Question: "My child is in 4th grade and is already reading books located in the Teen section. Should I be concerned?"
Answer: That's wonderful! When kids reach those fateful "tweenage" years, it can be quite confusing where to find appropriate books in our library. There is an entire book publishing market devoted to tween readers that categorize books into the readership of 9 to 12 year-olds. Because our particluar library has determined a Teen to be, for better or worse, in 6th grade or higher, those tween readers are split right down the middle between the two sections of the Library. So a simple answer to the above question is that for a few years (roughly between the ages of 9 and 12), your young reader will be floating between the YA and Juv sections to find appropriate and appealing books. Of course, it is still always up to you, the parent, to decide whether they think the content is suitable for the maturity level of their reader.
So how do we decide what book goes where? In a perfect world, we'd be able to read every single book we purchased. Oh how I wish that were true! But because we can't, the Teen Services Manager, Alison Lambart, and I often apply this simple rule of thumb:
*If the main character of the book is 11 years old or older, it goes into YA and if the character is 10 years old or younger it goes into Juvenile.
Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule and often we will read a borderline book to determine in which location it would attract more readers. We also look at where other libraries have categorized the book and what Editorial Reviews say.
Books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Harry Potter, and The Lightning Thief are located in the Young Adult Fiction section but are often read by kids as young as 3rd grade. That's because the characters of these great books are in Middle or High School but the reading level of the writing is accessible to a much younger audience. On the other hand, there is some wonderfully written literature that would appeal to older kids or teens. Books such as Alabama Moon, The Underneath, Mockingbird, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, and Hatchet are located in the Juvenile Fiction section.
It is a common misconception that once a reader has graduated to the Teen collection that they will no longer find a book that appeals to them in the Juvenile section. Also, a kid may feel that once they have read and loved a book intended for teenagers, that they no longer want to revert back to the kiddie pool, so to speak. That's all well and good as long as we don't run the risk of turning the child off to reading because they can no longer find a book that is both appealing to them and at the right reading level. The key to raising a voracious reader is to allow them the freedom of choice. In order to help them grow, we want to expand their reading options while being careful not to pigeon-hole their choices into one section or the other.
Never hesitate to ask one of our Kids' Enthusiasts for book suggestions and be sure to check out our Books and More page. Also, I highly recommend James Patterson's webiste, Read Kiddo Read, with a section especially devoted to Tween readers called Great Advanced Reads.