When I was a kid, there was no internet. Cable was brand new. Both my parents worked. My brother and I spent our days during the summer at our grandparents’ house, which was down the block from our house. My grandmother was a life-long reader. She loved James Harriot, Agatha Christie, and Jean Auel. She gave me Clan of the Cavebear when I was a teenager and it scarred me for life. We lived not too far (walking distance) to the local branch of our public library. I had a library card and went at least once a weeks. Starting around 5th grade, I was allowed to go alone. I came home with interesting books.
I read Baa Baa Blacksheep about Pappy Boyington and the Flying Tigers during WWII about ten times. I loved that book. The adventure and history. And the flying. This was about the time my grandfather took me to see The Right Stuff. So I read that. I re-read To Kill A Mockingbird. I checked out every Agatha Christie book I could get my hands on. I read The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. It was until I read it as an adult that I fully understood it.
When I was 15 or 16, I took my dad’s copy of the RFK Must Die by Robert Blair Kaiser from the bookshelf. He caught me with it and took it away. He said I was too young to read it. (Which, I wasn’t, but I got the last laugh because I read it behind his back by getting it from the library.) I then checked a copy of Helter Skelter out of the library. My mother saw me reading it. She had a different approach than my dad. She said I could read it if I wanted, but it would scare the crap out of me and give me nightmares. And she was so right. That book haunted me for years.
Fast forward. I have a son. He’s about to turn 18. When he was in 5th grade, he wanted to read The Hunger Games. It came home with a permission slip. So I told him I needed to read it first. He ended up not waiting for me. Then he lied about having read it before me, so he got grounded. For lying. Let me be clear. He did not get grounded for reading a book (which both he and my father will tell you was the case). It wasn’t until very recently that I realized I did to him what my father did to me. Except he got caught reading it behind my back. I have to laugh. My son isn’t much of a reader now (which I blame AR for), but I don’t edit what he reads. He is smart. I know he gets it.
So other than when children are really small, I have a hard time when people say certain books aren’t “age appropriate.” That’s a cop out to me. I think each child is different in their level of maturity, understanding, and vocabulary. Some kids can handle more adult information than others.
I am not worse off for having read The Spy Who Came In From The Cold when I didn’t really understand it. It just made me re-read it later. And appreciate it more. I never read at my grade level so making me read books at my grade level would have totally sucked for me. To this day, I read whatever I feel like reading. If it’s a YA book, fine. If it’s Ulysses, fine. I go where my mood takes me. Kids should get to do the same (with some exceptions, naturally.)