Finding the "just right" book
December 30, 2012 2:14 PM   Subscribe

What's the right age to introduce children to literature with challenging themes? Authors, teachers, librarians and critics weigh in. (SLNYT)
posted by Daily Alice (60 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
As soon as they can read.
posted by ZaneJ. at 2:17 PM on December 30, 2012 [22 favorites]

This discussion resonated with me because I was the kind of precocious kid who read everything I could get my hands on (notable example: Dr. Spock's "Baby and Child Care" which was left on my bedside table, and which I read with avid interest at the age of three.) My parents, to their credit, never restricted my reading. But there are books I read as a preteen (Flowers in the Attic and sequels, I'm looking at you) that I would unread if I could. But if my parents had forbidden them, I'd have wanted to read them even more...
posted by Daily Alice at 2:24 PM on December 30, 2012 [11 favorites]

As soon as you begin reading to them. (That said, I second Janice Harrington's Right Book, Right Time, Right Child.)
posted by Mike Mongo at 2:26 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Whatever you don't want children to read, assign as homework.
Whatever you do want children to read, hide in a drawer, under the bed or on a high shelf.
posted by chavenet at 2:50 PM on December 30, 2012 [17 favorites]

My parents never restricted me from a single book, which I am eternally grateful for, but I'll second Daily Alice's wish about unreading Flowers in the Attic.
posted by skycrashesdown at 2:52 PM on December 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

The accessibility of books is limited by the reader, IMHO. I agree that there are ideals of what you should read when, but the common denominator amongst most avid readers I know is that their early reading was more or less unrestricted. If your parents are getting in your face about what you should or should not be reading (the former more than the latter), it just acts as a turn off.
posted by Jakey at 3:30 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's a tricky issue as a librarian because there are so many different levels of what children are "ready" for. There's reading fluency; there's real-world knowledge (I think fantasies like Harry Potter are so popular as middle-grade reads because real-world knowledge gives you very little advantage; knowledge of the world of the story is built up little by little); there's emotional maturity, and "emotional maturity" encompasses everything from being able to deal with kids getting leukemia from the atomic bomb to being able to relate to a character with a crush. (I, for one, was amazingly tone-deaf to romantic stuff until pretty late in my adolescent reading life.)

And so -- I think that no one knows what books a particular kid is ready for except that kid. Kids do self-censor, although it's not necessarily that they gloss over the content they're not ready for; feeling awful and putting the book down is a kind of self-censorship, just as much as skimming is. There was a time when I'd get ten books from the library and finish one, and feel guilty about the other nine, but -- what I was doing was finding out what I wanted to read and who I was as a reader, and that's no bad thing.

Recently I read a blog post on waiting to start Harry Potter that made sense to me, though. There are so many wonderful books for six-year-olds and seven-year-olds and eight-year-olds that deal with the things children of that age are going through -- I want to tell parents, give those to your kids while they still can enjoy them. There's no need to try to read big fat fantasy novels that very quickly start to pull in romances and hard-hitting character deaths.
posted by Jeanne at 3:40 PM on December 30, 2012 [9 favorites]

I am constantly surprised by what my children do and don't find scary (as "scary" is the primary concern at their age). I was worried "The Wolves In The Walls" (a Neil Gaiman children's book) would be too scary but my 3-year-old thinks it's HILARIOUS and has since we first read it to him and likes to play "Wolves in the Walls" where he makes wolves come out of the walls to try to eat people. But we have a book called "Old Penn Station" about the building and subsequent destruction of NYC's Penn Station and he cries when we get to the page where it's demolished and finds it SO upsetting that he won't let me read him the book any more.

So, monsters that live in your walls, creep around at night, and burst out without warning = fun! Existential angst over the passing of former glories = TOO PAINFUL TO CONTEMPLATE.

Which makes me wonder, how will I even know what they're ready for at 12 when I can't tell at 3?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:43 PM on December 30, 2012 [51 favorites]

There's no need to try to read big fat fantasy novels that very quickly start to pull in romances and hard-hitting character deaths.

