January 30, 2015
By Ekta R. Garg
Last Wednesday I asked Eight to work on the grammar and spelling homework her teacher had assigned to make up for missing school this week during our Hawaii trip. After a couple of false starts, Eight had no problem zipping through her math homework. But she complained through all of her grammar and spelling pages.
Her whining surprised me. Typically Eight has loved grammar and spelling. In fact, before the marathon math homework session we did to get ready for the Hawaii trip, I would have said she had the inverse relationship with her main homework subjects: math equaled whining and grammar and spelling equaled sighs of relief.
Clearly something had changed, however, if she’d begun working through triple-digit multiplication without so much as a peep and contractions and helping verbs would make her roll her eyes and protest—loudly—from the dining room, her designated homework spot.
My husband and I talked about it afterward.
“It’s kind of weird,” I told him. “She never used to complain about her grammar pages before.”
“She’s also started reading less at night time,” he told me. Because he and the girls’ grandfather have the exclusive responsibility of taking the kids through their bedtime routine, they see more of what Eight and Six are reading these days.
“It’s kind of like she’s not really interested in her books anymore,” he added.
I nodded. “Maybe she needs something more challenging to read.”
“Maybe bigger books,” he said.
This made me hesitate. We’ve known for more than a year now that Eight is an advanced reader. As I thought about it, though, I realized he was right. At one time Eight used to talk about books constantly. She would often bring books with her to the dining table at breakfast or start reading the minute she woke up on the weekends, even before she brushed her teeth.
She hadn’t done those things for a while. So the answer was obvious: Eight needed harder books to read. But the part that made me hesitate was this: if she’d whipped through the books at her own age level and even those one or two grades ahead of her, what was there left to read?
“I don’t know,” I said to my husband. “Middle grade books can get a little iffy at times.”
I got a semi-blank look from him, but I ignored it for the moment.
“The content starts to get into a little bit of a gray area,” I explained, and I gave him an example of a middle-grade book that I’d really enjoyed and thought about passing on to Eight until a single paragraph toward the end made me wonder twice about it. I may still let her read it, but I’d rather think long and hard about it first.
In any case our conversation ended there. But I decided to go to Eight next.
“[Eight], do you feel like the books you’re reading are okay for you?”
“Well,” she started, adopting a diplomatic tone, “they’re fine, they’re fun and everything, but I feel like they’re too short. It’s like I’m reading and then it’s done. I like books that are longer, like Mister Max.”
She meant the Mister Max books, a wonderful trilogy by Cynthia Voigt. Eight and I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books, and the third one will come out on September 8, 2015 (if you want to read my reviews of the first book you can go here to learn more about them. If any of you parents have young avid readers who enjoy adventure and books with a sense of humor, these books are definitely for those readers.)
“So are the Mister Max books long enough?” I asked.
She bobbed her head. “Yes, they’re definitely long enough.”
My mind went to the section of my shelf that holds the Harry Potter series. Is Eight old enough for those books yet?
Now, before I get a whole slew of emails from you regular readers telling me I’m overthinking this, let me explain my thoughts here. I discovered Harry Potter in my early twenties as a graduate student at Northwestern. I lived in Evanston at the time, and I remember walking to the local bookstore and picking up a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in paperback. By that time I’d heard enough about the hype around these books (that J.K. Rowling was still writing at the time) that my curiosity had gotten piqued.
I started the book and got sucked in like the majority of the other people who have read it. A few days later I marched right back down to the bookstore and bought all the books available up until that point. I bought them in hardback, which just about broke my arm by the time I got them back to my apartment, but I didn’t care. I just had to know what would happen to Harry and his friends next.
I still believe Harry and Co. created a reading revolution, and I loved all the books. But Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Book 5, scared the daylights out of me. The final showdown in that book kept me up for a while at night. And Harry gets old enough to have a romantic relationship.
I realize that with all the stuff kids see on TV these days that Harry’s exploits may not even make Eight bat an eye. But even though she’s getting older, more articulate, more thoughtful, and more mature, a part of me wants to keep that little girl part of her around. I don’t know if I’m ready for a child this old, this articulate, this thoughtful, this mature. And if I know about content that might possibly bother her or give her ideas ahead of her maturity level, isn’t it my job as her parent to protect her from those ideas or steer her away from them?
I really don’t know. I’ve met several parents who have let their children read Harry Potter at a younger age. It’s possible I’m holding Eight back from books that she would definitely enjoy. But what about the content? At the speed this child reads, it’s almost impossible for me to read everything she does. Or do I just need to slow down her reading—by giving her longer books—to give me a chance to catch up?
I know that in today’s world some would say I shouldn’t censor Eight’s reading at all, but you can go ahead, snort in derision, and call me old-fashioned. I have certain values and principles I want to teach my children, and as long as those principles and values don’t hurt others I believe it’s my responsibility as a parent to teach them through all the media available to me. Including—maybe especially—books.
Maybe I should start with Harry Potter. I haven’t re-read them in ages, and all seven books are on the shelf. Given that I review so many books, for all age levels, it should also be easy—well, easier—for me find books for this advanced reader of mine.
If anyone reading this Chart has ideas for—yes, I’m going to say it—clean middle grade books, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I’ve reviewed some, but I’d love to get more names.