A State of Abundance
I live in beautiful Washington state, in the part of the state that grows many of the cherries and apples the rest of the country enjoys. We also have grapes, berries, peaches, pears, apricots, plums, and more. From the time the cherries ripen in June to the last of the grapes and pears in the fall, it’s one long season of fresh-picked abundance.
I used to live in the South, also a region of plenty. Indeed, the growing season is even longer there. I was enjoying the best peaches ever by this point in the summer. So juicy, I had to stand over the kitchen sink to bite into one.
Thankfully, I have my own, delicious peach tree here in Washington! But I can’t rush it. They just aren’t ready by now. Sure, they look beautiful. They won’t hurt me. They just won’t have as much juicy flavor now as they will in a few weeks.
Thanks to modern shipping methods, I could buy Southern peaches in the grocery store right now. Their aroma taunts me as I steadfastly walk by. But I’ve been down that road before. It’s a facade. They won’t have the fresh-picked flavor I remember. The texture will be off. They will still be peaches, just not as good. My own fresh-picked peaches are worth the wait.
If I succombed to impatient purchases of grocery store peaches, I would suffer two losses:
- the fresh fruit that IS in season (cherries, apricots, marionberries, plums, ….).
- the enjoyment of my own peaches when they come in. I’m in danger of eating too many sub-par peaches and being, dare I say it, tired of peaches when the best ones are ready in my area.
This is not a food blog. This is a website all about reading, its delights, its cautions, and the veritable feast we have available today. How does waiting for fruit in its season relate to our children and reading?
I’m glad you asked.
We are in danger of buying grocery store peaches for our children.
After all, Darrell is reading at a 7th grade level even though he’s only 8. Charlotte’s Web is “beneath” his reading level. Instead, he’s reading A Wrinkle in Time. Serena is already reading high school level books in 6th grade! She just read The Thief, Pride and Prejudice, and Frankenstein this year. We think The Wednesday Wars is too easy for her.
My friends, we have a problem. In our haste to assign numeric, qualitative evaluations to a book’s “reading level” and, by default, our own children’s “reading levels,” we are buying grocery store peaches. A book’s Lexile level (or AR level or any other standardized metric) focuses on the mechanics of reading: the vocabulary used, the number of syllables in sentences, the length of paragraphs, and so forth.
Are these metrics helpful? Sure, to an extent. Far, far more important is the content of the book.
We Christians are pretty aware of troubling content that might be too “mature” for children. Here at Redeemed Reader, we even offer cautions. These are not to steer you away from a book, but to allude to more mature content issues that younger readers might not be ready for, even if their mechanical reading skills are at that level.
But “cautions” are only part of the picture. Sometimes, a book’s delights are also more mature. Sometimes, it’s worth waiting for the peaches to ripen on the tree and read something else in the meantime. After all, do we really want our children to miss gems like Charlotte’s Web and Anne of Green Gables and Frog and Toad simply because their mechanical reading skills are “more advanced”?
I’m really good at picking peaches, but that doesn’t mean I won’t experience loss if I go pick my unripe peaches today. I’m far, far better off enjoying the fruits in season and waiting a little while to enjoy the ripe peaches down the road.
Let’s not rush our children or brag about their reading levels.
Let’s enjoy the ripe books in front of us, the ones that we are all ready to enjoy right now. When our children mature enough in high school to truly enjoy The Chosen, we don’t want them to have jaded appetite just because they could have (technically) read it in fifth grade. Instead, let them read Holes, Little Britches, The Wingfeather Saga, The Wilderking Books, Treasure Island, Swallows and Amazons, Circus Mirandus, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, or any other of a host of books with rich thematic material in the meantime.
I guarantee you, as the parent, will enjoy these children’s novels as much as (or more than!) your children. They are genuinely great books, despite their childlike reading level. After all, as C. S. Lewis reminds us,
No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.
He doesn’t mean we should skip children books. He does mean that the best children’s books are worth reading even when you are no longer a child–and that the best children’s books are also worth reading at age 10, despite their “reading level.”