“He’s ten but he reads at a high school level.”
“She reads way above her grade level.”
If I had $10 for every time a parent tells me about his or her child’s advanced reading skills, I’d be driving a much newer car. Selecting books for these hungry young readers can be as challenging as selecting books for reluctant readers. Rather than make a beeline for the young adult section for your ten-year-old prodigy, talk to a children’s bookseller. Here are some of the things we can advise you on:
1. “Not age appropriate” doesn’t just mean the teenaged characters in young adult fiction may be engaged in [ahem] mature behavior. A good rule of thumb is that kids are mostly interested in reading about characters who are just a couple of years ahead of them, because those are characters your child can relate to. Your smart fifth-grade kid may be able to read Tolstoy, but would she really get much out of it? Likewise, if the characters in a young adult novel are 12 or 13, chances are it may be a good fit, in terms of content, for your 10 or 11-year old. If the characters are 17 or 18, maybe not so much. And bear in mind, just because a book is categorized as young adult fiction doesn’t mean it’s harder to read than a middle grade novel. Some young adult fiction is complex and sophisticated in structure or style, some is very straightforward. Your advanced reader might be more engaged by something nuanced from the middle grade category than by a mainstream teen drama or dystopian saga.
2. Look to the classics. Books that were written more than fifty years ago typically have a different pace and a different vocabulary than contemporary middle grade fiction; they require more concentration to read and thus take longer to work through. I liken this to listening to talk radio with the volume turned down low - you really have to focus to follow what’s being said. Pro tip: some classics shelter outdated racist or sexist paradigms within their pages, but this offers great opportunities for conversation at the dinner table.
3. Don’t forget about nonfiction. From biography and how-to, to science and poetry, the nonfiction section offers lots of great fuel for a voracious young reader. Ask a bookseller for recommendations on the best-reviewed and award-winning nonfiction designed for maximum appeal.