Now that schools in Vermont are officially on summer break, I’ve noticed something I’m not sure how to handle.
School let out on Friday and since then I’ve had four nine-year-old girls ask for one or more books in the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think Twilight is a fine series. I enjoyed it immensely when I read it. I am forty-four, not nine. I’m not sure what to do with this current phenomenon. I don’t like to judge purchases by anyone in my store, but this troubles me.
These bouncy, pigtailed nine-year-olds seem to have no reason to read these books other than "my friends are reading it." They don’t even like boys. I find asking them "Do you like boys?" is a great weeding-out question for some of the younger set. A giggle, and a sheepish "no" can usually sway them away from any book, except Twilight.
Well, this is the first time in 13 years of bookselling that I’ve had a real problem with a trend. I just think it’s wrong for innocent nine-year-olds to read a book about a vampire love story centered on a 17-year-old girl who loves a vampire. Yes, the first book is fairly innocent, but as the books progress so does the mature behavior, marriage, sex and a fairly intense birth scene. And I wonder how many parents would let their nine-year-old daughters, or sons for that matter, read any other book that dealt with such mature themes.
My fear is twofold — the first is they are coming to a good book too early and they won’t get out of the book what they would if they read it at the right age. The second issue is now that these girls are reading about characters so much older, they won’t have patience or the desire to read about children their own age. It saddens me that for three years parents who have put their foot down to their daughters who wanted to read Twilight before they were 12, have lost the will to make their kids wait. I worry that girls will think Harriet the Spy is too young for them, that The Great Gilly Hopkins has nothing to do with their lives, Walk Two Moons isn’t relevant. It pains me when nine-year-olds head right back to the young adult section and bypass the riches that make up the middle-grade section.
There are reasons books are written for the middle-grade set — they are appropriate for that age child, with maturity level they can handle and a complexity of the story with characters who speak to a child who is eight to twelve. As I explained to a befuddled Dad, kids who are nine and ten and go straight to young adult sometimes don’t come back to the books that were written for them. And that to me is the real tragedy in all of this.
So, how do I, as a bookseller, gently sway parents from buying a book their child is so obviously happy to read, but I feel is far too old? It’s a question I’ve been grappling with, unsuccessfully, for weeks. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.