Annie of Annie and Aunt directed my attention to a discussion on the New York Times website about What Books Are 'Just Right' For the Young Reader. I haven't read either Annie's post about it or the Times discussion because I wanted to write this without any preconceptions.
On the one hand, I don't have a problem with kids reading books that are "above" them, either emotionally or in terms of vocabulary or other difficulty. In my experience, young readers often just pass over the subjects that are emotionally or contextually beyond them. So I'm not worried about a young reader being traumatized or exposed to something too early. And often readers come back to these books and glean more from them each time. Just as adult readers do, in light of their own life experience.
My daughter still often asks me if I think a book would be right for her, or if it would be too hard or too scary, and then I give my honest opinion. She recently picked out The Ballad of Lucy Whipple by Karen Cushman, the story of a young girl during the California gold rush. I knew that it would be beyond her but she insisted she wanted me to read it to her. As I noticed her attention waning each evening, I asked her if she was sure we should continue and she replied in the affirmative. Finally, about halfway through the book she confessed to me, "It's kind of boring but I didn't know how to tell you. I think it would be a good book when I 'm older, though." Out of the mouths of babes. (And I assured her that I did not take personal offense at her dislike of - or, more properly, lack of readiness for - the book!)
However, she may not pick it up again, and that's what I'm worried about. I'm concerned that a young reader might miss out on a fantastic book because she picked it up too early, found it "boring" or confusing, and then never tried reading it again. Although I don't censor my child's reading, I also don't go out of my way to introduce her to books that I think she's not ready for. That's why I'm waiting to give her The Phantom Tollbooth, Anne of Green Gables, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and many, many others. What a shame it would be if she missed out on any of those because she picked them up too early and was turned off of them forever!
And now I'm off to read all those other posts on the topic. What do you think?