Saturday, August 8, 2009
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, by Patricia C. Wrede
I've raised this point on this blog before, and I undoubtedly will again. But I think that, to a large extent, putting reader ages on books is a mistake.
And mostly, I think it's a mistake when a cap is put on the reading age. A starting age is, if nothing else, a good guideline, both for reading ability and for content. Even if some first-graders are reading at a college level, that doesn't mean they should start going through Stephen King novels or, heck, even John Irving books (let alone steamy Harlequin romances). The good thing, though, is that books aren't controlled in the same way movie theaters are (at least in theory). You don't need photo identification to read a book, and while parental approval might be nice when selecting advanced books, those age suggestions on the cover are just that -- suggestions.
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, and Talking to Dragons) are labeled as young adult books, and I think that's probably a good starting point -- if kids are reading them to themselves. But I see no reason why younger children couldn't enjoy these (and other) books being read aloud to them, because they're just good stories. And even if the vocabulary or the sentence structure were a bit difficult (I don't think it is in these books, but hey, I'm sadly not a little kid anymore), who cares? How else are children going to improve their command of language?
But really, what age labeling of books does is turn away adult readers. Obviously not all of them, or else I wouldn't have read these books and they wouldn't have been recommended to me. But a lot of adults -- to be fair, maybe not so many of the adults who actually read books -- will be turned off, thinking such books to be below them or some such nonsense.
And sadly, often they are right. Perhaps I give young adults more credit than some of them deserve, but I think they can handle plot twists and red herrings and endings that aren't always neat and tidy. A lot of people -- adults both young and normal -- like surprises, like twists, like stories that resemble life just enough to make them real while still allowing for escapism. And too many young adult books don't allow for such flexibility.
The Chronicles are very good stories, and actually involve a fair amount of humor that adults might find funnier than children would, thanks to the juxtaposition of the fantasy realm with more modern-day concepts which are usually put forth by the characters themselves. But the books, like so many "young adult" works, could have benefited from a touch of uncertainty.
I hope you're reading this, all you young-adult-book authors out there...