Thursday, August 21, 2014

Precocious readers

Precocious readers are those children who love to read and read at a very high level at a young age; they often start out as precocious listeners, listening to complex story after complex story. Having a precocious reader and sharing how difficult it is to keep them supplied with books is a little like complaining that your pants are too big and fall off or your house is so big it's hard to keep clean. It's not something that engenders much sympathy.

Yet, if you do have a precocious reader, it can be a real problem. It's not the volume of material that they read, but level at which they read it. There are many, many books that it's just not appropriate for a 9, 10, or 11 year old to read. My most current precocious reader is D. It is a perpetual challenge to keep him supplied with books. Like most 11 year olds, he does like series and they do keep him occupied most of the time.. sort of like me with mysteries. He reads them fast and because of their nature they become pretty interchangeable. And like me and mysteries, D. can only take so much of this before he desires some 'real' books. Books that are interesting and slightly challenging. It is at these moments that I find myself scurrying around staring at my bookcases trying to find something that fits the bill AND that I would hand to an 11 year... and a sensitive 11 year at that.

I wish this was going to turn into a nice, definitive list of all the wonderful books I've discovered. It's not, because it's just not that long. Usually I end up finding some juvenile fiction book that he hasn't read on the shelf and hand that to him, postponing the problem for another day. There are not often times when I hit upon a book that engages him at the level he desires.

I am discovering that at least for D., books written pre-1950 or so, are going to be my friend. He has read Sherlock Holmes and really liked that. The most recent success, and the book that has caused this post, is Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini. It has taken him more than two days to read (hooray!) and he has been carrying it around happily telling anyone who will listen what is happening next. Is there anything better than seeing your child reading a book and then hear them shout out loud because they are so engrossed in it and something exciting happened? It's good that Rafeal Sabatini wrote several more books, because that means I'm set for at least a month.

(Captain Blood, for those who are unfamiliar with it was written in 1935 and set in the 17th century. It tells the tale of a doctor who is unjustly condemned to death, escapes, becomes enslaved, escapes again, and becomes a pirate. It has themes of justice and the evils of slavery running throughout.)

When we're done with Sabatini, I will start to plunder more older books and see what else we can turn up.

One more book to suggest. Precocious listeners can be challenging as well. When M. was little, I read a recommendation for The King of Ireland's Son by Padraic Colum. Written in 1916, it starts out as a series of folk tales which are then woven into a larger story by the end. I remember M. sitting enthralled, at age 6 or 7.

OK, now it's your turn. What are your best suggestions for precocious readers? Maybe there will even be a prize if someone can suggest a book that 1. D. hasn't read and 2. is challenging and engaging. This will be no small feat, he reads constantly.


Lucy said...

War and Peace? That's not really a recommendation, as I have not read it myself :-) Pilgrims Progress takes a bit to wade through. Has he read Harold Lamb? I read a lot of Harold Lamb when I was a teenager, it might be a little much for an 11 year old, but I don't remember anything too offensive. Of course Zane Grey is a good choice, and he was very prolific.

I might be inclined to push more non-fiction reading. My ten year old wants to own her own dress shop someday, next time she tells me she is out of reading material, I'm going to hand her an old text book on how to be a buyer for a store that I picked up for a few dollars at a resale shop. Old college level textbooks on topics of interest can be very useful.

If he likes the natural world, there is non better than Hal Borland.

And last but not least for suggestions, I did threaten my 10 year old with the complete works of Shakespeare once. After she reads them she can start memorizing them : evil grin :

Ann said...

Kidnapped, by Stevenson; also Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; The Once and Future King, by T.H. White; One is One ( can't recommend this lost classic highly enough); presumably you've done Tolkien and the obvious Mark Twain choices?; A High Wind in Jamaica, by Richard Hughes; David Copperfield and Great Expectations, both of which should be mandatory for everyone!

For fun, the Hercule Poirot mysteries by A.Christie; The American Boy's Handy Book, by D. C. Beard; the McGuffy Readers.

Nonfiction: anything by Bernd Heinrich, Carl Sagan, Lewis Thomas; M.F.K.Fisher's culinary memoirs (fascinating stuff about France and WWII, among other things); American Childhoods, ed. David Willis McCullough; The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw, even though they weren't any greater than any other generation!

...And of course EACH of your kids should have his/her own personal copy of MY two kids' books: The House of a Million Pets and How to Die of Embarrassment Every Day. Maybe two copies apiece, to be on the safe side...

To China and Back said...

I read everything Corrie Ten Boom wrote at that age (or a little before). I read Watership Down around then, as well as the Hobbit books. I assume he has read the Percy Jackson series and Harry Potter series? I read the McGuffy readers too.

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