Reading Darker Books with a Younger Child
I’ve often trumpeted the fact that I don’t believe we should not heavily control what our children read. I practice what I preach. Recently, I found myself in a bit of an unusual situation because of this. I had checked out Victoria Schwab’s The Archived from our local library for my personal reading. As things go, my child snuggled beside me and asked me to read to her. So, I read what I had on hand. It’s not the first time this has happened, nor will it be the last. It was, however, the first time that I’d been reading this type of book when she asked. The reading experience has been unique, so I thought I’d do up a post on it.
To be clear, this is not a review on The Archived (though I will give you some information on it). This is about reading a ‘darker’ book with a younger child.
This is also written as we’re at the halfway point with The Archived. I will write a follow-up when we finish the book.
Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.
Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.
Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was: a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.
Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous—it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost, Da’s death was hard enough, but now that her little brother is gone too, Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself may crumble and fall. – Goodreads Synopsis
I imagine some of you are shocked and probably outraged that I’d even consider reading this with a seven-year-old after reading the synopsis. Honestly, it’s not one I would have picked up and went ‘this sounds like a perfect bedtime story book!’. In fact, with that synopsis, if someone said “would you say this is appropriate for younger kids?” I’d probably say “No.” Even halfway through the book, I’d still say no. This book is not appropriate for younger kids – to read alone. There are also going to be lots of younger kids that this would not be an appropriate read for even with a parent. It is dark. It talks about death – frequently. It deals with the emotions that come with loss. It has several scenes with violence in them. Blood and danger feature frequently.
So, no, it’s not going to be good reading for most kids below the recommended age range of 12+.
When I started reading it to her, I figured she wouldn’t really be interested. I deliberately read it very soft, and calm, using the beautiful prose to lull her to sleep. Still, she asked for it again the next night. And the night after that. At the same time, she never really seemed interested in the book. So, I didn’t even think about it. But then – about six chapters in – something clicked for her. I don’t know what it was, but suddenly she went from listening to the sound of me reading this book, to listening to me read this book.
She was hooked. Suddenly it began to take much longer to get through the chapters because she was holding up fingers for words she didn’t understand. She was asking me to help her understand phrases. She was questioning what had happened, and relating it to things she could identify with.
She was suddenly connecting with the book.
Ah, crap. I wasn’t entirely sure this was a book I wanted her to connect with. Still, I wasn’t going to back down from it. If she’s that interested in a book, we will keep reading it. That’s just how we do things. But… it’s been difficult. Even a discussion on a particular phase ended with me in tears. She had asked me “How can she say he’s ten years old if he’s dead?” and I responded without proper thought. I said “People just talk about them as being the age they were when they died – not older or younger. It’s just how we do things.” This lead to a discussion on how old her baby sister was when she died. Yeah, tears.
There’s been times when I’ve had to explain that yes – that person/History was actively trying to hurt Mac. That sometimes people do try to hurt other people. I think this book was responsible for making ‘death’ finally click with her. Before that, she didn’t really understand it. This book is dark, and serious, and not an easy read at times.
I don’t regret reading it with her.
I don’t regret reading it with her. You know why? Partly because of the difficult conversations. Because this book gives us a way to talk about pain, and suffering, and death in a non-personal way. Because I’m a coward and there’s some things I won’t talk about with my child unless something forces the issue. Because her mind is gorgeous. Watching the cogs turn, the connections being made, seeing her eyes light up … is awesome. Hearing her ask me ‘for just one more chapter’. Listening to her daring to argue with me because she thinks I’ve recollected something wrong in our chapter recaps.
This has so far been a perfect example of why we shouldn’t regulate what our kids read. Yes, my kid does have an advanced reading level for her age, but even then, The Archived is ‘too old’ for her. It’s not something I’d have picked out for her in a million years. Yet, it’s entertaining her. It’s giving us excuses for meaningful discussions. It’s expanding her vocabulary and forging new connections in her mind. It’s darker, but darker doesn’t equal bad.
Be interesting to see what I say when we’ve finished the book, considering right now things are just starting to ‘heat up’, eh?