State of the Stacks: Too Soon Edition

As a child, reading is a constant period of transitions. A kid usually starts with someone reading picture or board books to them. From there, they might try to tackle wordier texts like easy readers and chapter books. Before long, there’s a pull for longer stories with more complex plots, and that’s when middle grade novels kick in. And as they grow and develop as readers, young adult works wait for them before they drift into the wild and untamed world of adult books.

Of course, every reader is different and, just because a kid moves toward a different style of book, it doesn’t mean they can’t return to an old, trusted format. So while each type of book represents a door for readers, it’s an open one— one they can pass back and forth to suit their moods. It’s how adults can still find joy in picture books.

However, though reading should be based on personal needs and self-selection, there’s always a chance they stumble into something they’re not ready for.


Too Soon

Sixth grade represented a massive reading transition for me, though not by choice. I was just becoming interested in middle grade novels and, after devouring what was available in the Harry Potter series, I moved on to similar works. It’s how I came across The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland, a retelling of the King Arthur legend during pre-knight years.

Swords. Magic. Feudal hierarchy. Everything I wanted in a book.

However, me teacher at the time strictly adhered to Accelerated Reader (AR), a controversial monitoring program that measures reading levels. And according to AR, The Seeing Stone was slightly below my reading level— something my teacher thought was very important to explain to the entire class. Several times.

Side note: Calling an eleven-year-old out repeatedly for reading a book isn’t great.

Thoroughly chastened, but totally buying into the idea of reading levels like a ‘good student’, I sought out what I considered ‘harder’ stories. In the school library, I gravitated toward the classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, Candide, and Animal Farm. Plots no longer mattered. I picked books that I knew would look surprising for an eleven-year-old to read. Bonus points if it was a translation.

And so on a school field trip to a local mall, when Borders was still in business, I saw a green face on an outward-facing cover and instantly felt a pull.Wicked: The Life and Time of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. To be fair, considering how obsessed I was with The Wizard of Oz as a child, I probably would have purchased it anyway. However, there was an added benefit of it being a 400 page adult novel.

As I read the first section, I knew I was experiencing something well beyond my understanding. Violence. Sex. Political turmoil. A complex examination of good and evil wrapped in a fairy tale. But I kept going, reading on about familiar characters like Glinda and The Wizard and flying monkeys who were flesh and blood compared to their L. Frank Baum original counterparts.

No doubt, I read Maguire’s novel before I was ready for it. It pushed me into a world I realized I knew nothing about— a fairy tale that pushed me away from the safety of fairy tales. Yet there’s perhaps no other book from my childhood that shaped my outlook likeWicked. I was certainly riveted by every page, even if I didn’t quite understand why at the time.

What about you? What’s a book you read well before you were ready?


Stack Chat

After holding back from requesting new books to review, I received four new titles through Edelweiss— and most of them have reviews ‘due’ very soon. Thankfully, I’m in a nonfiction mood.

  • Antisocial: Only Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation by Andrew Marantz
  • Health Justice Now: Single Payer and What Comes Next by Tim Faust
  • Major Misconduct: The Human Cost of Fighting in Hockey by Jeremy Allingham
  • Shepherd by Catherine Jinks

Publication Day

Two books reviewed here on Plucked from the Stacks celebrated their Publication Day this week. That means they’re officially out in the wild and you can snag your own copies at stores and libraries everywhere.


Reading About Books

If you’re not reading a book, the next best thing is reading about books. Here’s a selection of bookish news and essays I enjoyed this week:

  • Jennifer Walter reports on new research that suggests our brains might have already settled the ‘Do audiobooks count as reading?’ debate.
  • Joseph Hayes explores public fear, infectious disease, and ‘The Great Book Scare’ for Smithsonian.

That’s that— the State of the Stacks.

