Jennifer's question in the comments on my Twenty and Ten post got me thinking about the ages at which we allow various books for our children.
I approach reading recommendations, age-appropriateness and reading levels with a skeptic's eye. It's such an individual thing. One of the beauties of homeschooling is that the parent can make those highly individualized choices without it becoming an issue. We can base our decisions on personality, maturity, intellect, and emotional levels rather than on "what grade they're in."
Back to Jennifer's question: she had asked about reading Twenty and Ten to Kindergarten-aged children, as per a curriculum provider's recommendation. I was surprised that the provider would list the book for such a young age (and agreed with Jennifer's gut feeling that she would skip it, just as she had skipped a book about the homeless.) While there's nothing awful or graphic, the major themes are simply beyond what most five and six year olds need to absorb. That's not to say that a young child couldn't take something from the book. Ramona actually listened in on most of our Twenty and Ten read-aloud, and she took from it that, "the little one loved Jesus." I'm sure she absorbed even more than that (she proves to me daily that she's absorbing tons from the older girls ... yesterday she drew a picture of a cell, and copied the word "genetics" from her sister's science notebook ....) but the point I want to make is that while the absorption is fine, I wouldn't go out of my way to read this book specifically to Ramona when she is five or six years old, mainly because I'm making the choice as a parent to not delve deeply into themes surrounding WWII with her at that age.
The book was easy reading, to be sure. One could argue that it was too easy a reading level for my older girls, and that there was no reason for me to read it aloud. But I don't read aloud only to expose my kids to more complex books. No, I read aloud to spark discussion, to explore the world with them, and to add an element of shared discovery to their education. To my education.
I've sung the praises of read-alouds before -- here, here, here and here, for example. I continue to sing those praises.
Reading aloud lets me make decisions (I can edit if something is too intense for my hyper-sensitive child), initiate conversations ("Why do you think she did that?"), and be present to answer a string of questions that otherwise might not be asked in the course of reading a book.
So, reading aloud can help with the "Is my child old enough for this book?" dilemma for all of those reasons. Beyond that, trust your instincts. No one knows your children as you do. If they're not ready for the same book every other ten-year-old in the world has read, that's okay. And, if they're reading books that would make the average ten-year-old cringe, that's okay, too. Instead of looking at what's age-appropriate, we need (within the boundaries of protecting innocence, of course) to look at "what's appropriate for this particular child."