Review policy

I am very happy to review any novel that fits in with the theme of this blog: novels aimed at 9-14 year olds, preferably with a fantasy/ speculative world setting. However, I will make clear in the review that I was sent the book by the publisher and I will write my honest opinion. Please feel free to contact me via Twitter or Facebook, or fantasticreads at gmail dot com.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Young bookworms

Image: coolspotters.com

I have written here about encouraging reluctant readers, but a conversation on Twitter with @ActuallyMummy, @LesleyAnneWeir, @Playbythebook and @BroughtonLass made me think about the opposite problem: how do you find reading materials suitably challenging for a 7 year old reading well in advance of their chronological age?

The temptation can be to encourage children to read increasingly difficult books. However, books for older readers can be unsuitable for children in plot, content and ambiguity; young children expect resolution, goodies rewarded and baddies punished. Books for Young Adult readers rightly address the concerns of their readers: relationships, which may include sex, politics, racism and violence. These are clearly not appropriate for young readers.

Image: lemonysnicket.wikia.com

Equally, I frequently see comments on the Amazon forum and on newspaper websites from adults claiming that they just went straight from reading Enid Blyton to Dickens. In my opinion this is equally inappropriate. I was assessed at 9 as having a reading age of 14 (after refusing to learn to read until I was 7). Indeed I read Wuthering Heights at 10. It put me off reading classics for years. (I have often been puzzled by people pushing Wuthering Heights at young girls. Far from being a romantic hero, Heathcliff is a murderer, domestic abuser and the desecrater of Cathy's grave! I can only assume they're remembering the bowdlerised Laurence Olivier film). Even some classic children's books such as Little Women and What Katy Did may not be appropriate: we tend to forget that they were the Young Adult books of their time.

So, my fiction suggestions.

1. Historical fiction. Rosemary Sutcliff's books for younger readers, such as The Armourer's House, and Cynthia Harnett's The Wool Pack, are wonderful. There is a lovely blogpost on The Wool Pack from DoveGreyReader here. Elizabeth Goudge's The Little White Horse was my favourite as a child, and recommended to those who like their history with some fantasy; equally Joan Aiken's Wolves of Willoughby Chase series. Good readers have their comprehension skills challenged as they have to think carefully about the historical background.

2. Fantasy fiction, carefully chosen, may be a good option. Eva Ibbotson's fantasy fiction for younger children and Diana Wynne Jones' Chrestomanci series are good options, as well as the first three Harry Potter novels. (Some parents may consider that the later ones are not appropriate for their children; some will not be unduly upset, but others may find them frightening, as well as very long!) I particularly enjoyed Lucinda Hare's Dragonsdome Chronicles novels last year, which combine the close relationship between children and animals that I enjoyed in pony books as a child.

3 Animal stories, such as those by Michael Morpurgo, Dick King-Smith and Lauren St John are very enjoyable. Some parents may consider some of Michael Morpurgo's books too challenging for younger readers, but the synopses on the website should give a good indication for your children.

4. Classic children's books. The Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, Noel Streatfeild's novels (and children who enjoy them may like Lyn Gardner's Olivia books) and Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons may be enjoyed by younger readers. The narrative drive of the stories may over-ride the historical setting and unfamiliar language.

I hope that these suggestions are helpful; thank you to the tweeters named above for their suggestions which inspired this post!





10 comments:

  1. What a super post! And as luck would happen, when W's finished the Dutch book he's reading to M at the mo, I'm up with The Little White Horse! I didn't read it as a child, but on your recommendation picked it up, so am really looking forward to.

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  2. These are great recommendations and some I have never even heard of - I had no idea kids fiction had moved on so much! V excited to discover what GG is going to be into, if a bit scared! She spent her birthday Amazon vouchers yesterday on your recommendations and is practically waiting at the door for the postman! I am going to start a book review page written by her on my blog, so I will link up to you as relevant. Thanks again from @ActuallyMummy (not absolutely ;)

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  3. Good point! My attempt to read A Tale of Two Cities under the age of 10 was probably doomed and I still haven't read it... The Lord of the Rings was a good read though, nothing unsuitable but a satisfyingly adult level of writing.

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  4. Aah, so sorry, ActuallyMummy! Have corrected! Thank you all for your comments. I hope M likes The Little White Horse, Zoe. The Christian aspects are quite overt, but they don't overload the story for me. Juliette, I tried to read The Three Muskateers when I was 10 or 11, and have never tried again!

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  5. These are great suggestions. I have an almost 7 year old who reads several years ahead of his peers and finding appropriate books is always challenging.

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  6. Thank you for commenting! It can be very tricky. I remember reading What Katy Did, totally encouraged by my parents, aged 7 or 8-ish and learning some facts about Santa that I think my parents would have preferred me not to!

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  7. Great and valuable post. I certainly had this problem as a child. I loved Lord of the Rings at ten and Jane Austen at eleven... but struggled to find great reading matter... Are you British? as I recognize so many of your great suggestions. I read all the swallows and Amazons books aged around 8/9!

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  8. Your observations about reading hold true for the 12 year old crowd as well (I teach 6th. grade) - who often pick up books they clearly can read but can't process ("The Lovely Bones", for instance, which I just had a discussion about waiting a bit to read with one of my students!).

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  9. Thank you, Joanna and Tara. I am British, a Londoner. I have had this conversation with teaching students, Tara: it is not always about sexual or violent content, but often about ambiguities and concepts that the children simply aren't mature enough to process, don't you think?

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  10. Yeah, it always cracked me up when I worked in a bookstore and a parent would try to push a kid into getting "a classic" while they, of course, had a John Grisham or James Patterson bestseller under their arm.

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