Monday, January 17, 2011

Age appropriate stories

"But why, Mamma", persisted my seven year old. "Why did Danny stop talking?"
"Because his mother died, and his step-father took away everything belonging to his mother."
"Why didn't Danny hit his step-father? Why did he have to stop talking?"

I struggled to answer the question, and did as bad a job as his teacher. I can understand how extreme emotions may lead a child to stop talking in his voice and communicate only through his Monkey Puppet. But how will my child?

The level of reading may be right for second graders, but shouldn't prescribed stories also be age-appropriate?
A drabble is a story told in exactly 100 words.
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Mary Vaughn said...

Awesome Drabble. I notice this with stories chosen for my grandkids class. The vocabulary is right but the content is way too advanced. Makes me wonder if teachers read a selection before they do it in class.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree! Last year, my daughter had a book that was 33 years old and the chapter called Christmas was all about a man getting drunk!!

I refused to use the book and bought her a more modern one!

Margot Kinberg said...

Rayna - You ask such an important question here!! It's not just level of vocabulary, it's also the concept in a book that makes it appropriate or not for a child.

Each child is different, of course, and tragically, some children have had terrible experiences and can relate to characters in stories such as the one you mention. So in that sense, it's understandable that a book like that might be available to second-graders.

The problem is, of course, that most children would find concepts like that far too frightening and if not frightening, at least difficult to understand. So I agree that some books, even if the reading level is appropriate, are not right for children. This is one reason for which I tell my students in the teacher-preparation program to be thoroughly familiar with the contents of each book in their classrooms, and consider carefully the effect on the students. It is also why I am a strong believer in building relationships between parents and teachers, so that if the teacher finds a book s/he thinks is a good story, s/he can allow parents to help make the decision about whether it is right for their child(ren).

Oddyoddyo13 said...

Ah, the tough questions that always stop you short. Of course the stories should be age appropriate, but sadly, life isn't that way. I once had a friend whose cousin's mother got into drugs and had to be taken away. Her cousin was a little girl, about four years old. She stayed with my friend for a night, and wondered aloud, "Where's my mommy gone?"

You can't avoid questions like that, I'm afraid.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Tough lesson to learn at that age. Sadly, kids are exposed to this stuff in reality at a much younger age.

LTM said...

I guess it's a lesson in different people handle their emotions in different ways, maybe?

I don't know. They are so precious. I'm w/your baby--Danny should've just hit that step-dad... but perhaps step-dad is mean enough that he would've hit back, hard. :o\

Tough one. xoxo <3

Diandra said...


I remember, as a kindergarten beanie, reading a story where a young girl from a war-struck country was in so much shock and pain that she only sang for weeks. Of course I failed to understand, and now as a grown-up I find my thoughts wandering to that particular story (which got lost in time) and wonder whether I remember everything correctly...

Danette said...

Reading levels aren't based on material sadly-- they're based on words. It's annoying. But that is a whole blog entry! I have an award for you and the Burrowers on my blog!

Dorte H said...

Well, I think it depends on the ending of the book. Of course I think children should be sheltered from certain things, but in real life they aren´t always so good literature may show them that not everybody is as fortunate as they are (if they are) - or that other children also experience sorrows and traumas. But of course I don´t know the book in question.

Jemi Fraser said...

Yup - emotional maturity should always be a concern. Young ones are so open and easy to hurt.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Mary - they should be reading, shouldn't they? And even if they don't, doesn't the feedback from kids make them change it next year? Weird.

@ Fiona - you must be kidding. How can that get into kid lit?

@ Margot - I wish there were more teachers like you around, Margot.
Yes, I am really glad there are books like that around, because they would help kids who are unfortunately going through similar experiences. But to shove it at kids who just don't understand ?!
And wouldn't it be great if more teachers did what you suggest- about consulting parents.

@ Oddyoddyo13 - poor kid. It is good there are books around which tackle such questions- though I am sure a 4 year old just cannot read and understand them- but I am not sure they should be given to everyone.

@ Alex - that is such a pity isn't it? I like the distinction Margot makes - have books that deal with situtations, so people can choose to read or not read them.

@ Leigh - it is such a difficult question, isn't it? And we get different answers depending on whether we think of it as mothers or writers.

@ Diandra - so true. Maybe that is why they have books like that in the curriculum, so people can re-visit them after years.

@ Danette - vocubulary really has nothing to do with it, does it? Such a pity that teachers don't think.
Hopping across to your blog.

@ Dorte - in principle, I do agree with you. And if it were a book about the kid dealing with his mother's death, I would have no problem with my kids reading it. BUT, the kid reacts in a way that my kids don't understand, and the teacher leaves questions unanswered- not sure I like that.
The story is really nice, though. I would have bought it for the kids when they were a bit older, if I knew about it.

@ Jemi - they are, aren't they? And you should know- you are a teacher.

Rek said...

well, I don't have kids so won't say much but yes, I do have a problem explaining some stories to my nephew..
The book in question was definitely not age appropriate but then a look at our "fables" and "mythology" shows many stories we shouldn't have been exposed to at the age we were/are....
I do read most of your Drabbles....just that I feel I have nothing to add by way of comments as your story says it all.

sue said...

Margot's comment was excellent.
It's a tough one; what's appropriate for one child certainly isn't for others, and I think that's the case all through schooling. Some stories are frightening for sensitive kids, and they wonder if a similar horrible event could happen to them - very unsettling. I appreciate it when the author shows ways of coping rather than leaving the story unresolved.

Hart Johnson said...

It's so true. I think especially for younger kids, that stories like that should at least be filtered through parents--some kids could grasp it, but others not... I think by teen years, when they are starting to have more complext thinking, then kids can probably handle more than their parents think, but when they are young, it is important to only get the right level of story.

ViolaNut said...

It always amazes me, as a bookseller (and writer and collector and whatnot, but whatever...), how many parents say "Oh, s/he's 10 but a very advanced reader, we should look in the teen section instead" and I have to explain to them that no, they probably don't want their 4th grader reading that book because it has sex scenes and drug use and even though it's really good, let's wait till after elementary school for those topics, 'kay? :-P

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Rek- don't get me started on any of our mythologies. Incest, patricide, murder, deceit, adultery- you name it, they have it.
The only difference being that we aren't called upon to analyse them before we are ready to.

@ Sue- I do agree with you. Leaving a kid story unresolved is one of the worst crimes ever. They cannot deal with it.

@ Hart- I am sure kids can handle a lot more than their parents give them credit for. But I still think, seven is too young an age to be introducing complex books. Have stories about friendship, honestly, standing up to bullies, etc, etc. Why this?

@ ViolaNut- I know exactly what you mean, because that was the reaction of the teacher when I complained about that particular book. Okay, the book is simple to read, but shouldn't you be looking at the themes too?
My son, for instance, wants to start reading Harry Potter. He's seen the movies, so I guess he can deal with the first three books. But I am pretty sure I do not want him reading GoF and the next three just yet. Why can't parents and teachers get that?


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