I begin my day by reading a children's book with my morning cup of coffee. I have come to realise that it is a great way to begin a day. Having thoroughly enjoyed Anushka Ravishankar's Moin and the Monster for the second time, I needed something equally interesting and entertaining for my next read. While browsing through the children's section at the library for my next children's book to read, I overheard a conversation between a parent and child. The child must have been around 12 years of age and wanted to pick up a couple of books from the Geronimo Stilton series. The parent was visibly disturbed by the child's choice and went on to tell him that he must pick books that suit his age. Then she went on to tell him how her friend's son read those while he was around 8 or 9 years of age and has now moved on to more text heavy books written for his age. The boy looked put off and then said, "Ok, what should I read?" The parent pulled out the first book in the Harry Potter series and pushed it into his hand.
Does it matter that this reader did not get a chance to choose the book that he wants to read?
The boy clearly loved reading Geronimo Stilton. Perhaps he enjoyed unwinding with books from this series that are not only informative but also funny. A place that was perhaps a "go to" place after a long stressful day might just have got a little disturbed. One, his reading preferences were being judged. Two, he was being compared with another boy of his age who clearly had different reading preferences.
From the parent's perspective, she was simply ensuring that her child could read books suited to his age so that he will be well versed in English and would be able to therefore communicate well in English. Her reference point was her friend's child who in all probability spoke better English than her own son. The parent's concern and effort to help her son is totally justified and even relatable to many of us, as parents. We continuously strive to do what seems right and provide as many opportunities as possible to enable our children to grow.
Age group on books are simply an indicator for content suitability
Age group is indicated on books to enable parents/teachers to gauge if the content in the book is suitable for the age group they are focussing on. For instance the Diary of the Wimpy Kid series is easy to read but one can argue that it is not suitable for children below the age 9 to read, simply because they would be unable to appreciate many situations in the book. An eight year old at the Young Readers' Club once complained that the Diary of the Wimpy Kid has no starting and no ending and is hardly a delightful read. That came as a stark contrast to all the Panchatantra tales and other stories that he had grown accustomed to reading that typically began as "Once upon a time" and ended with a perfect ending and even a moral. Although reading the book itself wasn't difficult, the content itself was hard for him to relate to. Similarly, a marvelous book such as Our Nana Was A Nut Case by Ranjit Lal cannot be appreciated by an 8 year old the way a 13 year old would enjoy. This is the case simply because the plot as well as the content will be better understood by a teenager who has also grown in maturity and is a likely to be more aware of many more things than an 8 year old.
Why shouldn't the older kids read books written for younger kids if they choose to?
It is so natural to assume that since the stories written for younger children tend to be simpler and less text heavy, the quality of English may not be right. Or your worry could be in the lines of being older they should no longer use pictures as crutches to read books. Valid concerns indeed.
Providing access to a large variety of books to choose from eventually leads to a combination of books being read. No child likes to read the same kind of books. They too like a bit of variety. 13 year old Vivaan* (name changed to protect privacy) used to survive on only Geronimo Stilton as a part of his reading diet for a long time before moving on to the Diary of the Wimpy Kid phase and then on to a major exploratory phase where in he tried David Walliams, Onjali Rauf, Ross Welford etc and even went on to read the Douglas Adam series. Books by Douglas Adams are fun to read but can get pretty intense especially for a teenager. But he chose to keep at it not because an adult told him to. The same child also reads Marvel comics extensively. He has been reading extensively ever since he learnt to read fluently. He was always given a choice to pick books that he wanted to read. Book store/library visits would see him return with comics sometimes, picture books at times and sometimes even thick volumes of history books since he loves reading history.
Reading books to unwind in free time must also have free choice without any rules or expectations. Children are always wanting to play. Ever wondered why? Simply because,
there is no pressure at all. Just as they learn a lot about empathy towards others, working with others in teams, understanding different kinds of friends and so on while playing, all of which are essential life skills learnt through play, the skills that reading offer are best delivered when reading is also like play.
Tired of buying books? Access to a good library can take the stress off you as a parent and your child. Pick a book, give it a try, not liking it, return and pick another. Experimenting with a variety of books to zero in on one's preferred genres is the key to raising readers for life. Looking for a library? Our blogpost Want to Raise A Reader? contains an exhaustive list of libraries that make your life even easier by delivering books of your choice at your doorstep. If you don't find one in your city, then there are options that deliver all over India.
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