The other day a Year 4 student told me she was reading Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta. The book, written for older readers, tells the story of a 17 year-old girl and involves a character who commits suicide. The themes of the book are not out of the realm of a 9 year-old – friendship, belonging, even suicide – but the book is categorised as young adult fiction. So the question needs to be asked, just because they can read the book, does it mean they should? Finding books that interest highly capable readers is definitely a challenge, but not an insurmountable one.
In schools we consider readers in two categories. There are those learning to read, usually in the infants school and those reading to learn, usually in the primary school.
For children who are reading to learn, choose books that feed their interests, follow a loved author, theme or topic. Maybe they love comedy or cooking, science, sport or Minecraft? Encourage them to read books like Charlotte’s Web and Seven Little Australians which are classics for a reason. If you do plan to allow your nine year-old to read Looking for Alibrandi, then read it as well, so that your conversations can explore the themes. Just like in book club, these conversations are simply that, a discussion about the book, not a study of the text. Really give them permission to read for the sheer and utter pleasure of the task.
In my experience I see parents rushing the learning to read. I once taught a little boy whose mother told me he was on a level 15 when he arrived in Kindergarten, (this is really high!) and at a level of decoding he was. When I read with him, he often skipped whole lines because he didn’t understand the core purpose of what he was doing, and that was fine, he was only 5. He was not reading to make meaning from the text. I encouraged him to go wide, to build his skill and understanding of the purpose of reading. It is really important to remember that reading is not about decoding, it is about comprehending and making sense of what we read. It is about connecting that reading to our own lives and bringing that context to it. It is about building knowledge and wisdom for life. Some of the deepest and most powerful books we read are picture books. It is through talk, through sharing our responses and thoughts that we deepen their knowledge and skill as a reader.
If your young child is a strong reader, don’t get caught up in reading levels. Get caught up in the story, the humour, the sadness, the joy, the excitement, and the fun. Look for the inferred messages in the story, messages about relationship, friendship, love, challenge, conservation, resilience, acceptance.
Anything by Anthony Brown is worth a read, make sure you’ve shared everything by Pamela Allen and Mem Fox. Recently, Shaun Tan has given us Cicada with themes of discrimination and equity. Have you and your family read books shortlisted by the Children’s Book Council of Australia this year? Readers both young and old should have exposure to these and other wonderful authors and titles. And they need to talk with you about what they read…yep, a family book club of sorts.
In nearly all suburbs there is a place, where not only are books free to use, they are backed by a book expert, the librarian. Speak with your school or local librarian and encourage your budding reader to do the same. They are a wealth of knowledge on themes, authors and titles and are really well placed to support you in finding the right books for your child. If you want to go it alone, my librarian friends tell me they use Common Sense Media to choose books. I’ve linked you to the Books For Teens review section for your reference.
The following list might help you in finding the right books,
Follow an author
Read the classics
Historical fiction – http://www.jackiefrench.com/
Follow Better Reading Kids, who will keep you abreast of new titles and authors to help you and your child to make your choices.
Books and stories open the doors to family conversations and life learning. The key to ensuring your children are reading appropriate titles and themes is for you to know what they are reading. The Program for International Assessment (PISA – these are the people who rank educational outcomes across countries) tell us that parents and carers reading with and talking to their children about social and political issues are key factors in academic success. So next time you read Clive Eats Alligators have a conversation about diversity.