But my six year old needs to know why we don't trust Lannisters!
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:55 PM on December 30, 2012 [23 favorites]

Man, I probably shouldn't have read my kid that unexpurgated version of Cinderella. That shit is hardcore. Though, for all its gore, not as relentlessly a downed as The Little Mermaid.
posted by Artw at 3:55 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Whatever you do want children to read, hide in a drawer, under the bed or on a high shelf.

Know the high shelf ones and that's why I was reading Freud and Zane Gray when I was six years old -- I figured that's where all the good stuff had to be, anyway...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 4:05 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of the articles mentions that little kids won't understand the adolescent angst parts of Harry Potter - but really, that's where Harry Potter is most obviously children's fiction and not YA fiction: Harry doesn't think about sex enough to be going through realistic adolescent angst.

But generally, once you can read it, you're probably ready for it, or you put it down and don't come back for a while. I threw the book across the room when I first finished The Peacock Spring by Rumor Godden, but a few years later I could come back to it and understand what happened and why.
posted by jb at 4:13 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

My "unread it if I could" book was one about the Donner Party I found on the shelf when I was about 7. Yikes.
posted by thebrokedown at 4:15 PM on December 30, 2012

I was another no-reading-restrictions kid - with one exception. Twice, my mom took books away from me on the grounds that they were written so horribly.

But, yeah - I read a lot of "adult" books when I was a kid because that was what was mostly in the house, and if I ran through all my library books, what else was I supposed to do? But the presence of books in number and variety was no less important than the fact that reading was just a Thing You Did. Reading at the table wasn't automatically rude; it was unremarkable to come home from running errands and just relax with a book for a while before moving on to other chores; when you went to the beach you took towels, sunscreen, water, snacks, and books. Like that.
posted by rtha at 4:43 PM on December 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

I read 1984 on my own at age 10 or 11. I don't recommend doing that until later.
posted by zippy at 4:43 PM on December 30, 2012

I don't know that Jack Ketchum's 'Off Season' is ideal for a 12 year old. Still, very glad there was no restricted reading in my home.
posted by methinks at 4:49 PM on December 30, 2012

Wow. In this topic of all others why would you think that "age" is a useful criteria?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:54 PM on December 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I was 11 our classroom library had a book called Spiders which was a horror book with occasional sex scenes. God only knows what it was doing there. I dare say it would make for a Daily Mail headline if it came out today.
posted by biffa at 5:05 PM on December 30, 2012

In the library where I work, people ask me all the time for a "fourth-grade book" or a "fifth-grade book." I try to tell them that there's no such thing -- though I certainly understand teachers who want their students to read something appropriately challenging and not, say, a 32-page picture book with very little text. If a kid doesn't read a lot, it ends up as a guessing game to find something roughly matched with their interests and not so long as to be intimidating.

It would be great if people didn't think of age as the primary useful criteria, if only because there's such a huge range of reading levels within any classroom grade or any age, but a lot of parents just don't think of books in any terms but those -- they want to know what shelf they can go to in order to find books that are the right reading level for their kid, as if you could boil all the things that make book selection difficult and interesting down into a single number.
posted by Jeanne at 5:09 PM on December 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I read 1984 on my own at age 10 or 11. I don't recommend doing that until later.

I read 1984 for a book report in middle school. One of the questions was: What was your favorite part of the book? I said: "When Winston was tortured with spiders in Room 101." The teacher responded with a comment like: "Uhh... sick, dude. How about a nice love scene?"
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:22 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have this old book, called "Real Mother Goose" or something similar. It has pictures of happy pigs and ducks and stuff on the cover, so I thought I'd read it to my little ones (2&4 yrs at the time).

Well, I had a few instances where I kinda went "what?" and had to skip a portion dealing with revenge killing or corporal punishment. Finally I gave up, unable to spin tales around the mounting cruelties detailed in this benighted tome, and said, "Let's read Thomas!"

Which is full of insufferable class nonsense but no one dies.
posted by Mister_A at 5:33 PM on December 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Sorry for spoilers.
posted by Mister_A at 5:33 PM on December 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

God only knows what it was doing there.

