For ages # and up

I was looking through some stuff the other day and was reminded of a comment one of my reviews had received, suggesting that instead of just calling something a children’s book, I should name a specific age range. It occurs to me that I have absolutely no idea how to define such things. I believe I have two major factors working against me:

  1. No children in my life. I am not a parent; I don’t babysit; my nieces and nephews all live halfway across the country; and I was the youngest child so I never even had a younger sibling to care for. In short, I have exactly zero experience in choosing age-appropriate literature for children of any age.
  2. I’m not even sure if my own childhood reading was age-appropriate. First of all, I didn’t really enjoy reading. I hated everything we ever read for school. Aside from a few books by Beverly Cleary, Gordon Korman, and Daniel Pinkwater, I don’t recall much between picture books and adult science fiction and fantasy. By the time I was a preteen, I was reading mostly Piers Anthony and Robert Asprin. Is this age-appropriate? Hard to say, I guess, though I did grow up to be a (fairly) well-adjusted and (somewhat) normal adult. All the same, I’m sure I embarrassed my mother that time when I looked up from one of the Incarnations of Immortality books to ask her what a concubine was.

I am also at a loss to define “age-appropriate” in terms of subject material. I could probably rate books in terms of vocabulary, but who am I to say what topics are or are not suitable for a child of a certain age? Most banned/challenged books become that way because someone believes it is inappropriate for children of a certain age group. When do people magically become old enough to handle any variety of topics? I say if you’re in high school, you should be capable of handling adult themes. I read Night by Elie Wiesel as a freshman. It could be argued that a fourteen-year-old is not mature enough to handle such a subject, but considering the events occurred when Wiesel himself was fifteen, the objection seems trivial.

So, how do you determine the proper age range for a book?

  1. I’m with you; I also have no idea how to define “age-appropriate.” It varies so much depending on the kid. My general philosophy is that if a kid thinks they’re old enough to read a certain book, they probably are.

    I had two fights with my mom as a kid over the “age-appropriateness” of books. The first was when I was in fifth-ish grade and I wanted to read “The Color of Her Panties” by Piers Anthony and my mom wouldn’t let me because it had the word panties in the title. My plea that I had read every other book in the Xanth series was to no avail. The other was around the same time, over the Dragonriders of Pern books. (I still haven’t figured out her objection to those.)

    There were also parents who pulled their kids out of AP English when we read “Beloved” by Toni Morrison. I thought it was silly and still do.

  2. I’m also in a similar situation. I was reading above and beyond my age group almost from the first, so I’m often completely clueless as to how to define a book as being appropriate for a specific age level. I think that such definitions are meaningless anyway, and you gave great examples as to why. If it interests you and you’re mature enough to at least understand the bulk of it, then you should go ahead and read it.

  3. Age appropriateness is a slippery issue. In terms of vocabulary and style, reading ability correlates roughly with age or grade level, but I’m sure that eveyone who deals with kids knows someone who reads well above his or her age and someone who reads well below it, so for some kids, an age level doesn’t make sense.

    As for subject matter, my policy with my own kids is that if something is disturbing enough or makes them uncomfortable enough to want to stop reading it, then stop reading it. My daughter, for many years, could not read any books with ghosts or other such scariness in them. It had nothing to do with her age or reading level–they just freaked her out. At the same time, she could read about, and was interested in, issues that some parents might have thought inappropriate for someone her age.

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