Monday, June 15, 2009

Put a stake in it!

Today's PW Shelftalker blog had a wonderful post (with sad, sad comments) on nine-year-olds reading The Sparkly Vampire Book: What to Do, What to Do? The question of what to do revolves around dealing with nine-year-olds who come in wanting to read TSVB for no reason other than "my friends are reading it."

I wholly sympathize with Josie Leavitt's dilemma, as I have lectured a few times on what I like to call The Curse of Harry Potter. I also refer to it as Trickle-Down Readonomics. It goes something like this: Popular books trickle down in age. HP is YA, but now no parent will admit if their child was older than 8 when he read the very adult, violent, good versus evil, fantastic Harry Potter books, full of long words. Now TSVB has become the victim of Trickle-Down Readonomics. Why? Maybe the big sisters of these 9-year-olds were hanging around the house reading it. Maybe they've seen the movie (why?) and they want to read the popular, inescapable books. After all, kids always want to seem older. And if the older kids are reading this big huge black book with a pretty design on the cover, well, THEY WANT IT NOW.

One of the arguments in favor of letting TSVB trickle down is "Well, it's innocent! There's no sex! It's all about chastity!" I find this ridiculously superficial and a faulty argument at best. Abstaining from sex until marriage is not the hallmark of an innocent relationship or an innocent book. Why does TSVB get the "It's innocent!" argument because it doesn't have sex? There's more to innocence than sex. I would argue that the romance in TSVB is not innocent because of how abusive Edward is towards Bella. (I know many others feel differently, but this is my blog and I have always seen Edward as an abuser.) Yes, young readers, it's okay, if a man keeps you from your family and friends and you want to cause serious self-harm when he temporarily breaks up with you, it's okay because you didn't have sex! Since when is an abusive relationship innocent?

Leavitt also talks about the problem of Trickle-Down Readonomics squishing the great books written specifically for the age group that wants the age-inappropriate book. If the nine-year-olds want TSVB, why on earth would they want the less sparkly Clementine? In bookstores and libraries, those two books are shelved nowhere near each other. Why should they be? In their trip to TSVB, those nine-year-olds aren't going to be standing anywhere near the wonderful books that exist for kids their age. The nine-year-olds in Leavitt's store are very lucky to have an enthusiastic, knowledgeable bookseller there to guide them. Not every nine-year-old in a bookstore is. Those customers buy what looks cool and hope for the best. If we're lucky, they buy Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls (love, love, love and I need to write a review on the first 3 books!). If not, they end up with, I dunno, the House of Night books or whatever's facing out on the shelf next to TSVB. Maybe they'll come up with a book they'll love, maybe not, but what they're pretty much guaranteed to come up with is something they'll enjoy better in a few years. What they're probably NOT buying are the oldies-but-goodies, like personal favorite Jennifer, Hecate, MacBeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth unless they have someone (bookseller, librarian) to help them navigate the stacks.

I can sort of see why Harry Potter trickled down, though I personally don't recommend it to anyone younger than sixth grade. At its opening, it's a fun adventure-in-magic-school story. By book three, though, the layers have built so thick and dark that the book beyond its surface is best enjoyed by readers with more life experience. IMNSHO. I still think third-graders are better served by books other than Harry Potter.


Anonymous said...

I see this as well and it makes me insane. In my case, instead of parents, there are teachers who reason that TSVB are innocent. And they do not have to read anything like Clementine or Emma Jean Lazarus or the dozens of other books because they already have read TSVB and why do grown women want to read these "innocent" books?).

ilefkowitz said...

I agree with you 1,000% but you already know that. I am so sick of people telling me that Hannah should read HP. She is 8! She certainly could read it and might enjoy the first one if she didn't have nightmares from all the strange and somewhat scary creatures and beasties. Would it be the right time for her? Absolutely not. She is far better served by reading books specifically written for her age group as are the majority of kids her age. Thank you for going against the grain again.

Leigh Anne Vrabel said...

Can't even begin to tell you how proud of you I am, for multiple reasons. Hope to hear more about the publishing course soon! PS: Lucky would be, er, lucky to have you!

GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

I loved this post. I hate when parents come into the library asking me for "teen books that aren't too teen" for their young tween reader. yes, that's great they can read ahead, but teen books are going to have teen issues. I posted about this today too-sometimes I need to vent through the blogging world. So glad you posted this!

Anonymous said...

It happens a lot, doesn't it? Even Diary of Wimpy Kid... yes it looks easy to read and it has pictures, but Greg is in middle school, not exactly a book for third graders. I think they just relate to the stuff they know. it's maddening, but you can't stop trains like this.

I tell mom's that "Just because you can read a book, doesn't mean you should read a book". I may write my next post about that. Thanks for putting to words what so many of us feel.