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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reading Up or Reading Down

So first let me explain that "reading up" or "reading down" is not the beginning of a Dr. Seuss book. (Even though I can imagine it: Reading up or reading down, I like to read books all around, I like to read books with a clown and that way I will never frown.) I could keep going, but on with the real subject of this post.

Let's start with "reading down" which refers to reading books below your age level. I read a ton of books that are not really targeted at 37 year old soccer moms. A lot of these I read for work, because I need to know what to order, what to recommend, and what is popular. I also read a substantial amount of fiction intended for younger people because I like to know what my kids are reading.

Ok, I'll confess. Juvenile and young adult (YA) fiction can also be a fun and relaxing change of pace, and I am quite certain that I am not the only adult who thinks so. Go ahead and admit it. You read Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc.

Every once in a while I do need to throw in an adult book, just to remind myself that I am a grown up (and, more importantly, prevent any of these signs from manifesting).

The reading down phenomenon could help explain why so many popular adult authors (John Grisham, James Patterson, Michael Chabon, Kathy Reichs, to name a few) are now delving into the world of YA and juvenile fiction. It is definitely the reason the library still has a waiting list for the Divergent books.

If you are a parent, educator, librarian, or just someone who cares about getting kids reading you are probably more concerned with "reading up" (i.e. reading above age level). There are oodles of blog posts and comments on this subject and I find myself jumping back and forth between allowing kids to read whatever they want and restricting them to books that are written for kids.

On the one hand, I grew up similar to Melissa Taylor from Imagination Soup. I was a voracious reader as a child and my parents allowed me to choose books with absolute impunity.

I moved on to adult books for a couple of reasons.
 1. First of all adult books were usually thicker so they took longer to read.  Really thick books were especially important for long car rides, family vacations, and my sister's basketball games (that my parents forced me to attend).
2. Back then  (you know way back in the 80s) there were not many authors writing teen fiction and those that did seemed to focus on topics suitable to an after school special. Don't get me wrong Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, Cynthia Voight etc. are amazing authors, but I was just never all that interested in books about high school drama. Honestly, wasn't it bad enough to have to live through all the crap without reading about it in your spare time? Please don't hate me if The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, Deenie, or any of the Sweet Valley High series were amongst your favorite books. Realistic teen fiction was just not my cup of tea. I had an unusual penchant for classic mysteries by Agatha Christie and Rex Stout and thrillers by Dean Koontz and Stephen King.

Who can blame me for my clown phobia!!!
Now that I am a Mom and a children's librarian I find myself agreeing with many of the points made by my fellow librarians, Jen Robinson and Liz Burns.  Just because an eight year old is capable of reading at a tenth grade  level does not mean that they have the emotional maturity or attention span to read high school level books.

I know that I read books when I was younger  that had mature content and sometimes it went over my head and sometimes it didn't and probably should have.  Not to mention, I am still deathly afraid of clowns after reading IT in the fifth or sixth grade.

It isn't just violence, sex, or bad language that we should be concerned about. Many teen and adult books have deeper emotional, political, and/or historical themes that younger kids aren't mature or experienced enough to fully comprehend. I am specifically thinking of all the recent teen books that have been made into films that kids in 3rd or 4th grade are asking to check out: The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, The Book Thief, Divergent, to name just a few.

The book lover in me is thrilled because they want to read the book, because I think the book is almost always better than the movie (you can read a former post of mine to see some of the rare exceptions). Even decent movies derived from books leave out scenes, characters, and other details and the images can never truly compare to the ones in your imagination.

However, are young kids ready to read about the holocaust as narrated by death? Can they comprehend the socioeconomic and political strife in The Hunger Games or are they just going to cheer on every death in the arena.  Side Note: When I went and saw this movie in theater it was kind of disturbing how many tweens and teens were hooting and hollering for every kill that took place in the arena. I am pretty sure that they were missing the point.

I am a habitual book re-reader. I love to go back and read books that I read when I was younger or even ones that I read less than five years ago. It is always interesting to see how my opinions and ideas have changed and what new insights I have now that I am older and (hopefully) somewhat wiser. Not everyone likes to do this, though, and I think that by reading certain books too early you can really miss out. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a completely different reading experience in my thirties then it was when I was barely double digits.

