Advanced Readers/Little Kids

When Diana was an advanced reader early on, I had the amazing good luck of going into a now-gone bookstore in our neighborhood, and saying, "Help! My daughter's reading the Metro section of the newspaper, but she's really little." Into our greedy little hands she put Betsy-Tacy, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, The Cobble Street Cousins, and more, and the Golden Age of kid reading began.

I think of this now because we got this in our in-box recently:

Our daughters are similar ages. My daughter is 11, almost 12 and in 6th grade. She is in middle school and is an advanced and capable reader. She loves to read. It is her most favorite activity and the one material thing she values most are her books. I am struggling with the fact that she feels youth fiction is too "basic or boring". I however am struggling with the young adult category. She is intrigued by all sorts or books but I struggle with the meaty topics and just not sure it is what as parents we want her exposed to. I know it is a reality and we do talk about all of these topics. But when I read these books I feel like they are just too much. She did read The Fault In Our Stars and then wanted to read Looking for Alaska. I read it first and thought it was too much. Any advice, thoughts, similar feelings?

Right now—and it has not always been thus—we let our girls read anything they want, with very different results. Chestnut, now 13, likes nonfiction (she LOVED How We Die) and realistic fiction (big fan of Rainbow Rowell, who we read together). Diana is deep into horror, fan fiction, fantasy (re-reading all of George R. R. Martin). Most of this came as a result of a conversation with a very smart writer and editor I know, who said his greatest joy as a kid was plundering his parents' bookshelves and reading every inappropriate thing there. Most of it went over his head, but it didn't matter—he was thrilled with the world that books opened to him. He then championed his own daughters' right to read anything and everything, something his wife wasn't crazy about but acceded to. 

When did this change? I'm not sure. I think it changed when Chestnut entered 6th grade.

There are really two questions here: what are the parents comfortable with, and what are the kids OK with? It's such a personal question. When Chestnut was in 4th grade, I was sorry she read The Hunger Games (in school no less), and discouraged her from reading the following books. But now? I put no limits on what she reads. I would probably feel differently with watching movies, but that question doesn't come up for us because neither girl cares for movies. I've also never read Looking for Alaska.

What do you guys think? What words of kind and supportive wisdom do you have for this reading parent? What is there for her advanced reader to read (a lot of old-fashioned books, is my idea)? How did you manage this with your own kids, if you did?


UPDATE: Really, this should have been a We Recommend, and I will maybe post it as such soon, but for now, can you guys offer up possibilities for her to read in the comments?

10 thoughts on “Advanced Readers/Little Kids

  1. I’m with you on this. I made both my boys wait til 5th grade to read The Hunger Games. But once the oldest hit 6th grade I let him read whatever he wanted. He’s in 7th grade now, and I feel that it is important as a almost-teenager to let him have control of what he reads. Even if some of it makes me cringe a bit when I read it (and he frequently recommends books for me to read now, which is quite lovely!). Plus my mother never put any sort of limits on what I could read as a child, and I don’t feel that anything I read compromised me in any way.


  2. My parents never limited my reading in any way (too busy!). I wandered the shelves at the public library reading whatever caught my fancy, and I plucked Lady Chatterley’s Lover off the bookshelf at home at I think 11 years old? (Very confusing!) I do struggle with this a bit now, having a 7 year old advanced reader. She’s interested in some middle grade and even YA books that have what I think are some pretty sophisticated social aggression, which worries me more than sex (which I think goes over most little kids’ heads) and violence/death. So I’m steering away from those for now. Obviously she’s still super young…I’d like to think that by 6th or 7th grade I would feel comfortable letting her have free rein.


  3. I’m in the middle of this now. My 7 year old is begging to read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (#5). I’m worries that things may get to scary/teenager ish but I’m so happy she raced through the last one that I don’t want to kill her momentum and have more candy fairy or whatever books around.


