At what age do you stop reading children’s books?

Rowena here. Using my covers because I don't have an image that applies to this post.

Over on the Entertainment Salon Brian McGreevy wrote a piece about Why Teens Should Read Adult Fiction. His point was fair enough. When writing about the teen age person he says:

‘this human being is building an infrastructure for critical reasoning in a frequently bizarre, paradoxical universe where fairly miraculous and fucked-up stuff happens on a regular basis. Of course adolescents have an irresistible attraction to adult themes; perverse and puritanical an instinct as there is in this culture to prolong childhood, there is a far stronger counter-instinct in children to analyze, simulate, and as soon as humanly possible participate in the challenges of adulthood. This is not to suggest that growing up is a process that should be unnaturally accelerated, or that it can be in the first place. …. But we should be counted lucky when this fascination with the adult world manifests in wanting to read more books.’

My eldest son went straight from children’s books to adult (meaning grown up) fantasy books at the age of 12. He wouldn’t read Young Adult books because he felt that the YA category was patronising.

At one point McGreevy’s says: ‘The obverse of the instinct to protect children from the bigger and messier reality of adulthood is the inability of most adults to experience the mere joy of children. (Why adults should read children’s fiction is its own issue.)’ Which made me smile.

I love reading books meant for children. The upper end of primary school books (ages 8 -12) are my favourite. The great strength of these books is that they must have a driving narrative to hold the child reader’s interest. Good books of this age bracket have:

  • A great opening, with …
  • Strong characters that get right into the story that’s …
  • Well paced, with a driving narrative that builds to …
  • A great resolution.

And the very best of them often work on two levels so that the more sophisticated child (and adult reader) can appreciate them in greater depth. Think of the first Shrek movie, this worked for both children and adults.

The other thing about children’s books is that they tell a ‘ripping yarn’ but they will also contain a clear theme. It must not be preached but embedded in the narrative in such a way that all the scenes of the book contribute towards the theme.

I can remember reading the Judy Blume Fudge books to my children and all of us laughing so much we nearly cried. What books did you read to your children when they were between 8 and 12 years of age? What books did you read at that age?

(And the title of this post? It’s a trick question. I don’t think you should ever stop reading children’s books, just as you should never stop learning and never stop trying to make sense of the world).





  1. “At what age do you stop reading children’s books?” I’ll let you know when I get there 🙂

    OTOH, I distinctly remember being *forced* to read Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” when I was 15 and not at all ready for it. Yes, I’d gone to a small Lutheran grade school, and was probably “sheltered” — but people today seem to not value the idea of “innocence” any more. And when confronted with innocence, teachers look upon it as a direct order to strip it from their students to “help them mature”. Saw it with my own kids, also.

    In my opinion, forcing a person to read something that “opens their eyes” when they aren’t ready for it is the psychic equivalent of foricble deflowerment, just because you’ve discovered someone is an actual virgin. The unholy glee with which some teachers approach “undoing the harm the parents have done” (meaning, “I’m going to make sure they read brutal, books brimming with horrid images and bestial sex”) drives me nuts.

    My opinion, everybody else’s probably is different. But why “make kids grow up” in this *one* area, but keep them perpetual adolescents in every other?

    1. Hi Lin,

      I added a paragraph about ‘worthy’ books that librarians and English departments feel students should read. ‘Worthy’ usually equates to depressing.

      Then I took it out because I felt it derailed the argument and I would have to go into a lot of disclaimers, but I do agree with you. Some of those ‘worthy’ books delve into the seedy side of life far more than the average adult book.

      I think the author of the original post was coming from the position of people who try to sanitise the world. Certainly don’t strip a child’s innocence, but there will come a time when they are looking to expand their horizons. We learn when our minds are ready for concepts.

      1. My first thought was that YA seemed a special category and that moving on to “adult” books might actually preserve innocence.

        I haven’t read many YA books, though, so I probably shouldn’t make assumptions. I think that I make the assumptions I make because of those assigned books in junior high and high school. Anything that was supposed to be about teenagers was always about emotional trauma and social injustice. Skip that and go to adult books about adult people doing adult things and skip wallowing in the teen angst.