A long time ago I was passing through the children's section of a Walden Books (which tells you how long ago) and something caught my eye. To this day I can't say exactly what stopped me but in a row of 9x5 kids' trade paperbacks something didn't seem right. There was a mostly nondescript book with flowers on the spine. Well, roses. Nothing garish or adult, right? I pulled it out as my girlfriend turned to wonder what could possibly be of interest in the kids section to someone who didn't have or want kids.

It turned out to be The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, which I'd never heard of but I quickly got the joke when I opened to a random page. Naturally I couldn't leave it there, so I had to buy it :-)
posted by localroger at 5:50 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Over the course of my childhood, my mother only took a single book away from me. I have no idea where she got it, but she lent it to her sister after she had finished reading, and they tittered about it. I flipped it open once and it was some kind of crass humorous fantasy about talking animals in adult situations. The experience taught me that adults sometimes like trashy books.

My revenge took the form of a box of Philip Jose Farmer novels with completely innocuous cover art that I read between 11 and 13. But at least it wasn't Xanth.
posted by Nomyte at 6:38 PM on December 30, 2012

It seems kinda weird to realize it now, but I apparently read Jurassic Park when I was nine, because I'd read it by the time the movie came out. Would I let a nine-year-old read Jurassic Park? I hope so, but Jesus.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:46 PM on December 30, 2012

The book Jurassic Park wasn't nearly as traumatic as the movie in terms of virtual kid abuse.

My revenge took the form of a box of Philip Jose Farmer novels

Not Gor? How lame. :-)
posted by localroger at 6:55 PM on December 30, 2012

>> Naturally I couldn't leave it there ...

Thank you for thinking of the children.
posted by Bruce H. at 6:55 PM on December 30, 2012

The first book I ever read voluntarilly and not as a school assigment was Willian Saroyan's The Human Comedy. I've since realized how relatively harmless a book it was, but it was my first encounter with the national character of the United States, which fascinates me to this day, and sparked my love of literature in English. Later came F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.D Salinger, Willa Cather, and John Irving.

Books open your eyes and help define who you are, and so children should be allowed to read good, challenging literature as soon as they show an interest, regardless of age.
posted by Fabster at 6:58 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ahahah, I actually did read allll of the Gor novels when I was about 12. And my mom kept buying 'em for me, even seeing the covers, bless her heart.

On the other hand, I stumbled across Lord of the Flies when I was in the fifth grade. I really, really wish somebody had noticed and stopped me.
posted by Andrhia at 7:05 PM on December 30, 2012

I was allowed to read whatever I wanted as a child. I read one of my dad's crappy spy novels very early, probably 6 or 7, and at the end of the book the protagonist hangs his ass out of the window... I distinctly remember thinking that 'ass' meant penis for quite a while, because that's the only thing I could imagine being able to hang out a window...

As far as which books when, it seems obvious as a teacher that some kids are ready for 'scary' themes earlier than others, and it has to be up to the parents. It's all well and good to say that one shouldn't restrict literature in any way, but I had a student whose mom showed her ET in 1st grade, thinking it would be this wonderful bonding experience, and the girl was TERRIFIED of the bathtub scene and wouldn't get into a bathtub for at least a year... she had to shower in the shower enclosure in her parents' bedroom.
posted by Huck500 at 7:07 PM on December 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

she had to shower in the shower enclosure in her parents' bedroom.

