Bridging the reading gap between kids and adults

February 21, 2006 | 5 2 min read

At the Powells blog, Alexis writes about the awkward transition young readers make from young adult fiction to regular fiction.

When the children are still young – toddlers to fifth grade, say – parents will sometimes make a point of telling us how advanced their kids are. It might go something like this: She’s only two but she’s way beyond board books; or, He’s in fourth grade but he reads at a seventh grade level. But get the kids to junior high, and suddenly the parents start to fret that their intellectually advanced kids are going to be reading books that contain “mature” content.

I definitely remember this experience from my bookstores, even in permissive Los Angeles. Later on Alexis writes:

That said, I often wish that I could recommend more adult books to some of my teen customers. Nothing is stopping me, I suppose, except my own anxieties about parents flipping out that a Powell’s employee exposed their high school freshman to Margaret Atwood’s sexual dystopia.

When I was a teenager, discovering Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving and T.C. Boyle was a revelatory experience, and I’d certainly recommend books by them to today’s teenagers. I’ve also said in the past that classic novels can be a great bridge from young adult novels to adult novels. Sometimes, when I worked at the bookstore, I would recommend classics to precocious youngsters who had read “all” the young adult stuff. In this post from last summer, I and a few others put together a very short list of classics that kids might start with.

Some might say that kids won’t be willing to read these “old” books that they associate with school, but it’s also true that kids can get a lot more out of a book they read for fun rather than for school, even if it’s the same book.

created and edits The Millions. He is co-editor of the collection of essays The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books, called "funny, poignant, relentlessly thought-provoking" by The Atlantic. He and his family live in New Jersey. If you'd like to correspond, please don't hesitate to email.

5 comments:

  1. I just have to point out — can't stop myself! — that the line between adult and YA is much less defined than it used to be. Some of the best novels qua novels I read are published as YAs.

  2. Gwenda – It's still a good point. And I think it's worth noting that many of our most beloved novels universally appeal to both kids and adults, and in a lot of cases these novels were written with kids in mind.

  3. Interesting. I read everything in your top list except The Scarlet Letter as a teenager, and I can remember them all vividly. Why I bothered is a mystery though. Were they recommended by a relative, friend or a bookstore owner? I don't think so. And yet I know they wouldn't have been my cup of tea at all, at that age.

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