In my recent post on what we talk about when we talk about “inappropriate” books for kids, I discussed how a book’s treatment of a particular topic is the key to whether or not it is “appropriate” for a certain reader – an approach that takes a lot more work than merely banning taboo categories across the board.
One commenter asked what I’m sure is a burning, and very common, question: What do you do when your child’s reading abilities exceed their emotional understanding for what they’ve read?
I was one of those kids, and I’m sure my parents tore their hair out trying to deal with it. I still have nightmares from when I got into my father’s Stephen King collection at age eight and read Four Past Midnight. The Langoliers were no biggie, but the Sun Dog will haunt my dreams forever. (My father learned to store his books on a shelf I could not reach, after that – though I wouldn’t have read any more Stephen King at that point if you paid me. I didn’t read King again for almost ten years.)
In no particular order, then, are several of my best-beloved precocious-reader picks from my own childhood. For more recently-published titles (remember, I’m that age you can’t trust anyone over), see this handy list of books for precocious readers, compiled by gifted-child educator and A Different Place blogger Nancy Bosch. Horn Book magazine also has a fabulous list from yesterday and today.
What were some of your favorite books? What are your young readers enjoying? Share in comments!
The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. My mother and I read The Secret Garden together when I was six, and my copy (a beautiful hardbound edition with colour plates, a Christmas gift from my aunt) still holds pride of place in my own collection. The Secret Garden is the tale of Mary Lennox, an orphaned girl sent to live with her reclusive uncle on the moors of Yorkshire. While there, she unravels two secrets – of her uncle’s hidden rose garden and the mysterious crying she hears in the old house at night – and puts a family back together. A Little Princess is the story of Sara Crewe, who goes from being super-rich to super-destitute and back again, yet who never stops trying to treat people with real kindess and decency.
The Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. These staples of American children’s literature follow the pioneer travels of the Ingalls family through most of Laura’s childhood; later books by Wilder detail her adult life in the Ozarks. My father actually thought these books were too sanitized – they downplayy many (though not all) of the dangers of frontier life, and they never once mention how anyone uses a bathroom. Still, they’re exciting and detailed and a wonderful historical-fictional escape into American pioneer history. (The Ingalls museums in De Smet, South Dakota are also well worth a look, if you’re ever in that neck of the, er, prairie. My dad took me in 1992 and we had a blast.)
Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series, Ellen Tebbits series, and assorted other books. Ramona the Pest, which is about Ramona Quimby’s adventures in kindergarten, was the very first “chapter book” I ever read. I was four years old. These books aren’t written for four-year-olds, per se, but they’re easy enough for a precocious four-year-old (or five- or six-year-old) reader to enjoy and identify with. Ramona’s nervousness about kindergarten, her impatience to learn to write her name, and her struggles to fit in and win her beloved teacher’s approval are all pitch-perfect for kids who are going through the same things themselves. If I had to choose one “chapter book” for a reading-way-above-grade-level young kid, it’d be these.
James Herriot. My father, an avid all-things-nature-man, was reading James Herriot’s books to me before I had even mastered my alphabet, and the illustrated children’s edition of The Cat Who Came for Christmas he gave me for Christmas when I was two remains one of my favorite holiday traditions.
James Herriot was a Yorkshire country veterinarian, and in his many books, he discusses his life treating everything from cows and sheep to household cats – often in the same day. Some of the scenes in his adult-aimed books may be too graphic or confusing for young readers, but several of his tales have been turned into children’s boooks, and many stories are positively heartwarming. Precocious readers ages eight and up (emotionally) may do well with these books, especially if they can discuss them with a parent, love animals, and/or want to be veterinarians.
Those of you who waded through the comments on the “inappropriate books for kids” post will probably notice I’m leaving out a lot here, including the Narnia chronicles, Anne of Green Gables, the Five Little Peppers, and all those children’s series books I so avidly collect. More in a later post!