    2. Synova,

      Strictly speaking YA is a marketing category to make it easy for publishers and retailers.

      I don’t know that it preserves innocence. There are some who would like to use it this way and others (like the teacher librarians who decide Australia’s Children Book Council awards), who try to select worthy books that they thing teenagers should read.

      There has been some talk on the YA blogs recently about authors who felt they were pressured into taking a gay character out of a YA book (making them straight).

      There was the kerfuffle when Justine Larbalestier’s book came out with a white girl on the cover, when her character was mid-range brown skinned.

      1. I’ve got, um, sort of a… skepticism… about the gay character in a book as a sort of transgressing character. I think my attitude is mostly from reading Nanowrimo forums. Every person on there, last time I ever looked, was planning something edgy and transgressive, and except for a fellow fascinated by bestiality, it was all orientation stuff. If I personally were giving advice to someone and they started in about how they were going to have this character be gay, I’d probably suggest that if they want to actually write something unique they would do just as well to leave that particular oh-I’m-gonna-shock-em crutch at the door.

        Also, it’s hard to say, assuming that someone was hinted away from including a gay character and also assuming that my notion that gay characters may be trite and boring occupants of slush piles is wrong, if the character problem was orientation or something else.

        I quit reading an author I loved, major best-seller, because it was clear that she lost the ability to distinguish between “I don’t like gay characters” and all plot and character development issues involving gay characters. The answer to that nagging feeling you can’t quite articulate that something is off, not right, etc., has a newly convenient answer.

      2. Synova the feeling from agents was that by including a gay charaacter the author limited the market they could sell the book to.

        What seems trite and old-hat to some is too risky to others.

  2. Forgot to ask to have follow-up comments sent when I did the comment, so ignore this one. Thanks 🙂

  3. My kids were both late readers. Nothing truly grabbed them until they started in with adult books. The Warrior’s Apprentice, for the older, Rats, Bats and Vats for the younger. Of course, we may have spoiled childrens books for them by reading them the Lord of the Rings as a bedtime story.

    Myself, I read dog, horse and adventure stories. Jim Kjelgaard, Walter Farley and so forth. A few Nancy Drews. Then I discovered Andre Norton, and switched heavily to SF. Heinlein, Asimov, Clark . . . H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. At some point they weren’t children’s books any more. But I don’t think I ever noticed a threshold.

    1. Pam, I remember discovering Heinlein’s ‘juvenile’ SF books when I was 19 or 20 and loving them. It never bothered me that the protagonist was a child.

      For me, children are people, too.

  4. Happily for me, in Australia the SF/F section and the children’s/YA section are usually right next to each other in bookshops. I buy freely from both and enjoy the adventure side of children/YA stories. Not so much the para-romance. The angsty teen girls can have that (daughter loves it of course).

    I was pretty traditional as a kid in that my first dose of fantasy was Tolkien. I then read a bunch of Dragonlance and similar material before getting into Hitchhiker’s Guide and later Red Dwarf.

    For my kids, I’ve read to them all my life but for the longer stuff, I guess we started with Harry Potter. I read them the whole series – twice. We’ve also done Lemony Snicket and Tolkien. Seems they might be a bit too old for me to read to them now, but I still want to.

    1. Chris,

      Your kids are lucky you’ve read to them since they were little. I did the same with mine, starting with nursery rhymes and the Play School book.

      Now that the younges tis 16 and the oldest 26 they still read and we pass books around. Not everybody reads the same type of thing but there is enough overlap forsharing of books.

      Ahh, where would we be without books?

  5. I tried to read to my kids but they’d never sit still!

    And I can’t even begin to express the disbelief of the sorts of people who’s job it seems to be to ask if you’d read to your children when they were little. They all think I’m lying.

    (I read the first four Harry Potter books aloud to the kids when they were a little older, but they’d never sit for picture books and I felt that duct tape would be inappropriate.)