Well they could have cured that by showing her Psycho /ducks
posted by localroger at 7:14 PM on December 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

As far as which books when, it seems obvious as a teacher that some kids are ready for 'scary' themes earlier than others, and it has to be up to the parents. It's all well and good to say that one shouldn't restrict literature in any way

I totally agree with this; my gut instinct is "kids are resilient and so whatever" but there are things that can be problematic or upsetting or maybe just not right for certain (or even most) kids. In a related area, for a project I was doing for my Master's in Teaching, I had to look at a library display. There was a display for Columbus Day and it had a bunch of books in it including some books from about sixty years ago talking about how the dark-skinned savages were thrilled to see these white people they viewed as gods. I mentioned this to the librarian (this was a school library) and she said she just had it for the pictures and I realized I was surprisingly close to challenging a book in a library. I'm generally VERY liberal and I never would have thought in a million years that I'd be on the side of book banning but it turns out hey, I'd rather not have impressionable elementary schoolers reading perfectly well-meaning stuff that boils down to promoting the superiority of some races. Yes, there are plenty of really intelligent, thoughtful kids who could handle stuff like that especially with some guidance but I think it was valuable for me to examine my knee-jerk "all books are good and kids should read whatever they want". I'm seeing some of that in this thread and (especially as a teacher but also as person) I disagree with it and think that perspective could benefit from some reflection.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:17 PM on December 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

I read Helter Skelter when it came out in paperback. I was 8 years old. We were staying at some relative's house for the weekend, there were no other kids, so I picked up a book from their coffee table. I had it read in less than two days. There are pictures of the Manson family crime scenes in that book.
When my mother realized I had spent the weekend sitting on the floor reading that book, she did not believe that I had read it and understood the details of the crimes. I could tell her the victim names, the Family names, who was killed where, in what order. To this day, it's one of the most vivid memories I have: I'm not permanently damaged...much.
posted by Jazz Hands at 7:18 PM on December 30, 2012

I tried to read Steven King's IT when I was about 9 years old. I got half-way through and got so scared I stuck the book in the freezer (with the rest of the food in there). My mom left it alone until I got the guts up to finish reading it a year later. Did you know we all float down here?
posted by tmt at 7:21 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I still remember reading A Clockwork Orange as a somewhat sheltered thirteen year old. I didn't read horror, like anything scary, and was scared of the dark. Reading it was a terrible idea, but I was on a long bus trip with family, and it was the only book available I hadn't already read. (So the self-censor thing might have worked if I'd had anything else as an option to read.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 7:30 PM on December 30, 2012

I wouldn't dream of not challenging my daughters.
posted by padraigin at 7:50 PM on December 30, 2012

The first book I remember bouncing against as being too young to understand was Brave New World. In particular the word 'Strumpet', which I assumed was a female trumpet player.
posted by Sparx at 8:02 PM on December 30, 2012 [8 favorites]

My "unread it if I could" book was one about the Donner Party I found on the shelf when I was about 7. Yikes.

It's okay, Wendy, he saw it on teevee.
posted by Herodios at 8:12 PM on December 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I really have come to loathe the 'all books are good, children self-censor, literature is enriching' trope. It is a load of collywobbles, to put it nicely.

If you want to claim that literature is ever enriching, ever enlightening, ever a teacher, then you MUST accept that sometimes is will, correspondingly, be damaging, be mind-closing, be an agent in disadvantaging the mind.

As a very very young child I read a number of inappropriate books and, being an emotionally astute child, I knew exactly what was happening. But, being a child, I could not understand what was happening, or parse it, or place it in context. We fret about young men being introduced to porn so early that it is their foundation, not anything else; from my experience we should. That which we cannot parse, cannot understand, but see? That tends to haunt us.

Reading widely, without adult contextualisation skills, left me with a set of lifelong hangups about any number of things.

If you would stop your six year old looking at Playboy, or reading Literotica, welcome to the world of censorship as per the internet. We need to stop playing absolutes in a game where the field of endeavour has changed SIGNIFICANTLY. Graphic erotica is available on the shelves of most supermarkets here - that is not the environment most of us grew up in. Same with the internet. We need to stop patting ourselves on the back like we're just so nurturing because we don't restrict a child's reading. That is the weakest excuse for intellectual egotism I have ever come across - a child with unrestricted reading is no guarantee of anything, including an involved reader as an adult (of my parent's three children, only two of us read a lot as adults, and one of those reads a very narrow field - yet none of us were censored). It proves nothing except your own lack of understanding about the literature out there, the books out there.

Indiscriminate love of books is about as intellectually rigorous as a Happy Meal.