By reading adult books too early, kids may also be missing out on a lot of wonderful children's books. I am 37 and I still like to read children's books. If you are a parent trying to challenge an advanced reader many of the classic children's books like The Incredible Journey, The Secret Garden, The Chronicles of Narnia and countless others are actually more challenging than a lot of teen and adult fiction. Yes, they may be a bit harder to sell to a ten year old than The Hunger Games, but at least you do not have to worry about content that is too mature.

Despite everything, though, I think that adults often underestimate the intelligence of a lot of kids.  I have come across a number of precocious readers (my own son and especially my daughter included) and they exhibit a remarkable ability to self-censor. Now when I say censor I do not mean refusing to read certain books because of religious reasons or parental influence. Rather, when a book becomes more than they can handle, for whatever reason, they ask for guidance, skip portions that bother them, or even discontinue reading it all together.

My daughter was reading the Quarantine trilogy by Lex Thomas. In the book an entire high school is sealed off from the outside world when the teenagers become carriers of a virus deadly to adults and young children. Yeah the idea that the only immunity to this virus is puberty is a tad far-fetched. The school turns into Lord of the Flies meets Clockwork Orange meets American Psycho. By time Zoe made it through the second book she said that she was done because it was too bloody, too much boy/girl stuff (her words), and the characters were all horrible.  I have seen other kids have the same reaction to books that were maybe too scary, too gory, too much romance, etc.

As much as the mom in me wants to keep kids little kids, I probably lean toward allowing them to read whatever they want. That doesn't mean I won't offer a warning if I think a book is scary, violent, or going to make them cry buckets. Above all, though, I think kids should be given the leeway to choose a variety of books in a variety of genres: classics, mysteries, science fiction, dystopian, etc. How else are they going to find what they love?

Whether you want to have veto power over every book your child selects or you give them free reign it is still a good idea to know what they are reading. Kids that enjoy reading, no matter how introverted or shy, become incredibly talkative when they are asked their opinions about books. So before you snatch away a book that you deem questionable ask why they chose it and what they think about it so far.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fall, The Grimm Brothers, and Gilmore Girls

When I first  feel that chill in the air. Fall, fills my mind and one of the first thoughts I have is Gilmore Girls!  Yes, still even after 7 years of it being off the air I still think about it.  I guess first it is because, well of course the new season always started in the fall, but the other reason is the show really encompasses the feelings of fall.  You know what I mean jack-o-laterns hot chocolate, jacket weather, pumpkin pie, and the launch of the holiday season. Gilmore Girls is fall to me.  I guess it is a little strange to still have a show come to mind 7 years later every time you take a breath of crisp air, but I guess you could say I might be a little obsessed.  (I wonder what the word would be for a Gilmore version of a Trekkie?)


Okay the Gilmore challenge, now that I am done obsessing.:)  I read Snow White and Rose Red by Grimm Brothers, okay I will admit it was very short but also very interesting.  I have always meant to read the Grimm Brothers being a fan of fairy tales but it is another one of those things you never seem to get to.  (I guess I could have watched less episodes of Gilmore Girls) (Nah!) I have always heard they are way different than the fairy tales we know from watching Disney, etc... and darker too. This one definitely was different and a little dark, I am never to sure what all to say on here because I don't want to give to many spoilers.  If you want my opinion on whether you should read this my answer is definitely yes!  It was really good, I will just say I didn't even know Snow White even had a sister.(there that is not much of a spoiler since it is on the cover)  There is another Grimm Brothers on the list so I will prob read that one next.

Just keep reading!
Just keep reading!
Just keep reading!

Here is the reference to Snow White and Rose Red:
Season 2 Episode 7

Rory: Paris, it's not the Cosa Nostra.

Rory: Sandra Day O'Connor was a Puff?

Francie: Well, no one has proof. It's just folklore.
Ivy: Like Snow-White and Rose-Red.
Francie: Or Mariah Carey's crackup.

Rory: I tell ya, she's a regular Gary Mule Deer.