The above chart should be a familiar concept to anyone with a child or teenager. This simple guide (accompanied by alphabet letters) helps determine where a child or youth’s reading level is currently at. Teachers and parents use these types of resources to help find the most appropriate books for their children to read. It can also be a great source of pride for parents when they find out their children are reading at a higher than average reading level for their grade.
During this Sunday’s Cross Country Checkup on CBC there was a great discussion about which books have left (or are leaving) an impression on you as a young reader? Which novels or poems or non-fiction still linger with you into adulthood?
There was a specific discussion early in the program about the popularity of “cross over” novels from the young adult fiction category to the adult fiction category. A librarian was on the line who commented that historically the young adult category has been blurred on each of the end of its age range. Some children enter young adult reading early and some young adult readers find themselves with adult fiction early. She added however that one thing that is a very recent development is the occurrence of adults reading “down” to a young adult level. This is a startling.
Think of the popularity of Twilight, Hunger Games and Harry Potter to the adult reading crowd. These novels are written for a young adult (preteen in the case of Harry Potter) audience but their are just as many adult readers of these novels as teenagers.
There are many reasons – other than reading levels – for an adult to take time on these novels but it does highlight something unique and generally disturbing. If the most recent best-sellers of popular fiction continue to be young adult novels, where does that leave the state of literacy and literature in our culture? There will always been fine literature…but it will become crowded out by young adult novels and amateurish “Shades of Grey” homespun erotica (Check out CityLight Books in San Francisco or online to get a some great adult erotica).
I have my personal reservations about the content of many of these books – but that is based on my reading preferences. Where I take real umbrage is the diminished literacy of adults to settle for young adult fiction in their reading choices. These books are perfectly appropriate for young adult readers – and can be enjoyed by adults occasionally – but when they become the primary literary outlet for adults while setting the current standard of quality for adult literature I become disheartened. I want to grab those soccer moms, give their heads a shake and hand them some Margaret Atwood, Marcel Proust or William S. Burroughs (if they are that into kink).