But, to be on topic, the 'challenging concept' my three year old is facing in our reading is that cats have a very different family structure to humans (Catwings by Ursula K Le Guin).
posted by geek anachronism at 8:33 PM on December 30, 2012 [6 favorites]

I read Forever and Then Again, Maybe I Won't and the Outsiders at 8, along with a ton of novels about teen alcoholics, teens with STDs, runaways, victims of pimps and the like. By 10-11, I was on to Brave New World, 1984, Animal Farm and whatever dirty novels I could find.

As a result, I have a giant pile of novels available for my kids and make regular trips to used bookstores. But I won't let my kids (under 9) just go choose anything. While my older child may read books meant for kids 5 years older, I really think there are some concepts they needn't be burdened with just yet. I'm pretty open with my kids about most things, but I don't think they need to read books with heavy violence, sexual themes and autocracies just yet.

I really think someone should have shielded me from some of my childhood choices. I don't really think an 8yo needs to read about how a grey condom looks on a 15yo, for example.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 8:53 PM on December 30, 2012

I don't really think an 8yo needs to read about how a grey condom looks on a 15yo, for example.

I don't know what that looks like, but if there's one thing reading William Burroughs taught me, it's that it smells like lavender.
posted by Nomyte at 8:57 PM on December 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's sort of crazy to think that some set of rules will work for all kids. My 10 year old daughter has the fluency to read anything, but if we're watching a TV show where a couple starts kissing, she hides behind her hands. We have a hell of a time finding books for hear because her language skills far outstrip her emotional maturity. Her younger sister, on the other hand, can't get enough of things that her sister avoids
posted by TheShadowKnows at 9:17 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

So, I read "The Spaceship Under the Apple Tree" when I was seven, and there and then decided I liked science fiction stories, so I went ahead and read "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe" next.

I have since then left a befuddled and frustrated string of Child Psychologists in my wake.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:08 PM on December 30, 2012

I used to read to my children nightly from when they were tiny to well into their high school years, and over the years our tastes ranged wide across all sorts of books, many of them age inappropriate (I avoided obvious sex and the like, to spare all of us embarrassment) -- Evelyn Waugh* and Graham Greene come to mind. The thing that i found interesting was that the difference between the books they got bored with and the ones that captured their imagination had to do with the obliqueness of the storytelling rather than the the story or the setting. I tried Conrad at one point to discover that, sophisticated as they were as listeners, his way of telling a story out of order, sometimes with a shifting narrator and so on, left them really confused even though we had happily tackled "harder" books. We eventually got back to and enjoyed Conrad, but it took far longer than I expected. The whole experience gave me an interesting insight into the differences between how an adult and a child processes fiction, and how that processing changes over time.

*We read Decline and Fall when my youngest son was about seven or eight; I had to string them along for the first couple of chapters, but after that they caught on found the whole thing a scream. On the other hand I don't think i fully explained the white slavery angle to them and just let that slide past uncommented on.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 11:39 PM on December 30, 2012

My parents never forbade me to read anything as a kid but schoolteachers would often confiscate what they felt was inappropriate material and refuse to return it.

posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:42 PM on December 30, 2012

My mom only ever took one book away from me when I was about 13 or 14, which was some sort of murder mystery type I picked out at the library as a prize. It was likely some combination of torture and sex that made her take it.

Except I tried telling her that I'd already read Stephen King's IT all the way through when I was 8, as well as The Long Walk and other such novels containing twisted terror, murder, torture, bereavement, insanity, and gratuitous sex that they had in some dusty boxes in the basement. Cue a sudden lecture about not looking through other people's things.

Too late. I'd already been seen reading them by my younger brother, who had had them on his shelf for a few years by then...

Oh, was I actually supposed to be -completely- covering my eyes during all those sex scenes in the movies too? Oops.
posted by DisreputableDog at 12:07 AM on December 31, 2012

Let children read about sex and violence and death, let them read about redemption and love and passion and vengance.