14 thoughts on “State of the Stacks: Too Soon Edition

  1. Teachers calling students out (in front of the class? wtf?) for reading is just so counterintuitive. What a weird thing to single you out for. I vaguely remember Accelerated Reader but not what it was intended to do, exactly. I’m glad you ended up finding something that was so influential and significant for you even if you weren’t quite ready for it then!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s a wild thing to do but, on reflection, I realized it was fairly common in my school district— at least in the pre-high school years. But you’re absolutely right. Why shame someone’s reading choices in a setting that’s all about personal growth? (Well, why shame reading choices at all, but that’s a whole other can of worms…)

      Like

  2. As a librarian, it bothers me to no end when parents come in asking for books at a specific AR or Lexile level. Twice recently I’ve had “my child is reading books that are too easy” conversations. Let the kid read what they want! Better an “easy” book they’ll actually read than a harder book they won’t.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Shame on your misguided teacher. I do wonder if she looks back and has any regrets. Kudos to you for figuring out a way to cope.

    I read Alice in Wonderland when I was very young, maybe eight years old because, at the time, well meaning adults thought it was a children’s book. All of the themes are adult level and I don’t think this should be introduced to children under 13 years old. But that’s just me😏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a really interesting point! Understandably, all educators make mistakes at some point, but the deliberate shaming of reading choices (and plenty of other students dealt with this) is pretty major.

      And that’s a good one! There are a lot of classics out there that are shifted onto children’s shelves based on nostalgia without a thought, but some contain themes that don’t mesh with most members of younger age groups anymore.

      Like

  4. My blood boils whenever I hear a teacher telling a child they shouldn’t read a book because it is below their reading ability. Too f’n bad. Let kids read and encourage them. It brings the whole argument to light about adults reading YA. If someone likes a book , wants to read a book, then get excited for them. Sorry, climbing off my high horse now.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Being a retired teacher and teacher/librarian, I get a bit passionate when kids want to read something and are told no. You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to get teachers to let kids read graphic novels. In their eyes, “comic books” are not reading.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I enjoyed your essay so much. I’m calling it an essay because it really is so much more than a blog post. You are spot on with your developmental assessment of readers. I have mixed feelings about AR. If used correctly it is a useful tool, but your experiences highlight the dangers of insensitive use. I join the other commenters in my outrage against your ridiculing teacher. Obviously you were a teacher pleaser. (It takes one to know one.) For one less devoted to reading and books, that reading put down would have been an end to any reading for pleasure. Competition and test scores have become the holy grail to the detriment of reading and learning for the sheer pleasure.

    I love to read. Plain and simple. Packing for a move takes me forever as I skim newspaper pages before I wrap each item. I learned a lot of Spanish words by reading signs in MX. If it’s printed, I read it. I love children’s books all the way through adult books. Everything is on the table. I just picked up a book called A Pleasure in Words that examines “the origins and meanings of thousands of words.” Free! At a thrift shop that found that was the only way to move donated books.

    I have never read Wicked, but I would be innocently attracted to it as well because of the childhood Oz connection. My early reading choice that I regret was a novel that I have no idea where it came from or what it was called. I was a very naive middle schooler and it had a rape scene. I was much too young for that. I was not ready for the images imprinted on my immature brain. I did learn a valuable lesson about evaluating books for appropriateness before choosing them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so, so much for your kind words. And ‘teacher pleaser’ is such a wonderfully succinct way of putting it— that was certainly my entire persona for most of my early academic career! Glad to know that you can empathize.

      There really is nothing simpler than a love of reading. If you love to read, you’re pretty much always doing it. Which is usually a positive, unless you get distracted by a fascinating article or sit down JUST to read one chapter— next thing you know, it’s two hours later and you’re halfway through Don Quixote or something. I love your line about packing to move. It’s poetic! And what an extraordinary find. Sounds like a case of a book finding the right person.

      All of this, but particularly your experience, has me thinking about the seemingly ever-present debate of censorship when it comes to children and young adult reading. I’m generally of the mindset that kids self-censor. They understand what they’re ready for. But there are always cases when they come across something well beyond their preparation, as in your case, and it’s difficult. I equate it to a spell being broken. Everything changes when we learn something that harsh about the world. But at least it didn’t hamper your reading mindset.

      And thank you for reblogging this. It was something I had been wanting to write about for some time, so thank you for taking the time to read and share it.

      Liked by 1 person

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