I doubt anyone would be surprised to learn that most writers were avid readers at a very young age. I was no different. I can remember my grandmother, who only made it through eighth grade before she had to drop out of school to help with her family, reading to me from the time I could climb up on her lap and sit still (the sitting still part was key). Rumor amongst the family has it I was reading on my own by the age of 4, long before there were pre-schools teaching reading before kindergarten. What I know for a fact is that I have no childhood memories that don't include a book in my hand, my bed or on my nightstand. I could never get enough to read.
Now, you would think with all that reading, picking just one favorite book would be near impossible, but you would think wrong. From the first page of the book right up to this very day, my favorite book of all time is "Little Women". I read this book for the first time when I was 8 years old, which I've learned in adulthood is young to be reading a novel of this advanced level. I know this because I bought the book as a Christmas present for my stepdaughter and granddaughter at the very same age and neither of them bothered to pick it up. I finally gave up and started reading it to my granddaughter and, still, could not keep her interest. You can't imagine my frustration level that two young girls couldn't get into the emotional ups and downs in the lives of the March girls.
I always hoped my stepdaughter would eventually read the book, but it was not to be. My granddaughter has just recently turned 10 and is now reading "chapter books", but the reading level is way below that encountered in "Little Women". I had a bit of a problem understanding why young girls today weren't grabbing this book up. I was shocked to find it wasn't even stocked in my granddaughter's school library. How could I expect a 10 year old to be reading a book she wasn't being exposed to. I took the giant step and asked the librarian why the book was not on her shelf. She actually seemed shocked by the question. "Little Women is a classic. These children may be exposed to it in middle school, but I would venture most won't read it until high school, and then only if it's required reading. We don't have the space or the funds to put a book on the shelf no one will be reading."
Come on, you've got to be kidding! What are we doing to our children these days? Even if I accept that I was a bit advanced as a reader, by what they call middle school today I had read everything Louisa May Alcott had written, along with at least two biographies on her. Even if a librarian feels the book is an advanced read for elementary school children, there have to be girls who can handle the book and should be exposed to it long before middle school. I've seen the "chapter books" my granddaughter reads and although entertaining enough to keep her reading (which I will always encourage) they are not particularly challenging.
So, while the lessons of the March family sit on a dusty library shelf in a middle or high school somewhere, our girls are growing up with Harry Potter and the Twilight series. And let me tell you, I've ready each and every Harry Potter book and if a 9-year old can read and understand Harry Potter, they can more than read and understand " Little Women." Our elementary schools need to start challenging our young readers again by putting books into their hands that will lead them towards the love of reading, not just the love of one series of books. Then, when the time comes in high school to dig into those classics, like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Dickens and Twain, they'll be hungry for every word.
Me, I'll reread my stories about Jo March and her sisters every few years like I always have and, now, with this little reminder, I think it might be time to find my copies of "Little Men" and "Jo's Boys" as well.