Monday, June 10, 2013

Choosing books for advanced readers

One of these things is not like the other...
Creepy kids, haunting black and white photographs, an abandoned orphanage on a mysterious Welsh island, and…a Yo Mama joke that references oral sex? As they sing on Sesame Street, one of this things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong…*

Choosing books for advanced readers isn’t always easy.  Although as bright kids they have the skill to read at a particular level, not all books at that level will interest them or have story lines or language appropriate for their actual ages.

So as an admittedly overprotective mom obsessive about preserving my childrens’ childhoods as long as I possibly can, I cringed when I got to this line during a pre-read of Ransom Riggs’ NY Times #1 Best Seller Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children:
Jacob: Were you just smoking and chewing tobacco at the same time?
Ricky: What are you, my mom?
Jacob: Do I look like I blow truckers for food stamps?”
Why, Mr Riggs, why? I can’t for the life of me figure out why this line ended up in a kids book. Yes, I understand that Jacob is troubled, and that by saying something so shocking to Ricky, he loses his only friend. But surely the author could’ve come up with an equally friendship-ruining scene that didn’t include the phrase “blow truckers”?

Now I know that with Jacob being 16, this book is aimed at teens, not pre-teens. But I still think this particular line is a black smudge in an otherwise absolutely fabulous read.

And it is fabulous, truly. After a family tragedy, Jacob, with his father in tow, journeys to Wales in a quest for truth and understanding. He finds the orphanage, long abandoned now, where his Jewish grandfather lived during the war along with a host of other “peculiar” children. But as he soon discovers, not everything is as it seems. Not on the island nor in his everyday life, either.

Adding to the story are a series of stunning vintage photographs of the residents of Miss Peregrine’s Home. Riggs obtained them (the photos, not the actual orphans) from private collections and most are presented unaltered. They’re a key part of the story as well, not just illustrations, and add a definite otherworldliness to the narrative.

So as much as I enjoyed the book, will I give Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to my 10 year old to read? Nope, not yet, I’m thinking junior high at the earliest. 

But what do you think? Is it silly to set aside an otherwise amazing book due to two poorly chosen words?

* This is how we sang it back in the day, when Bert and Ernie shacked up happily and cookies weren’t just a “sometimes” food. I think somewhere along the way the lyrics changed from “just doesn’t belong” to “are not the same.” Sigh.


  1. I don't have children so I won't presume to add my two cents, other than to say I admire not only your well written article and thoughtfulness on this subject, but (especially) how you are teaching your children to value books.

  2. It's been awhile since I've read this book, and I don't remember that line at all! My oldest daughter is eleven, and yes, I think I'd have a problem with her stumbling across that line of dialogue. I've seen it shelved in the YA section, but with the word "children" in the title, you never know what age group might pick it up, especially with the photos.

    I remember being so intrigued by the book's description and of course the photographs, but disappointed in about the last third of the story. I don't remember why's been more than a year since I read it...only that I struggled to get through the end.