Is this Age Appropriate Reading?

Following up on my post about gendered books and reading, I want to write about age appropriate reading.

First off, I do acknowledge some books are definitely more appropriate for certain age groups, but perhaps the way we label books as “age appropriate” becomes not redundant, but hazy when children begin to discover their reading levels and maturity after they have learnt to read on their own.

Certainly as a younger child, I wasn’t reading things like Dracula, Sense and Sensibility or Dostoevsky, yet I always did read above my grade level a little. At age nine, I ventured into The Neverending Story, encouraged by my librarian to give it a go despite the length. I defeated it. Needless to say, nothing has stopped me then in reading what I felt ready for when I was ready for it.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I often hear people asking or read about them asking what book they can buy for, as an example, their ten-year-old son. My reaction is initially to ask what that child’s reading level is, and from there, to suggest taking him to a bookstore or library and see what he naturally gravitates towards. Why? Because not every boy of ten will read at the same level or necessarily enjoy the same sort of books.

I think it is an ugly generalisation to assume all tween and teen girls will like these disgusting vampire romances that infiltrate the bookstores. Just because some do, doesn’t mean they all do or that they all read at that level. This has just as much to do with gender, and to me they can go hand in hand.

Maturity, I think, plays a big part in how we understand what we read. If somebody is young but has a high maturity level and reading level, is it right to say to him or her “Oh you’re only fourteen, you can only read the books aimed at fourteen year olds.” What if that boy or girl doesn’t like what is available for their age level? This is something I sometimes found as a teenager, which caused problems as I loved to read and I often re-read favourites until  I could find something new and interesting.

All readers, regardless of age, I think, but maybe it happens more when you’re a child, go through phases of testing out genres or series, trying to find what they like. I heard once, in an English literature tutorial, from a mother with two sons, that the older one read at a lower level than the younger one. This just proves my point.

Furthermore, the limiting of someone reading something based on age, or indeed gender sometimes doesn’t make sense to me. If somebody is perhaps a little younger than the target audience but has the capacity to understand the book, whatever the book might be, should they not be given a chance to read it, and if unable to, put it aside until they are ready to try again? Or do we just want to force everyone into having the same reading levels regardless of how they comprehend things?

I do not have an easy answer to this except to say the only person who can judge if you are ready for a book is you, and I certainly started doing this at about age nine. It will be different for everyone. Yes you can ask advice but ultimately, I think if you find yourself able to pick up a book, regardless of age or gender and think about reading it, then you can give it a go if you like and judge from there if you are ready.

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