I have a friend with two elementary school boys. They are both extraordinarily bright. The older one is quiet about it, the younger is noisier with less self control (though he’s younger so I don’t think the comparison is reasonable except that it is only possible for me to compare them in the now).
Anyway, the younger one just finished second grade. However, on the standardized tests, he scored at twelfth grade reading level. 12. Seriously, the boys have excellent vocabularies and they enjoy reading. I love that sometimes they don’t want to obey because they are too busy reading or want to bring their books to the table. This is awesome.
But what do you give a second grader to read when he’s reading at high school level? What has interesting, complicated vocabulary and structure but doesn’t have sex, drugs, death and violence?
I think the boys have both read Harry Potter but I’m not sure the younger read all of them. So let’s set the bar at Harry Potter 3 and consider what else might be good.
Many of the books I can think of I read as an adult… Lemony Snicket was fun, up to about book five where it started to go off the rails. Very nice vocab, engaging but convoluted plots. The Chronicles of Narnia were pretty spiffy though I’m not sure how far I got.
I suppose anything published before 1950 has a good chance of mild themes. Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew. Oh, and Mark Twain, Sherlock Holmes are free in ebooks. But those feel a little like school books. How to get them to stay fun?
There are some new books that are supposed to be good (at least according to my Goodreads recommendations)- Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, How to Train Your Dragon. This is such an interesting problem. And I love books so much. But I kind of have a lousy memory for details about them. I thought The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would be good but my husband says no, really no. And yet I cannot recall what about it would be in appropriate to an eight year old. Sure the whole Earth buys it but that is incidental to the story. (And Lemony Snicket is way more macabre.)
Speaking of macabre, Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book was fantastic. Not too scary, really a great book. It won an award… The Newbery Medal. I bet all those are fantastic. Everything on that list that I’ve read has been pretty amazing.
I also mentioned to my friend that nonfiction wouldn’t have theme issues. And if they can get addicted to reading facts, well, they will start acing everything else real soon. I don’t remember when I read Flatworld but I recall thinking it must be a secret book that would change the way everyone thought of mathematics once it was discovered. Stephen and Lucy Hawking just put out some children’s books about physics, modern physics. I bet those are neat. I kinda want to read them myself.
Back to fiction, though. I read Among Others last year. It is up for a Hugo award now and will be my choice for winner. I joined the Hugo voting partially so I could vote for that, partially because the number of excellent books I got for $75 was so very worth it.
Anyway, Among Others is a book about a girl adjusting to the loss of her twin sister, dealing with a dysfunctional family, and finding solace in sci-fi books. Trust me when I say the Hugo folks like the last bit the best. The book was written by someone who clearly loves books. That was my favorite part. I kept wanting to ask the heroine whether she’d considered this book or that one.
I like to talk about books, compare notes. But I’m not part of a book club as I don’t like having to read something, it just sucks the fun from it. And I’m only an intermittent GoodReads user because I don’t like how it totals up the book, making me look addicted to the written word. There is no truth in that, I very seldom go through more than a book a day.
Maybe I should volunteer to read the books for my friend’s kids. I wouldn’t mind a summer spent reading children’s books. At least I can save them from Where the Red Fern Grows (bait and switch!) and Bridge to Terabithia (ditto) and Little Women (just ugh).
I bet Emma wishes she’d never mentioned it. She was probably (rightfully) bragging about her brilliant children and never intended that I “help”. Snicker. I wonder if they’d like… hmm… so many options…