Sunday, December 30, 2012

When to Read What

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 TollboothAnne of Green GablesFrom 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?


  1. I also will hesitate to offer books, although sometimes I've waited too long and find that my kids grew up unexpectedly overnight and now some favorites are a bit young for them. And there are so many books -- there is no way they can read all my childhood favorites when they are also reading all the books that have come out since and are coming out now!

    On the other hand, my oldest learned to read on a set of books that were clearly too old for him (he's rereading them now, at 14, and this is when I'd probably offer them) and it hooked him on reading for the next seven years, so I learned a long time ago that my plans are often useless and sometimes that's a good thing.

  2. Just found your through the Comment Challenge and am so glad I did! I can't believe I missed this article- I could talk about this topic all day long! Off to read the article now- thank you for directing me to i!

  3. I read this article and it's a very interesting topic for me. I was an avid reader growing up and read all sorts of books, way above my level (in that time, there weren't gradations like middle grade, YA, etc), as I just raided my parents' bookshelf. My girls are at an age now to enjoy so many of the classics that you mentioned above, but they don't seem to have the same attention span in an era of Wimpy Kid type books (lots of pictures, not as much text).

    I have found one great way to introduce beloved books from my childhood that may be beyond their reading level, too "old fashioned," or too dense to wade through is to listen to them as audio books. We do this in the car while going to school, practices, etc, and even if it takes three weeks to get through a book in 15 minute chunks, the girls enjoy it greatly. We have listened to classics like Matilda, The Trumpet of the Swan, The Cricket of Time Square, and Harriet the Spy. We also listen to great new classics like Eion Coifer books, The Magician's Elephant, and more.

    I'm glad I found your blog through the Mother Reader challenge!

  4. Thanks, Sylvia. So funny - we have The Cricket of Times Square and The Trumpet of the Swan on our shelf right now as potential books for me to read to my 7-year-old. She tends to be scared of Roald Dahl so I think Matilda is out but I'm hoping Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will be a hit. I reread Harriet the Spy myself recently and think she's not quite ready for it... but soon.

  5. Thanks for your interesting thoughts on this. I too have struggled with introducing books that are for 'older' readers. My daughter is 6 and loves Harry Potter. She desperately wanted to read the books so we read the first two to her, but stopped after that as they were getting too frightening. She is fine with the first two though. Also, books that might not be right to read at the moment work well as audio books-my daughter loves The Railway Children to listen to, but isn't quite ready for the book text.