Children experience these things. Children live through violence and abuse and rape. Give them the knowledge that these things are not okay, let them read books where it's spelled out that being fucked at age ten is wrong so they have context, let them read about a character berating their caregivers for beating them so they know that hey, that thrashing I cop every night is something that shouldn't be happening. Let them read about powerful adults who will be on their side, give them rescuers, the confidence that maybe, just maybe, not everyone over five feet is out to get me. Give them windows to worlds where it doesn't, and give them the tools to describe the shit that happens to children, in adult terms, so the adults around them know what the fuck is wrong. Show them characters who live through it, become powerful in their own ways, show them that life after childhood exists.

"Let's play this special touching game" is going to be lost on a ten year old who has read what that sort of thing leads to. I read a lot of books too old for me, things my mother would have shrieked about, and when everything below the belt is indiscriminately referred by the adults of my world to as "down there", knowing why a grown-up may have an unhealthy interest in such things was a tool that enabled me to dodge some really unpleasant situations.

There's a lot of power to be had in books, especially for kids who don't have any power anywhere else in their lives.
posted by Jilder at 12:18 AM on December 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

I continually borrowed a book 'Roman Rogue'(?) when I was I guess 11. Bestiality, slavery, homosexuality, prostitution. While I wouldn't leave it around for my kid, I like the fact the local librarians gave me no more than a quizzical stare when getting it stamped. Other than a liking for librarians I grew up remarkably vanilla.
posted by Gratishades at 5:53 AM on December 31, 2012

TBH I figure once the kids learn to read its all over as far as me STOPPING them reading anything goes, It being the way it went with me*, I will however continue pushing stuff upon them.

* though TBH they're going to be doing it without the benefit of a local charity shop well stocked with Sven Hassel and Pan Books of Horror.
posted by Artw at 7:07 AM on December 31, 2012

geek anachronism: you may be right that there is such a thing as "too soon". I was really upset by the realities of the relationship in The Peacock Spring when I was 12. But maybe I was stronger because I had the vicarious experience of that kind of betrayal instead of facing it for the first time in reality (as I did a few years later).

I don't know about other people, but when I worry about kids reading/seeing porn, I'm not worried about the sex content at all. I'm worried about the way that the relationships are depicted and how they handle consent, power, respect. A book that depicts abuse as bad can be a learning experience, maybe even help a child deal with/express their own experience if necessary (a friend of mine teaches troubled teends and says that certain very graphic books about abuse keep being stolen - and they tolarate it, because the kids need to read them to deal). But books that normalise abuse -- that's the porn that is obscene and which should worry us.
posted by jb at 8:05 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

My daughter gets everything she needs to know from the Twilight books, apparently.
posted by colie at 8:08 AM on December 31, 2012

My Wish-I-Could-Unread-It book was Peter Benchley's Jaws. Made it as far as the horrific death of Chrissie Watkins. I think I was eight or nine.

Woke my mom that night crying because of the nightmares. Never finished the book. Avoided the movie until I was an adult.

My parents never restricted the books that I could read. But they told me that when they said it probably wasn't a good idea for me to read a certain book at my age, I might want to take them a little more seriously.
posted by magstheaxe at 10:32 AM on December 31, 2012

I had a library card and went to the library on my own every week, sometimes several times a week, throughout my childhood. What I read was entirely my choice. No one noticed or cared. I read adult books years before my peers, while even my older brother preferred comic books to real books. Our home was also filled with books which I read over and over and over. I cannot imagine restricting a child's access to books. If a child fundamentally doesn't understand what they are reading, they are not fully aware that they don't understand. That comes later. In the meantime, they have been intellectually stimulated and that is always desirable.

Why protect children from knowing the truth about human existence? That's a ridiculous idea! They are human too!
posted by Galadhwen at 12:46 PM on December 31, 2012

I wonder how many people who say there should be no limits on reading actually have kids of their own. Because, while my 9 year old can (and will) read anything - there are absolutely things she is not ready for. Not only would books with darker themes upset her unnecessarily and expose her to things she doesn't need to worry about at this age, but it will be a lot more meaningful to her if she reads them when she can understand them better. No matter how much she reads - and it's a lot - she is in no danger of running out of age-appropriate books any time soon. It's not as if The Hunger Games and Twilight are going to expire if she doesn't read them immediately. There are plenty of better options for her right now, and she can read more mature material in a few more years when she, herself, is more mature.

