I've been reading a lot more children's books these days. Only that's not the right term for them anymore, is it? Now they are all either Young Adult (YA) or Middle Grade (MG) - though I suppose the readers of YA would object to my referencing them as children's books, and they'd have a point. These are not the books I grew up with. In fact, looking back, I don't think there was much like this at all when I was growing up.
(For those of you in the younger generations, yes, this is going to be somewhat of a "back in my day" post. You've been warned.)
I'm reading a lot more of these books because I read to my daughter, who at 8 years old has still not yet outgrown wanting Dad to read her stories. She still enjoys picture books, but started reading chapter books a couple of years ago, so we started doing longer books when we read. I managed to get through all the traditional standards I could think of: Dorothy and Alice, Pooh and Rat and Mole, even some Dahl and Kipling. And then my ideas dried up.
I consulted some people (by which I mean the good folks over at the AbsoluteWrite forums), and was able to come up with a list of titles.
All of which have turned out to be a lot more sophisticated than the books written "for kids" back in my day. This does not include any of the above named books and authors, of course, as they were around back then, too. I'm not quite so old that Dahl hadn't written about Charlie yet, not quite so old at all. But, back then, that was pretty much the lot of it, as I remember.
Oh, there were all the Newbery medal winners, but they mostly tend to be more grounded, more realistic books, and as we all know they tend to end on a depressing note or else, for the most part, they don't seem to get a Newbery. (The good folks at TVTropes can back me up on this. They could be renamed the Newbury for as many of them which have ended in death.) In terms of fantasy or science fiction.... well, it was pretty limited. There was Lloyd Alexander's Taran series, and there were the Narnia books, which I confess I have never read, and Ursula Le Guin, and then... well then the pickings got thin.
By the time I hit sixth grade, I was out of books at my school and local library, and had begun moving on to Tolkien and Herbert and Clarke. There simply wasn't a choice. The middle ground between picture books and "adult" books was narrow ground, and you skipped over rather quickly. Now, when I go the library to pick out what I'm going to read to my daughter next, I'm almost overwhelmed with choices.
Good choices, too. A lot of these books are far more sophisticated and well-written than I would have ever given them credit for. They are exciting, and often funny, and best of all they don't condescend. Not all are great. My daughter wanted to try a particular series that seems mostly the product of a book mill while it pretends to be Watership Down with different animals, and despite it being aimed at her tastes, she couldn't get into it. After reading a bit of it myself, I understood why.
But most of them are good, and more importantly there is such a vast array of genres in the MG and YA that if my daughter gets momentarily tired of a certain genre - as she did with the "spooky" books we were reading, some of which were a lot creepier than I'd have thought kid's books would/should be - we can move on to other genres until she's in the mood again.
Most importantly, aside from giving me plenty of titles to choose from for as long as she continues to let me read to her, it has made her a more diverse reader than I ever was at her age. A diversity that I hope will serve her well in her appreciation for new things in other fields.
Now if I can just convince her there's more to music than Pop and Country....