Choosing Age Appropriate Books

Choosing age appropriate books is often a difficult task for parents.

With so many choices, how do you know what the right book for your child is?

Add in the challenges of an advanced reader or tweens eager to read above their maturity level, and you have even more questions!

Luckily for us there's Shelf Elf, a wonderful blog full of great children's book recommendations authored by an insightful middle school teacher!

Shelf Elf took the time to discuss the topic of choosing age appropriate books for children with Megan, the editor of the book club guide. Here's what we talked about:

What is an age appropriate book?

Why is it important to choose them?

How do you choose books for advanced readers that are age appropriate?

A list of age appropriate books.

What do we really mean when we talk about "age appropriate books"? In what ways do the books our children read need to match up with their age?

age appropriate books First of all, when I define a book as an "age appropriate book" it doesn't mean that the child has to be able to read the text independently. A text can be age appropriate for a particular reader but need to be read aloud to that child by a parent or teacher.

It really has to do with the content of the book, and it's here that some people start to get nervous. It is not about cutting kids off from books that have intense themes or subject matter. Not at all.

I am a firm believer in exposing kids to texts that address real and complex issues in our world. Kids need this and they want this type of reading experience, and there are books out about such issues written for a wide range of age groups.

It's about making a thoughtful decision about when the child is best ready to experience those kinds of texts, and choosing the right text for the right moment.

Do you know the child? Does the child have sufficient background knowledge to understand the book? Are they emotionally ready to unpack some of the difficult or potentially disturbing moments and themes in the text?

All of these questions need to be addressed in order to determine if a text is age appropriate for a reader.

Why is it important for children to read age appropriate books? What are the dangers of selecting books that are too simple or too advanced?

list of age appropriate books

There are lots of reasons why I think it matters for kids to read age appropriate books most if not all of the time.

I'm sure that many adults who are now avid readers remember reading a book now and then as a kid that was really too old for them at the time - something kind of risqué that they had to sneak under the covers or read at recess when no adults were watching!

Kids will do that, and I don't see it as a major issue. It's part of growing up.

What concerns me is if a child is consistently choosing titles that are not written for their age group. Even if a child can decode a text that is written for a much older reader (say a Middle Grade child reading a Young Adult novel), it does not mean they truly grasp the nuances of the characterization, plot and content.

Are the nine-year-olds I've seen reading the Twilight series really understanding where the tension in that story is truly coming from? I'm hoping not. There is a moment to read Twilight but it's not when you're nine, however "mature" you might be at nine.

There are powerful, important and challenging books written for every age group: books that will make a kid feel she is experiencing something that matters, and that respects her intelligence and view of the world.

Will reading a book that is not age appropriate damage a child for life? I doubt it. Will reading a steady diet of books that are not age appropriate influence a child's social and emotional development and way of seeing the world? I imagine so.

It's funny. I've found that once a child gets a taste for books that are beyond them in terms of content, it's difficult to pull them back to something more age appropriate, because the child often views these titles as "babyish" even when they are not. Once they head in that direction, it's hard to go back again. Childhood is short enough as it is, I think.

As a teacher what advice do you give parents of very advanced readers, who sometimes struggle to find books at their child's reading level with appropriate subject matter?

I actually love it when parents come to me with this concern! I guess it's my background as a bookseller.

I don't find it a struggle to offer them a long, long list of amazing books that are written for their child's age group but are also sophisticated, complex in theme and rich enough to engage even the most advanced reader.

It is a myth that a strong child reader will struggle to find engaging books at their age level. Just talk to a bookseller or librarian. Go into a children's bookstore and ask them for recommendations. There is no shortage of meaty titles that will meet the needs of a strong young reader, without having to cross the line into Young Adult.

You review so many great books on your blog, Shelf Elf. If you had to pick just one favorite children's book recommendation in each age category, what would they be?

It's SO hard to choose only one for each age, but I'll focus in on a few that have stood more recently:

Early Elementary:
Me Hungry! by Jeremy Tankard

Middle Grade:
Dani Noir by Nova Ren Suma (more for girls)
Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston

Young Adult:
Love Is the Higher Law by David Levithan
Fire by Kristin Cashore (more for girls)
Gentlemen by Michael Northrop (more for guys)

Thanks, Shelf Elf, for taking time out of your busy day to talk with us and for all the wonderful information you provide on your blog as well!

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