In the 7th grade, I unearthed The Hobbit from my dad's collection of dog-eared sci-fi/fantasy novels and have never looked back. In recent years, I was surprised to learn that Stanley Unwin, part of the original publishing house that took on Tolkien's work, gave The Hobbit to his 10-year-old son to read and review before they ultimately acquired it. I'm intrigued to find that earlier generations placed The Hobbit squarely in the camp of children's literature (ages 5-9). Though I first read it as a child, there was much in The Hobbit that I didn't appreciate the initial time through: the songs and poems (does anyone else skim through those spots?), the vocabulary, the allusions to mythology. Perhaps this says something about the weak areas in my own education or how we've all become stupider over the years, but I think it also has something to do with the lack of reader-designations.
|Rayner Unwin's original review|
The Hobbit hit the shelves long before the designations of "middle-grade" and "young adult" became standard bookstore fare, when readers graduated from children's books to adult novels according to taste, not grade-level or even reading ability. I think there's something helpful about reading beyond our comprehension, something timeless about being able to return to re-read a favorite and find new things that our past selves might not have perceived. Have we lost this fluidity in today's classrooms, bookstores, and libraries? It could be that the middle-grade category, as useful as it is, might also be quite limiting. Will today's 10-year-olds, faced with more age-determined marketing, reach for a novel they might not fully understand? Or will they hunt down something aimed specifically at their age-group?
What do you think? When do the designations "middle-grade" and "young adult" cease to be helpful? And, whom, primarily do they serve?
P.S. It's also a good time of the year to pick up Tolkien's Father Christmas Letters. So clever!