Remember what you were reading, 25 years ago?
I do, almost to the minute.
A quarter of a century ago, I was 10 years old, and was eagerly returning to my 4th grade classroom from Christmas break. I say “eagerly,” because, prior to leaving school for Christmas break, I had been reading about Tom, Becky Thatcher, Huck, and Injun Joe, and the rest. My fourth grade teacher had a shelf of books at the back of the room, and if you finished your work in class, you could select one and read it at your desk. As the books belonged to the teacher, we weren't allowed to take them home (probably a good policy). So, sitting in my desk cubby, with a torn piece of lined paper used as a bookmark, was a much-thumbed, years-old paperback copy of The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer. I couldn't wait to get back.
For some reason, many people these days think that 10 years of age is a bit young for a book that was originally published as a serial piece in a periodical, for family reading. At the time, it was highly popular. I think that this comes from the ongoing dispute over its [nominal] sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, with the furor over the use of the "N word," and the supposed questions of slavery. I have to admit that I don't understand this thinking. After reading Twain's treatment of life in Tom Sawyer, any 10 year old that understood what he was reading and sought to then read Huck Finn would get the not-so-subtle irony that Twain presented in the latter.
Tom Sawyer was one of those genius pieces that is either a juvenile written for the appreciation of adults, or an adult piece that juveniles could get. What 10 year-old wouldn't appreciate the concept of bargaining with another school student who wants to see your sore thumb? What adult who remembers childhood wouldn't smile at the memory?
My 8 year-old daughter has finished with the last Rowling book, and I'm heavy in discussion with my wife about allowing her to pick up the better classics. My wife thinks that we should have my daughter wait a tad longer before starting the classics, so that she can really appreciate them. My daughter's now halfway through a Roald Dahl book that she got for Christmas (thanks, Holly!), and if you don't classify his stuff as classic, you just haven't been paying attention. I'm getting ready to cut her loose and let her read what she wants-- appreciation of the classics be damned.