table stood the source of that delicious smell. A huge enormous gigantic colossal plate, and on the plate huge enormous gigantic colossal sausages the size of pillows, and huge enormous gigantic colossal potatoes the size of beach balls, and huge enormous gigantic colossal peas the size of cabbages.”
Steinbeck, meanwhile, winner of the 1962 Nobel Prize for literature, draws his fame from lines such as: “In the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”
Gulliver’s Travels was the highest rated, at 13.5; while picture books Bad Bat by Laura Hambleton and No, Sid, No! by Kate Scott both have scores, at 0.2. Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You, meanwhile, comes in at 6.8 – the same level as Lego Star Wars: Into Battle!
Renaissance UK’s managing editor Cecelia Powell said that the “book level” rating needed to be taken in conjunction with the interest level assigned to the book by Renaissance, which considers how appropriate a book is for certain age groups.
“Our Atos readability formula looks at how long words are, how complex sentences are – it can’t do any more than that. Then, you’ve got to take into consideration the length of the book and equally important is the interest level,” she said.
A spokesperson for Renaissance, which provides teaching programmes for schools, said: “We do like to stress that Atos book levels are not the only measures of the suitability of a given book for a particular student. No scientific formula can take into consideration the maturity of the themes addressed or the sophistication of the literary devices employed by the author of a book. Discretion and professional judgment are vital ingredients to successful classroom practice when guiding students to appropriate books.”