I'd rather wait until she's not going to wake me up with nightmares or ask questions that I can't really explain because she just isn't going to understand the answers yet. Or worse - not ask the questions at all.

Why protect children from knowing the truth about human existence? That's a ridiculous idea! They are human too!

For the same reason you protect children from crossing the street by themselves when they're too young. Because they can't handle it yet. Seriously, what's the rush? There's plenty of time to read that stuff as they get older.
posted by Dojie at 1:10 PM on December 31, 2012

As a parent, I'm completely on the other side of the dilemma - wishing my 10 year old would willingly read anything besides the text at the bottom of his Minecraft screen. On the plus side, he already touch types.
posted by Daily Alice at 2:45 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


All is lost.
posted by Artw at 2:49 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Galadhwen: "If a child fundamentally doesn't understand what they are reading, they are not fully aware that they don't understand. "

Sorry, that is really really not the case - if I read something I didn't understand, I went and looked it up. I made myself understand because I was 'intellectually stimulated', so to speak. I'm sure there were things I glossed over, but even now, as an adult, regardless of warnings I just need to know what that reference means. I am voracious for knowledge and information and understanding and I have been that way all my life, to my own detriment (cue the question about why, if exotic and erotic mean different things, they are so often used together - I'd been reading some scifi nonsense) (it was also a family dinner party and I think I was about 8).

A little direction, a little companionship and censorship would have saved me a world of trouble.

And I'm sorry if I gave the impression I was speaking only about porn; I wasn't, I was referring to things that glorify rape culture, glamourise assault and so on. They aren't called porn, and weren't called it then, but they are an unfortunate exposure to sex and adult relationships when you have very little else of depth to contextualise it. Particularly when literature, as a whole, tends towards those depictions more than any other. As an adult who prefers to avoid that tendency, finding something to read that doesn't include something rapey, something ick, something seeped in alphamale dominance is difficult. I've given up on entire genres because they are just repeats on a theme - books that I see a lot of teen girls reading, books that I know I would have read as a child as well.

There are intellectual equivalents of fast food; writing designed to hit the base points, the fat/salt/sugar of the mind. They may or may not be literature, or good, or bad, but they are compulsive, as a child or a teen or an adult.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:03 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I read "The Jungle" when I was 10 or 11; it was a ripping yarn of adventure. What I found in it wasn't what progressive reformers found in it, or what Upton Sinclair thought he put in it.

However, is that while Us Grownups theoretically have the framework of experience to assimilate new or shocking or confusing information, kids don't. Sometimes something that could be deeply disturbing goes right over their heads (Wolves in the Walls, hah!).

But sometimes there are nightmares, and sometimes (as Jilder pointed out, disturbing content can help you escape actually disturbing reality.

As a parent, anyway, I don't see any way around it except to read every goddamn book they'll read for a while so that I can have an informed conversation about it, if they need to talk about various monsters. And after a while, let them go their own way.

The little on is eating her latest bottle next to me right now, and God! how long can I keep this wonderful child away from Twilight? And will she think that Harriet the Spy, or Matilda, are dated and boring for their lack of creepy vampire sex?
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 9:07 PM on January 2, 2013

As a parent, anyway, I don't see any way around it except to read every goddamn book they'll read for a while so that I can have an informed conversation about it

Shudder. If my parents had read everything I did, and then tried to talk to me about it, I'd have given up reading altogether.
posted by colie at 5:43 AM on January 3, 2013

Shudder. If my parents had read everything I did, and then tried to talk to me about it, I'd have given up reading altogether.

Much agreed. My father once took The Giver out of my hand because he thought the back cover made it sound depressing. The only worse thing he could have done would have been to sit down and talk about the book with me. He has appalling taste.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:55 PM on January 3, 2013

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