Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Compulsive Readers--what do you do with them?!

Another problem/question that children's librarians deal with regularly:

My nine year old reads voraciously, and is going through four or five books a week. She wants to read things that I'm seeing in the Young Adult section. I'm not worried about the reading level, but I'm concerned about the content. What should I do?

I refer to these children as Compulsive Readers. I identify with them, because I was one. Still am. Compulsive Readers regularly bulldoze their way through five- and six-hundred page books in a matter of days, walking around with their noses stuck in books like strangely literate zombies. They often have stacks of books that they are in the middle of, with haphazard, makeshift bookmarks hanging out at all angles, and are not bothered at all to put down one book and immediately pick up another, often without breaking stride.

Image result for quitter strip bookmark

It's often as difficult to keep Compulsive Readers engaged as it is Reluctant Readers, because they just go through books so fast. If you don't have readily available access to a library (either public or school), you're going to end up with one of two problems: either the child loses that passion and moves on to the next thing that grabs their attention in our digital world, like the internet or video games; or you find yourself spending a whole lot of money in bookstores. That was my parents' struggle.

Being exposed to inappropriate content is a major factor when you have a compulsive reader. By the age of 10, I was barreling through my mother's collection of Danielle Steel romance novels, because I had run out of age-appropriate books to read and my parents just did not have the money to buy me three new books every week. At 11 years old I read Gone with the Wind, and I remember sitting in driver's ed classes when I was 15, ignoring all the lectures and gory videos, because you want to talk about violent deaths? I was midway through Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. 

For Compulsive Readers, the key is finding books that are going to challenge their minds and imaginations, without falling into material that they may not be ready to be exposed to yet, psychologically. 

I have been doing a lot of work in the last year, reading fiction books that reach out to these two groups. Reluctant Readers and Compulsive Readers. I admit that I focus more on boys than girls, in large part because boys aged 8-12 years old are most likely to be your reluctant readers and are the demographic that we (as librarians) are going to lose. However, I just can't seem to resist picking up those huge tomes of books in the children's section that appeal to Compulsive Readers; they KNOW that this 600 page book is at least going to give them something to sink their teeth into, and characters that they can really fall in love with. As I said in my post on Reluctant Readers, I tend to focus on series books because of that factor, so here are some options for Compulsive Readers, that are age appropriate for 8-12 year-old boys and girls, content wise. This partial list is primarily what is new and popular (in the last decade or so) but there are a few guaranteed classics included as well:

Harry Potter, Books 1-4 (books 5-7 are usually considered YA) by J. K. Rowling
The Books of Beginning Trilogy by John Stephens
The Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
Five Kingdoms by Brandon Mull
School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
The Copernicus Legeacy by Tony Abbott
Anything by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Kane Chronicles, etc.)
The Seven Wonders series by Peter Lerangis
The Missing series by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Guardians of Ga'hool by Kathryn Laskey
Warriors or Survivors series by Erin Hunter (et al)
The Dark is Rising sequence from Susan Cooper
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Stewart

I hope this helps give some direction, and some options that may not be as well known to parents of young readers. There are also wonderful stand-alone authors to consider, such as Gordon Korman, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Lois Lowry, Lloyd Alexander, R. J. Palacio, and Roald Dahl. 

The important thing to keep in mind, as I stated before, is that there is a difference between a child's reading level and their comprehension level. As much as I love the Divergent and Hunger Games trilogies (and OH HOW  I LOVE THAT SERIES), and as much attention as is paid to the Twilight and latter books in the Harry Potter series', they can be very challenging to handle EMOTIONALLY for most children under 12 years old. They can also contain subject matter that some parents might not feel prepared to tackle with their children until they are a little older. For what it's worth, my 6 year old is in kindergarten, but is reading on a 4th grade level, and comprehending on a 3rd grade level. That doesn't mean he's mature enough emotionally to tackle those books and their messages, without some assistance. So we choose chapter books together carefully and we read them and talk about them together. I  do still give him early readers to gain speed and reading independence, because that's how those skills are built. Even compulsive readers need motivational material!

Still struggling to find something? Go talk to a librarian!

PERSONAL PREFERENCE: I'm a huge fan of the Fablehaven series, and it was originally the one I was going to write about, particularly as Brandon Mull is preparing to release a sequel series to Fablehaven called Dragonwatch (CAN'T. WAIT.) However, I have to admit that Shannon Messenger's Keeper of the Lost Cities series is one of the most exciting things I've read in a long, long time--even as an adult! This series has wonderful, complex characters, rich worlds--elves, ogres, gnomes, humans, among others--and elements that are both deeply human and hilariously fantastical. Messenger has created this sweet, stubborn, independent character in Sophie, a girl who discovers she's an elf after being raised among humans. That's just where the mystery begins however; she has a great number of secrets complicating her existence. I find Sophie absolutely endearing and terribly real; she sleeps with a stuffed blue elephant every night, and tugs out her eyelashes when she's nervous. Her friends in this world are as deeply human as they are elvish. Messenger provides the perfect boy; his gorgeous, equally perfect sister; the complicated, mischievous troublemaker (Keefe, my favorite!); the techy nerd with a sensitive, sweet heart. Along the way you meet under-served communities, see intolerance, and are introduced to adults (parents, educators, politicans, leaders, rebels) that are loving, supportive, flawed, prejudiced, and that live in an imperfect and uncertain society while coping with their own trauma and scars. There's mystery, action, adventure, humor, magic, just a hint of innocent romance, and an alicorn (pegasus + unicorn) named Silveny that poops glitter. There are currently 5 books in the series, and OH how I hope Messenger doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon!