Thursday, March 1, 2012

Reading Notes: Books for an advanced reader, aged almost 7

My secondborn, E, will be 7 in May. She's in her second year of school (Grade 1, where we live, in Victoria).

E is a bright spark in most areas, but one area she's particularly proficient at is reading. She is well out of the reading "levels" used in schools, and has been reading self-selected books since term 3 last year.

She likes and has read a wide range of books in the past year, including (but not at all limited to):
- Everything ever written by Roald Dahl. (Both my kid kids are Dahl devotees).
- Classic like The Secret Garden, Charlotte's Web, and Treasure Island.
- Most Enid Blyton titles (including the Famous Five) and many Trixie Belden books
- Several assorted series on ponies & horse-riding (I can't, I'll admit, recall all the titles / authors - horsey books all tend to bleed into one for me)
- The Go Girls, Magic Ballerina, and Little Princesses series.
- The Narnia books (I read them aloud once and then both big kids re-read them to themselves)
- A series of books on Australian girls at different periods in history, Our Australian Girl (these are actually really good, both 8yo A and 6yo E have really enjoyed them and I find them well-written and engaging)
- The Olivia Stage School books by Lynn Gardner
There are many others, but they are all somewhat blurred together for me now.

The problem I'm having now is that E can read just about anything in terms of language complexity (she might struggle with, say, Derrida or Joyce, but then who doesn't). She gets impatient with what she calls "baby" language or "too easy talking." She's not happy with storylines that are too linear or simplistic, or ones that feature a lot of repetition. (Hence her total disinterest in revisiting the Rainbow Magic books of her early-reading days).

Nonetheless, she's still a little girl, and she's not ready for - or interested in - books with adult or teenage themes, plots or issues. She wants a story for a little girl, that's exciting and fun and satisfying, written in "proper" (ie complex) language, with good characters.

So far, I've suggested mostly older / more classic titles to her; she's just finishing Arabian Nights, for instance, and we have a version of the the tales of King Arthur that she wants to read next. I've dug out my old copies of Heidi, The Little White Horse, the Silver Brumby books and The Chalet School books for her to try in coming months.

What I'm wondering, though, is if anyone has any great suggestions for books that are thematically appropriate, well written and fun for a girl who's 6 going on 7, but reads like a 10-11 year old good reader (according to her testing)? (I'm also catering to an 8 year old who reads like an 11 year old, but she tends to hunt for her own stuff a bit more, I've found). Ideas I've had given to me already, that I'm following up, include:
- the Babysitter Club books
- the Ramona books
- some of Judy Blume's titles
- Pippi Longstocking
- the Betsy Tacy books
- Anne of Green Gables (although, rather to my disappointment, my eldest A didn't really take much to Anne when she sampled it recently)

I'd be very interested in any ideas!


  1. Terry Pratchett? Kids books are adult theme free entirely, adult books are thought provoking, but not rude, lewd or crude...

    I also have a 'best books for kids' book somewhere... Will dig it out. Happy to lend Pratchett, if that helps?

    1. Oh that's a good thought. I have a couple of his kids' books - The Wee Free Men and another one - and I think she'd really enjoy them. I also have a fair number of Discworld titles, but might hold them off another year or two

    2. Okay, so I know you wrote this AGES ago, but if you haven't already: please, please read each of Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books (Wee Free Men, etc) BEFORE giving them to your little girl! The first one is probably fine for a nine year old, but not all of them are adult-theme-free. Be very careful of I Shall Wear Midnight, in particular. It has some very disturbing scenes, with VERY mature themes...

    3. Oh and by the way, thanks to you and your previous commenters for all the ideas! I am struggling to find challenging books for my only-just-eight-year-old, too. It doesn't help that she's sensitive to scariness, either - Harry Potter and Trixie Belden are going to have to wait another couple of years around here (her choice, not mine!) :)
      She loved Anne of Green Gables, though - and yes, I must dig out What Katy Did, too!
      Another idea: this may sound extreme, but I have actually been reading her A Midsummer Night's Dream (as in, the original play). It's slow going, as I obviously do have to explain the language as we go, but she is loving it. The good thing is, anything too sexy/adult-themey for her age is usually written in archaic language, or disguised as words like "love". So "love" can stand up as what SHE thinks it means, and anything dodgy that's written archaically, I just skim over the explanation of. Works a treat. :)

  2. The wizard of oz is actually the first of 14 books plus L. Frank Baum wrote an additional 7 books in the world. It's a kids book (Dorothy is 6) but its not a kiddy book if that makes any sense

    1. It does make sense, and Wizard of Oz is a good idea, except I have to get over my distaste for Baum as a racist such-and-so (I realise this isn't my daughter's problem, and I shouldn't make it so!) I'll see if I can find them.

  3. In the Grade 2 class I subbed in last year, the children moved to Scholastic's Lexile system as they finished the standard RR levels. I'm a big fan of this system, it's a great way to match books to children.

    It's here: click on the "Book Wizard" on the left, then switch the "Reading System" drop-down box to "Lexiles."

    Type in a book E. has enjoyed previously, then click the "Book Alike" tab. It will pick lots of matching titles (matched by reading difficulty, but then tagged by 'age' as suited to the themes.)

    Lexiles of around 600s-800s should be easily readable. Over 900 Lexiles seem to be more challenging in terms of comprehension. One good one (I think!) is "The Door in the Wall" by Marguerite de Angeli. It's a challenging read, but still very age-appropriate in content.

    1. I checked it out, Fiona, and it is an AWESOME resource. I tested it on Treasure Island, one of the books she's most enjoyed recently, and it said it was suitable for Grade 6 (ooops) with a Lexile score of 1100. I guess I should be looking for titles with Lexile scores above 900 for her, based on that. I'll give The Door in the Wall a go.

    2. She read/enjoyed Treasure Island? No wonder you are having trouble finding books for her!

      Maybe the book award lists (Caldecott and Newbery Medals lists especially) would provide another source of literature for her. Lots of lists at:

      E. might love as well (to make her own books.) My 3/4 class last year were besotted with this.

      I can remember reading "The Door in the Wall" when I was almost 8 (randomly found in the library), and I remember falling into it; I loved it. But I see now that the reviews on Amazon are very mixed. It's sanitised, children's historical fiction, not to everyone's taste, I guess, but I thought it was wonderful. I hope E. likes it if you can find a copy; it's a beautiful book.

  4. All of these are 30+ years old (ahem) but maybe some might suit the reading age you're shooting for?
    * If Narnia went well, maybe try Susan Cooper's "Dark is Rising" series, or Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time" series?
    * I was a big fan of Noel Streatfeild - the one I still have is "Ballet Shoes for Anna" (of course) but there was also an ice skating one.
    * May not be a winner if Anne hasn't struck a chord, but "Little Women"?
    * This might well still have too many older themes, but "Playing Beatie Bow" by Ruth Park?
    * And this might really be too old, as in published 1872 (will kids still read something that old?) but I still have all three books in Susan Coolidge's "What Katy Did" series. The first one is inscribed to me on my 7th birthday from my Great-Grandma, which gives an age guide...

    1. Of course, What Katy Did! Whyever didn't I think of those :-) I will dig them out tomorrow.

      A, my eldest, has a couple of the Ballet Shoes books, I'm not sure if E has seen them, but I'll check.

      I was reading A Wrinkle in Time aloud to both the big kids a while back, but they didn't cotton to it - I think the themes were still a bit advanced for them. And oh, I love love LOVE The Dark is Rising series, but I think E would be a bit scared by them yet. Maybe in a couple of years!

  5. After thoughts!

    * Have your girls read much Emily Rodda(Jennifer Rowe)? Maybe I'm the only person in the world who's never read any, but I know they were in high rotation among the Grade 3-4 girls at my school. Deltora Quest series, Deltora Shadowlands, Rowan of Rin etc.
    * Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White
    * The Margaret Davidson biography of Helen Kelen, for children. An easy read, but such a lovely book for children of this age. If you can get hold of the old edition from the 70s, it has a raised Braille alphabet on the back (leading to lots of fun with 'codes' generally.)
    * Manga Shakespeare! There were kids at my school last year who were *obsessed* with this!
    * Children's versions of Greek and Roman Mythology
    * Harry Potter of course (except I think reading ages ago that you don't like them?)

    Right - back to the housework - I am procrastinating!!

    1. I am extremely taken with the notion of Manga Shakespeare :-) You remember correctly that I have an allergy ti Harry Potter - I wouldn't discourage it if the girls come across them (which they will, eventually) but I'm not going to feed the habit!

      Mythology is a good idea, especially as she's loved Arabian Nights and Tales of King Arthur.

      A my eldest tried Emily Rodda and wasn't thrilled but I'll see what E makes of Deltora Quest.

      thanks for all the ideas :-)

  6. What about the moomintroll books? I loved these in early primary school. They are weird and 'foreign' but not scary or thematically too advanced (at least I don't remember them being so).

    1. I've never even heard of these. Will check them out!

  7. Also, if you can get over the aversion to L Frank Baum, I second the Oz books especially if you can find the editions with the original illustrations. I adored this series and one of the things I liked most was the beautiful art nouveau pictures which were in the copies at my local library.

    1. Hmmmm, maybe ... I just can't get past the fact that he was the very man who wrote such hateful editorials in a major paper at the time, calling for the effective extermination of the native people of the region. Like this beauty from 1891:
      "The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth."

  8. Also The Rescuers series by Margery Sharp. About talking mice. Set all over the world. Disney made a not very good movie but the books are way better. The main character is a white mouse called Miss Bianca who lives in a porcelain pagoda and is owned by a diplomat's child. Again, the illustrations are gorgeous.

    1. Again, I had idea these were books! The movie was so-so and I didn't realise it was based on books. E would like this, I think. Will chase it up.

  9. I'd suggest some of Emily Rodda's early novels such as
    Something Special
    Pigs Might Fly
    The Best-Kept Secret

    Also some of ruth park's might be good
    Callie's castle
    the big brass key
    The muddlehead wombat stories

    Colin Thiele's books are often more boy themed, but I loved them.

    1. E read the Muddle Headed Wombat quite recently and loved it - I forgot to list it! I will certainly pursue the other Ruth Park titles you suggest, thanks :-)

      Colin Thiele - Oh, Storm Boy! How I loved that book. I fear E would cry for a week, though - she's very tender-hearted about animals.

      I will also look out the Rodda titles. As I mentioned earlier, Deltora Quest wasn't a massive hit but maybe some of these will be better received.

  10. Emily Rodda's early books such as pigs might fly and something special.
    Ruth Park's such as Callie's castle and The big brass key
    Some of Colin Thiele's might be suitable. Emma Keppler is a good one to start girls on.

  11. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
    What Katy Did
    The Railway Children

    and etc. I've not read all of these yet, but I picked them up from the Book Depository for $2-3 each. Do a publisher search for Wordsworth Classics and see what you get?

  12. Heidi I've just given her and thanks to an earlier commenter , I've dug out theWhat Katy Did books - I think she'll like them too.

    Rebecca is a great suggestion - I loved that book as a child! I think The Railway Children will appeal too. I read Five Children and It aloud to the big kids 18 months ago and E really enjoyed that one, so I bet she'll like The Railway Children.

    Pollyanna - another great idea!