To the best of my knowledge, my kid read her first independently-read word when she was about 2.5. Now, at 5, she’s technically proficient. If we do every-other-word in a new book, she reads them all with some mispronunciations for more complex words. I’ve really struggled and failed to find books for her that she might want to read independently, though. She’s reluctant. The problem is that from an emotional level, she Does Not Want to encounter (a) rule-breaking/bad choices, (b) mean behavior between characters, or (c) things that scare her. She will ask me to stop reading a book to her if the drama level is too high for her. And it seems like all of the books I can find at her technical reading level are too high-drama for her, even things an adult would look at as no big deal. For more than a year, I’ve been reading nonfiction to her at bedtime, along with a couple of beloved Boynton board books. Nonfiction doesn’t bother her, and the Boyntons are meant for a pretty young audience.
I was a voracious reader, but didn’t learn to read until 6 and didn’t fall in love with it until 7. I’ve been worrying that I’m not setting her up to be a big reader because I haven’t found the books she loves yet. I would very much like for her to be someone who enjoys reading, though. A love of reading has brought me so much good, I want the same for her.
High sensitivity is not uncommon among gifted kids. DC1 and I were/are very similar (DC2 OTOH, delights in books about protagonists behaving badly– during our last poetry unit, one of hir poems is dedicated to Bad Kitty). I’m still a little traumatized from Matthew dying (spoiler, but not from Bad Kitty).
Non-fiction is great. DC1 read a ton of it in preschool and early elementary school. Scholastic was wonderful for increasing our non-fiction library.
For fiction, one thing to look into is older books. There are a couple of types of older books. There’s books like Penrod or The Great Brain that are horrific to our 21st century sensibilities in terms of kids casually abusing each other or their pets– you’ll definitely want to avoid those. But there’s also early-mid 20th century slice-of-life books where nothing bad ever happens and you just don’t get that emotionally engaged with the characters. So *early* Henry books from Beverly Cleary, but not later Ramona books (where the reader actually identifies with Ramona and her feelings, or, in my case, with Beezus).
The Five Little Peppers are another series of books in this genre. The first two in particular. From our adult eyes, bad things seem to happen (and are overcome), but the way it’s written kids don’t really pick up on the problems because of all the “good cheer”. Similar is All of a Kind Family. Eleanor Estes has a number of these (here’s Ginger Pye — the Moffats might not work out as I’m vaguely remembering that DC2 loved them and DC1 and I cringed a bit). IIRC I didn’t have any problem with Betsy-Tacy, but once Tib got added to the mix things got a bit more dramatic (as an adult reading these to DC2, who loved them, there’s a lot of very interesting and pretty modern social commentary on class, religion, and immigration that completely went over my head as a kid).
Similarly, Pippi Longstocking has all sorts of adventures that should make one cringe, but they don’t because she’s so irrepressible. (Though be careful– Pippi in the South Seas is kind of racist and definitely colonialist.)
L. Frank Baum has a number of short stories set in Oz or related places where nothing at all bad happens– they’re dreams of magical lands made from candy. DC1 and I could also handle the first two Oz books without problem– there are adventures and from an adult standpoint it seems like bad things happen, but as a kid they weren’t emotionally bad. In the third book, there are some genuinely terrifying creatures, like the nome king, the wheelers, and a princess who cuts off people’s heads so she can change her head depending on what she wants to look like for the day (this last one, oddly, I did not find as horrifying as the former two when I was a kid).
A more modern book with “just the right size” adventures is The Adventures of Miss Petitfour. The worst thing that happens in this book is running out of marmalade and that is easily solved by a trip to town (with a bit of magic thrown in).
Books recommended by commenters:
Nate the Great — these are very short mysteries. They do hit a perfect sweet spot, but they just don’t last very long… they get outgrown pretty quickly. Cam Jansen is somewhat similar, but has longer staying power, and you may need to screen some of them first.
Frog and Toad — DC1 loved these with what would have been to pieces except they have extremely good binding. There are a few bits here and there that are uncomfortable but they get resolved very quickly and everything is going to be ok.
– Sophie Mouse
– The Owl Diaries
– My Furry Foster Family
– Mrs. Piggle Wiggle
– Zoey & Sassafras
– Calvin & Hobbes
– Magic Treehouse (she’ll skip any “scary” parts)
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle does have situations that *should* set off people behaving badly triggers, but for some reason, especially in the first two books, they didn’t. Again, I think it’s that it seems more abstract than personal in a lot of these early-mid 20th century books by American authors so the logic centers are engaged rather than emotions?
As your kid gets older, 20th century American magic books like those by Edward Eager will be readable — they do have bad situations but you KNOW that everything is going to turn out ok… in the end everything always seems to happen for the best. The same is not true for British books of the same vintage (exception: Bed-knob and Broomstick … though also compare The Borrowers to The Littles and it’s clear that the American version is more optimistic and fun)– with those there often seems like if anything is going to go wrong it will, and at best they will get back to where they started but with more knowledge, after a lot of fighting. For a more modern take on adventure where it’s obvious everything is safe underneath, try Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.
Grumpy Nation, what books would you recommend for sensitive children?