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The Book Clinic: Too young for teen books
In a new fortnightly feature, Isabel Popple, lead bookseller at our Truro bookshop, answers your book-based questions to help you in your search for the perfect read. This week she's looking at finding great books for advanced younger readers whilst avoiding those teen titles which might not yet be so suitable...
"My daughter is 10 but has a reading age of 14, and I don’t want her reading teenage books with lots of violence or adult content. What do you recommend?"
The teenage section can, for parents, be a real minefield, especially for parents with younger children who want to read older books. The tricky thing is, of course, that a lot of the books in this department are written for teenagers, emphasis on the teen, so their themes are always going to be darker than books written for younger age-groups. There will be boys and kissing, there will be ‘issues’ (eg. familial problems, or growing-up dilemmas), and quite often they will be written from a genre perspective – a touch of fantasy, sci-fi or dystopia – genre being a subtle and simple way of introducing adult concepts without being preachy. I do find that a lot of parents who visit the teenage section are adverse to genre, but a lot of the best books for younger teen readers do come under this category because the more ‘reality’ based titles tend to have much more adult themes and content, which probably wouldn’t be suitable for your daughter. I’ve outlined below some great teen books to get your daughter started - some ‘real’, some ‘genre’ - but that don’t delve too deeply into subject matters that she might not be ready for.
A book that feels like a classic and a modern fairytale all wrapped up in one, it tells the story of Casey Blue, a horse fanatic who dreams of competing in the Badminton Horse Trials. But growing up as part of a one-parent family in East London means this is likely never to happen - until she buys a horse for one dollar and gets the chance to change her future. It’s a story not so much about horses as about following dreams and believing in yourself; Casey encounters various struggles but always picks herself up and keeps going. There is a romantic interest, but it’s very chaste.
One of the first examples of historical fiction I remember reading as a child, a book that has lasted the test of time, and is now a movie to boot. It is the story of a Roman soldier, Marcus, as he and his slave Esca travel into the northern wilds of Britain to try and uncover the mysterious disappearance of the Ninth Legion. With both adventure and an enticing view into the details of Roman, this would be a good choice if your daughter has enjoyed books like the Percy Jackson series or Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness.
This is the story of a boy – Eragon – transported from his lowly farming life to one of adventure and magic after he finds a strange, highly polished stone in the forest – not a stone, but a dragon’s egg. Eragon is classic fantasy, and Paolini has clearly been influenced by world such as The Lord of the Rings, but has brought his own fantasy world to life in an easier and more engaging manner. The first of four chunky books, there’s plenty here for your daughter to get her teeth into.
A really excellent character story. Stanley has been sent to a juvenile detention centre for a crime he – obviously – didn’t commit. But this is no ordinary detention centre: told to dig holes five foot wide by five foot deep, Stanley soon starts to question what is really going on, to challenge authority, and is ultimately led into digging up his family’s past. Anything by Louis Sachar is a good bet for your daughter, with his well-rounded characters, sense of adventure, and literary style, especially if she likes books by Frank Cottrell Boyce or David Walliams.
Equally real and fantastical, Northern Lights’ protagonist, Lyra, lives in a world remarkably similar to our own and yet remarkably different. Sometimes known by it’s filmic title, The Golden Compass, this is a book full of mysteries and ideas and interesting concepts to bring out the philosopher in your daughter, but it is also a true adventure, with hot air balloons, talking bears, witches, and plenty more to capture her imagination. It’s also exceedingly well written and has great depth.
When Sapphire and Conor’s father is lost at sea, they refuse to believe the worst, but in their search for him they’re drawn into a new world: Ingo, the underwater world of the mer people, a place that draws you in, where time and life mean different things to what they mean on dry land. Set in picturesque Cornwall and written by an award-winning author, Ingo is a book that both flows like the tides and the rhythm of the sea whilst asking questions and generating a gripping adventure. A natural step up from Liz Kessler’s Philippa Fisher series.
You could also try:
2012 Costa Children’s winner Maggot Moon, Sally Gardner (actually, anything by Sally Gardner); The Seeing Stone, Kevin Crossley-Holland; The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater; I Am Number Four, Pittacus Lore; The Knife of Never Letting Go by the award-winning Patrick Ness; The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Mark Haddon; Sabriel, Garth Nix, Mortal Engines, Philip Reeve; Un Lun Dun, China Mieville. Or why not try some classics such as Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Montgomery; Little Women, Louisa Maway Alcott; or Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome.
Isabel Popple, for Waterstones.com/blog
Do you have a question for The Book Clinic?
Whether you're trying to find the next fix for your Science Fiction addiction, looking for the perfect literary page turner for your holidays, or just can't face ploughing through all the PG Wodehouse books to find the truly great ones - whatever the dilemma, let us know in the comments below...