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.
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?
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
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.