My ten-year-old read Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. In three days. Four years ago. And she understood it: I had a little tete-a-tete with her when she was done, and asked her some basic comprehension questions: "Who was Aragorn?", "How did Denethor die?", "Where did they meet a balrog?" "Who was the brown wizard?" questions like that. She got them all right. We won't let her watch the movies, but she's read the books.
And like me, she liked Tom Bombadil the best. I can never forgive Peter Jackson for completely ignoring the most interesting character in the whole story.
Last year, she wanted to read A Christmas Carol by Dickens. I gave her permission to read my Charles Dickens "omnibus": a single volume containing four or five of Dickens' novels. She seemed to be taking quite a while to read A Christmas Carol, so I asked her how she liked it. She liked it a lot; but she liked Hard Times better, and Great Expectations was good too, although A Tale of Two Cities was too depressing, so she didn't finish it.
She occasionally refers to Ames and me as the "A. P. s"
The hardest thing with having a bona fide reader in the house is, finding age-appropriate material. She loves the Redwall books by Brian Jacques, but he's not writing them fast enough. So now I scour used-books-stores, looking for the wonderful novels I read as a kid. I found a used copy of The Mad Scientists' Club, which was a wonderful find. We also found The Egypt Game, and a bunch of sundries I read as a kid. And I obtained a complete set of The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper in a single volume a few years back. My ten-year-old's put quite a dent in that too.
But the real treasure was this:
That, friends, is a partial set of Children's Classic Library. We had a set when I was a kid: I think they were a gift from Uncle Mel. At any rate, I've been slowly piecing together a whole set from various used-book sources.
My favourite volumes as a kid were: Arabian Nights, King Arthur, and Robin Hood. I don't know how many times I read "The Genie and the Merchant", or "The Man with Two Hinds". I loved that book. In fact, I read it through the other night, and it was everything I remembered.
Gift idea for clumsy: a complete, "adult" (i.e. not a kids') edition of 1001 Nights (Arabian Nights). Just a helpful hint there...
A lot of people are shocked to learn we don't have T. V. Sure, we can watch DVDs on the computer if we need to: and it's a decent system. Or at least, it's convenient enough to use, and inconvenient enough to not become a habit. But people always ask "What do your kids do?". Well, reading is high on the list.
And you know what? They seem to like it that way.
For my own part, I've tried to gather good kids' books from before we had any kids, or before I ever met my wife. It's nice to be able to walk into a library and have an idea what books and authors my kids will like. Frankly, it's nice to know I got at least one thing right...