  4. I haven’t really limited much, however I forbid Harry Potter before 5th grade. (Only because I didn’t want them to be too young to LOVE it and I think that when you read it too young it is to hard to grasp all the stuff that is happening.) Anyway, I have a daughter in 7th grade (She is 13) and two 10 year olds in 5th grade. They all loved The Lightning Thief series and two of them went on to the next one as well. My 7th grader has read The Fault in Our Stars and she also wanted to read Looking for Alaska, which I bought for her. I just asked her about it, and she said it was “weird” so she put it down and found a better book. She has done this with a lot of books including Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. So, yes. I trust her to pick her own books. With the 5th graders they are well on their way to free reign as well. I think that will happen next year though.


  5. Sixth grade is when I started reading adult books, back in the day. We didn’t have much YA, and what there was I didn’t like. One way to deal with the advanced reader who may not be ready for mature themes is to read books written in previous decades. Some of the older titles, both children’s and adults, are written at a more challenging level (e.g. Anne of Green Gables vs. Trixie Belden)
    I think I would riff on something the girl is interested in and find older titles that are relevant. It’s hard to come up with recommendations without knowing interests areas but-
    Anastasia Krupnik books by Lois Lowry
    Some of the Madeline L’Engle titles like Arm of the Starfish and Young Unicorns
    Life with Mother Superior (book on which the “Trouble with Angels” is based)
    Elswyth Thane’s historical novels about Williamburg (beginning with Dawn’s Early Light)
    Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge
    Old Mary Stewart mysteries: Wildfire at Midnight, Nine Coaches Waiting, This Rough Magic
    Terry Pratchett books featuring Tiffany Aching (think it starts with Wee Free Men, maybe)
    Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
    Miss Bianca books by Sharpe
    Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
    Understood Betsy
    The Borrowers
    Eight Cousins


  6. I firmly believe that letting kids read whatever strikes their fancy is an essential part of teaching them to love reading. They will self-censor for anything too depressing, romantic, gross, or whatever. My guess is that most YA feels boring because it tends to be about falling in love, but only direct questioning of the reader in question will make that clear.
    But assuming that’s the case, my advice is to go with narrative nonfiction. Whatever the reader’s specific interests (plague, ants, history, space) adult nonfiction will have the reading level and information level to satisfy without the icky kissing bits. Mary Roach and Bill Bryson are the sort of authors I recommend.
    “I struggle with the meaty topics and just not sure it is what as parents we want her exposed to” As for this, keep in mind that sooner or later she’s going to be exposed to everything any way, and a book is a lovely way to deal with meaty stuff, in a very safe and self-controlled way.


  7. I do enjoy myself some young adult fiction but in many ways YA provides the opposite experience of what I needed when I was that age – the books I loved when I was 12 and 13 were more challenging in form and written for adults but were fairly safe in terms of content about the harsh realities of the world.
    Transitional fiction and nonfiction, if you will. For me, those writers are:
    P.G. Wodehouse
    James Thurber
    Georgette Heyer (either the romances or the mysteries)
    Terry Pratchett
    Dorothy Sayers (and really any of those golden age mystery authors – Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham)
    Mary Stewart
    BIll Bryson
    (Just realizing that this is a very Britishy list)
    Betty MacDonald’s books for adults (The Egg and I, Anyone Can Do Anything etc)
    MFK Fisher
    Laurie Colwin


  8. Perhaps a prose version of the Odyssey? There should be some in the children’s non-fiction section, or in YA non-fiction.
    Also, the novels of Ruth Moore, written mid-20th-century for adults, include kids and sailing, and some loving, unsentimental portraits of small towns. I started reading them at 12, I think, and they broadened my world.
    How about Jean Webster’s _Daddy Long Legs_? Judy Abbott, its narrator, lists the novels she never read in childhood, that she’s catching up on–and her list is full of good recommendations.


  9. When I was 12 and entering 7th grade, a friend and I got totally hooked on Agatha Christie. The murders don’t tend to be grisly (many victims are poisoned) and the subject matter, while mature, is handled in a way that’s palatable for a middle schooler.
    And, whenever possible, I like to put in a plug for The Squire’s Tales series by Gerald Morris–novels based on Arthurian legend, often featuring strong heroines. The stories are filled with adventure and humor and Morris’ writing always leads me to contemplate the complexities of the human experience.
    oh, and what about Around the World in 80 Days?


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