A couple of weeks ago, I shared a list of books I wish I could have read when I was a teenager. To balance that out, here's another list: Books I read too early. (All covers are from Goodreads.)
The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton
I learned many things from reading this book. The biggie is that I'm very careful when handing out book recommendations to children and young teens, because I don't want to be responsible for them reading something they aren't ready for. Lesson #2 was that forcing kids to read books for school is a dubious practise. (Yes, I know there are good reasons for it. None of those reasons did most of my class any good: not me, a lifelong reader, nor my non-reading classmates, who remained non-readers.)
I was just not ready for this book, no matter what the inventors of the 8th grade curriculum at Greenfield Junior High School thought. I couldn't handle it, and it sent me into a depression that lasted for weeks, during which I refused to tell anyone-- parents, teachers, guidance counselors, etc.-- what was going on. They tried to drag it out of me, but I dug in and wouldn't talk. Whenever I think of 8th grade, this is what I remember first. And there's no way I'd go back and reread it, not even to exorcise any demons that may still be lurking. Now, I have seen a bit of the movie version with Rob Lowe, but that was mostly for the eye candy, and I only watched about 10 minutes of it.
Little Women, Lousia May Alcott
Just to be clear: I loved this book. I still love it. But I wasn't ready to read it in the fifth grade.
One of the fundamental truths of being an early reader in a small school is that you'll outgrow the school library in a hurry. That's what happened to me. I had read everything that I found interesting, and even a few books that I didn't like at all, but by the end of fourth grade, I was left with only the massive thick books like Little Women. The librarian wouldn't let me check it out because it was reserved for 5th & 6th graders.
So, I checked out something else that day, and over the summer I read all of Louisa Alcott's books available in the public library, except Little Women, because I took what the librarian said to heart and decided to read Alcott's shorter books first. Once school started again, I checked out Little Women, because as a 5th grader I was now allowed to check out thick books. I zoomed through the first 3/4 of it, and then stalled close to the end. For some reason, the bits about Amy in Europe and Jo in New York were less interesting to me, and I struggled with them. But really, the librarian had been right and I didn't yet have the attention span to read a book that long. I came back to it a few years later (right after I was force-fed The Outsiders, as it happens) and read the whole thing straight through.
The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis
I was forced to read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe in 6th grade. I didn't like it, mostly because I was reading it under duress. (Are you seeing a theme here? My teachers almost made me hate reading, really. One teacher succeeded in turning my brother off reading forever.) I ignored the rest of the Chronicles of Narnia for a while, then came back to them as a freshman in high school and loved the first four. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader I liked a teeny tiny bit less, and I didn't like The Silver Chair at all. Why? Because I had grown rather fond of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, and wasn't excited about the cast change. I put it away and finally came back to it and The Last Battle when I was a junior or senior. The series is among my favourites now, but The Silver Chair remains my least favourite of them.
Did you read any books before you were ready for them? If you're a teacher, how do you balance the need to teach books with the hope that kids will want to read for their own sake? Do you have any good tips on how to know when a child is ready for a particular book?