She read what?!

There is so much great literature today for tweens and teens.  But do they get what we’re trying to express?

Recently my 12 year old niece and I had a discussion about Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies.  She told me she was a fast reader and had read Uglies in one day.  On a school day.  Well, that’s great, but I wondered if she had read it too quickly to process it.

She said, “It was about two friends who build a grid under their town so they can hoverboard.  So cool.” 

Um, yeah, hoverboarding is cool and was featured prominently in Uglies (and in its sequels which she didn’t read).  But the two friends didn’t build that grid.  What about the messages of environmentalism and individuality?  Okay, at 12 maybe underlying themes aren’t yet her thing.  So, what about how weird it is for everyone to get cosmetic surgery at 16?  How cool is it that you can ask your wall for anything and get it?

Those things didn’t stay with her.  Is it because she read it too quickly?  Or did all of that go over her head?  What do you think, Dear Readers?

In another example, a friend of mine let her 12 year old daughter read Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn.  I have to admit that I was pretty horrified to hear that.  And for the record, my above-mentioned niece read all four Twilight books when she was still 11.

But my friend made a good point.  Her daughter has no memories or experience to draw from to put pictures in her head that a grown up does.  So the sex (etc.) went over her head.  And while I’m glad that this young girl didn’t retain the salacious details, should we encourage kids to read books that they won’t really get?  Won’t readers enjoy books more when they have achieved a higher level of maturity and experience?

Which leads to the question of what responsibility an author should bear in writing about themes that are inappropriate for readers under a certain age.  Who gets to decide what is inappropriate?  And it isn’t really about a number, is it? 

I don’t think Stephenie Meyer intended for 12 year olds to read her books.  Just as JK Rowling didn’t intend for 6 year olds to read Harry Potter.  (A boy in my son’s first grade class proudly told me the other day that he has almost finished reading the 4th Harry Potter book.  I think I cried at the end of that one.  As I keep telling my son, “Just because you can read something, doesn’t mean you should.”  Luckily, he is perfectly content to continue reading the Magic Tree House series.)

So we come back to parent responsibility and knowing your own child.  And as writers, we can only hope that our readers will get a little more out of our work than, “Hoverboards are cool.”



Filed under Reading, writing

4 responses to “She read what?!

  1. Michele

    Several kids in Joshua’s grade are reading Diary of Wimpy Kid. After looking at it, confident that he could read it, but SHOULD he read it? It’s about a middle school boy.
    We were attempting to read together How to Train Your Dragon after loving the movie and have since stopped as he wanted me to do all of the reading.

  2. Gail

    Good post. Something I have thought about before, also. I imagine that your neice did read the book too quickly and a lot of it went over her head because she is not developmentally ready to grasp the true themes of Uglies. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t take from the book what she needed to. Perhaps, she’ll read it again at an older age and understand it better.

    My own twelve and a half year old told me some of her friends have read the Uglies series and liked it.
    I am a children’s & YA adult writer myself & I haven’t read the Uglies series yet. But I will read it before I let my daughter read it. And I will make the decision if she is ready to read it – not her.

    I feel as parents we need to allow our kids freedom to read what they want to with limitations & parental guidance. When they do read books with deep meanings we should discuss
    the themes with them.

  3. I’ve mentioned the Uglies to some of my students who I feel are ready for it. When they ask what it’s about, I mention the themes of being in groups and cosmetic surgery to become some ideal physical entity. They shrug. “Whatever.” But when I mention the hoverboards and the contacts, they get interested. Now it’s my turn to shrug.

    I think that explains why we read books when we’re young, and then when we go back and read them as adults, it’s an entirely different experience. Like Gail said, the young readers will take from it what they need.

    • vtremp

      I happened to talk to my 7 yo’s doctor about this topic today. She was telling me about her daughter’s obsession with Harry Potter and that she was more willing to let her read them, than to watch them. Because the movie violence and scariness is right there in front of your eyes, but in a book kids put the pictures in their heads that fit their experiences. So stuff we might think is too scary for them really goes over their heads.

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