I was conversing with a writer friend today, and the two of us were going back and forth about the vocabulary of a children's story. She felt the words were too advanced for the book's target age group, and I disagreed. This got me thinking about reading as a child and the lack of interesting books available to me. And it also had me pondering which one was a better measure for choosing literature for your child - reading level or age appropriateness.

Now, I don't mean that there weren't books. There were, and I was fortunate enough to come from a family that valued books and reading. All I ever had to do was express an interest in a book, and it was mine. That wasn't the problem. The problem was that I took so readily to reading that my reading level overshot my age by several years. This meant that books appropriate for my age and perceived maturity level were, simply put, boring. (The Dorrie books by Patricia Coombs were the exception.) I could swallow a book for my intended age group in a matter of minutes, and I wasn't allowed to read things my parents believed were too mature for me. This didn't dampen my love of reading, but it made for a good deal of conflict in my house. After all, when you love to read, but you can't get your hands on something interesting, you get a little cranky. (A lot of my love of writing came from having to write my own stories to make up for this deficit.)

I think this idea has always been in the back of my mind when I write for children. I don't stick to grade level words or sentence structure because I want to write books that are both age appropriate and interesting to more advanced readers. Trust me, when you're reading on a second or third grade level at age five, 'see Spot run' just doesn't cut it. You need to be challenged with words that have to be sounded out, and the story needs to have a little depth. The pictures are nice, but they really aren't all that necessary, and the book should take more than five minutes to read. Those were always my thoughts anyway. It wasn't until I hit my early teen years that I was finally able to get my hands on books that had multiple main characters and several subplots, things that made my reading heart soar.

When my own children came along I vowed that I wouldn't restrict their reading (except for Lysistrata, Candide, and maybe some of the Canterbury Tales - there's a line between allowing exploration and just being a bad parent), and I think they came out loving reading a little more because they were able to read books that held their interest rather than being restricted by what someone else said was age appropriate. Sure, there were times they had questions about what they read, and, yes, I think they sometimes chose books that were a bit too mature for them. But that was all part of their learning and growing processes, and I don't see damage in any of them by having that freedom.

With all this in mind, I believe that 1) there should be more age appropriate books for higher level readers, and 2) if you want your child to love to read, give him/her something worth reading, even if it seems like it's a bit too mature. You can always read it first and make sure it isn't too mature.




Best wishes.