Setting: January 26th. Mother Daughter Book Event at the Flintridge Bookstore.
Our characters: One very excited young writer, aged 8. Mom, another writer, as her partner.
“Mommy, am I really going to meet writers?”
“And we can buy the books they wrote?”
"Yeah, this is the best day ever.” (She usually says this about four times a week.)
Don’t say yes to buying books unless you know they are going to be a match for your child’s emotional level.
We sit at our first table with Jenn Resse, author of Above World. She has miniature sea horses as her giveaway and book markers Victoria is in heaven and is mesmerized listening to Jenn speak about her book. Victoria wants to buy it.
I say yes. Are you kidding? I want to read it as well.
|Miniature Sea Horses|
And yet, she has tackled books like Hugo Cabret, the entire Harry Potter Series and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, along with classics like Matilda, Rikki Tikki Tavi, and Black Beauty.
I figure why not. But something about Jenn’s book upsets her. And nothing about the story is any scarier than what she’s tackled already.
“What’s wrong sweetie?” My husband snuggles next to her at bedtime to calm my very distraught daughter.
“The book was scary. Aluna almost got eaten by the Great White. And her friend was dead.” My daughter cries silently.
“But honey, you know it’ make believe. It’s just a story. Just like in Harry Potter and all the tragedies that happened to him.”
“But I was sad when those things happened too, like when George is killed by Bellatrix Lestrange.”
Emotional level vs reading level. Hmmm.
My husband and I talked that night. So why would or how could Above World frighten her so? I think she really connected with Aluna from the first word on the first page, maybe more than in other stories. I read the first page and felt Aluna’s power. She was as real to me as she was to Victoria. Jenn’s writing is smooth and rich and it can’t help but pull you in.
I was hesitant to have her read the Harry Potter series, even though it’s a favorite of my husband’s and mine, (Our son’s middle name is Harry- no joke and no accident; my daughter’s is Anne for Anne of Green Gables- can you see a theme here?), but she was hooked and there was no stopping Victoria, so against my better judgment, and with a lot of supervision and discussion, we allowed her and her twin brother to finish the series. Victoria was very upset after she finished reading Book 7 and asked me if I was going to die.
A question I wish I didn't have to answer.
After her sad night with Aluna and Above World, I decided it was time to step back in time a bit when things were a different kind of exciting and scary. I suggested Caddie Woodlawn, The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Pollyanna, The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, Nancy Drew, etc. My daughter was furious.
“Mommy, I am fine. I am not scared now. We bought the books. I should get to read them.”
Mind you, she had been our guest blogger on Pen and Ink that week and I had allowed her to hand out my cards with her named penciled in.
“I have to read Above World, please!”
I said, “Not right now. I want you to read a few other books first and work your way up to this one.”
I figured that would allow her emotional reading level a chance to breathe and recoup from some very adventurous and sad stories. She proceeded to go back to reading Dr. Seuss and any picture book she could find as if to say, “If I can’t read Above World, then I won’t read anything difficult.”
Ahhhh, parenting, it’s such a fun thing, isn’t it? But, you know, I don’t regret my decision. I think she got a bit ahead of herself and she needed time to let her soul catch up to her brain.
My best advice is to know your child. Until now, I had never restricted titles, but being an expert in this field, (I’ve read everything in YA and below), I knew she was making good choices that she could handle. When Harry Potter became an interest, I thought well, let’s see how it goes. My daughter was on fire reading it, discussing it with me, and seemed to be handling it. But that was all on the surface.
“Honey, I know it is hard to understand, but you need to let your heart catch up to your brain. I will let you know when you can read your new titles.”
(My daughter also bought Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger that day.)
She passes the books on my bookshelf and runs her fingers over the cover, wistfully.
I know my young reader well. Get to know your young readers too and don’t always rely on reading level for appropriateness. Sometimes, you have to know the impact of the story before you say yes.
My mistake was that I hadn’t had time to read the story first before I said we could buy them. That same weekend, my daughter had bought Lin Oliver’s Almost Identical and Leslie Margolis’ Maggie Brooklyn Series. She finished each one in one night. I can’t pre-read most titles for her because she can out read me- oh to be a child without laundry duty.
|Victoria with Lin Oliver|
Reading is very personal and every reader has to find a connection, but those of us that are in a position to guide can do best by treating each reader as one, and helping guide them accordingly.
I learned a lot from this experience. I hope that it affords you some insight as well.