    1. My children, I have four, now aged 6-12, would never sit still when I was reading to them, either. I got used to reading a picture book, and then a chapter from a chapter book, to them, with the rule being that you couldn’t leave the room. So my son, who is a squirrely little guy, could romp about while he pretended not to listen. I found it hilarious last time I was reading just to him (Skippy Jon Jones, great read-aloud books) my older girls all came quietly into the room and listened, too.

    2. Synova,
      a) ducttape is NEVER inappropriate! (Says the mother of two boys!) b) LOL I wonder how much the official questioners of reading time make? c) I read to my kids, but not really picture books. Okay, William Allingham The Fairies and Night Cars, but both of those are poems. Other than that, they’d sit still for Bradbury, Diana Wynne Jones, Pratchett, Borges, Shakespeare, Heinlein, and such, but NEVER picture books. Go figure.

      On gay characters — not only do I agree with you, but when I put gay characters in my books it’s because the fricking character is gay not as “transgression”. (I don’t have a lot of control over who the characters are? They’ve been known to fight me to a draw over their names, for frig’s sake. There usually turns out to be a reason, but not one I know when I start.) For one, most of the books assigned by the schools have gay characters, often as main characters. So for the kids this is a “blah”. OTOH for editors and agents, rowena is right, it seems to be erotic frisson or horror. I was advised to remove Ben from the refinishing books because of “narrowing the market.” Look, I get fan mail from MINISTERS WIVES. No one is SHOCKED. Gah. This is why publishing is in so much trouble. These people live in an alternate universe, I swear.

      1. I’ll have to take your and Rowena’s experience with publishers on faith. It does boggle my mind, though, that there seems to be a gay character in every other book quite matter-of-factly, and yet publishers would be squeamish about the idea.

        So I thought, perhaps, it was a slush-pile issue or a wow-lets-be-edgy in the slush-pile issue.

        But maybe (if I’m inclined to be unkind) it’s one of those “I’m more enlightened than other people, but I know what all of those bigots think,” issues.

        Also… four kids in six years for me, too. Maybe they don’t sit for picture books when they are near-age playmates acting like excited atoms bumping into each other.

  6. I’m fortunate that my job requires me to read children’s books. I’m the semi-official children’s librarian. My director looked at me and said, you have a focus group built in with your kids, you’re already tapped in to what kids like, so you’re the children’s librarian. Hah! So now I get to read childrens and YA books to decide what will work in the library. I’m finding that I don’t like a lot of the YA. Too much angst, to much boyfriend/girlfriend focus. Once in a while I’ll come across one I like, as Kathy Reich’s Virals, but some of the ones we order for kids have me shaking my head.

      1. I hate you both. (Not really, but am deadly jealous.) I wanted eleven kids. I’m probably the only mother of three who feels sterile. I TRIED, good heavens, I tried.

    1. Sarah, I would have had a couple more kids, but we filled the van. It would only seat 8 (6 kids and parents).

      I have had people respond badly to me, saying I’m irresponsible to have had 6 children when the world is over populated. But when I grew up in the 60s, Australia was under populated and we were importing people. Plus my husband’s sister never married, so I figured I was having her kids, for her.

      1. Rowena
        The world being overpopulated is a big lie. Sorry. When the UN practically gives prizes for largest population, of course countries who need per-capita handouts report a MUCH larger population than real. Even the US census is gamed upward for political reasons. Other countries? Pah. In Portugal in the sixties they were reporting something absurd like 6.1 children per women. It just wasn’t so. More than two children was rare enough to be “freakish”. The USSR inflated its population by about a factor of ten, as we found out when it fell. Don’t get me started on Africa or other “aid receiving” (as opposed to “aid giving”) countries. Seven years ago I started telling people we were facing a crashing population, not a booming one, and our real population was MUCH lower than we think. People thought I was nuts. Now they’re admitting it in the freer parts of the world, like Europe. This is an example of faulty information. Watch them turn on a dime and start demanding people have MORE kids, MORE in about ten years. Me? I read The Marching Morons in my early teens. Also, I like MY kids (though not kids in general.)

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