Parent Question: My 12-year-old child is reading at an advanced level. Many of the books at her reading level do not present appropriate content. How can I find reading material for her that is appropriate both in challenge and in content?
Expert Answer: You are not alone. The question arises in the elementary years, but it comes to the fore in middle school. The problem is the discrepancy between the child’s intellectual and her social and emotional development. She can read the words, but does she understand the content? Is her imagination so lively that she creates mental images of violent scenes that are overwhelming to her? Is her knowledge of human sexuality sufficient to prepare her for what she might find in a book written for adults or older teens?
You may want to provide her with advanced nonfiction for challenging reading experiences but limit the fiction she reads to her age level. Booklists for gifted children, like those on Hoagies’ Gifted Education page, suggest appropriate material in all genres. In my book, Some of My Best Friends Are Books , you will find over 300 books selected with gifted readers in mind. However, I recommend that you evaluate whatever she chooses to read according to your own criteria, since you know your child best.
To begin, find books with suitable content, then select those that will challenge your child.
Selecting for Content
To learn which books experts in children’s literature recommend, consult these resources:
- The librarian at your child’s school.
- Librarians in the children’s and young adult sections of your public library. Encourage your daughter to make friends with at least one librarian, who will gladly recommend appropriate books.
- Books about children’s and young adult literature in the reference section of your public library.
- Journals such as Booklist , School Library Journal , and Hornbook that review juvenile literature. These journals can be found in your public library, but you may have to ask for access to them, since the staff typically uses them to purchase new books.
- The American Library Association Web site. Go to www.ala.org, click on “Our Association” and then “Divisions,” and look for ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children) and YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association). Both pages have links to books considered suitable for the age ranges given, but you will still want to decide for yourself which ones will challenge your reader.
Selecting for Challenge
When you examine a book from one of these sources, read several pages or a chapter. Look for special characteristics of language, style, plot, and setting.
- The language should make demands on your child’s vocabulary. Keep an eye out for descriptive words that stimulate visual imagery. If the language patterns are those of another country or another time, so much the better; your child will be challenged to infer meaning from the context.
- Style refers to the use of literary devices such as metaphor, allusion, and symbol. These require the reader to create some of the meaning and will stretch your child’s perception.
- Seek plots structured in thought-provoking ways. Look for flashbacks, narration that switches from one character to another, and stories that end without a definite resolution. These devices cause the reader to examine a situation from different perspectives.
- The setting can be anywhere—in the real world or in the imagination—or at any time. By reading books that span a wide range of settings, your child can experience ways of living that she may never encounter in her own life. So encourage her to look for books that branch out beyond contemporary American life at least some of the time.
By using these guidelines, you can help your child find appropriate reading material without having to read every book yourself. But I hope that you will occasionally join her in reading the same book, both for your own enjoyment and for the pleasure of the conversation you can have with her afterward.
—Judith Wynn Halsted, MS
Judith Wynn Halsted recently retired from her work as an educational consultant in Traverse City, Michigan. Author of Some of My Best Friends Are Books, second edition (Great Potential, 2002), she has worked with gifted children for over 35 years as an educator, librarian, counselor, and parent.