Title: The Hobbit
by J.R.R. Tolkien
A modest little Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, a creature who enjoys good food and quiet country living, is tricked into joining 13 dwarves and the wizard Gandalf on an adventure to reclaim lost treasure from the dragon, Smaug. Along the way they encounter trolls who want to eat them, goblins who want to eat them (probably), and Gollum who wants to eat Bilbo. They battle the dragon, escape from captivity, are attacked by giant spiders and end up fighting in the climactic Battle of Five Armies. In the end Bilbo returns home enriched both financially and personally by his adventure and the stage is set for The Lord of the Rings.
Ages 9 and up
While The Hobbit is appropriate for kids as young as 9, if they want to read it themselves – or you want to encourage them to read it themselves – then I would push the age up to 11 or 12. Primarily because of some of the challenges its style and vocabulary may present younger, less developed readers. If you’re debating its appropriateness based on the Peter Jackson films I would encourage you to stop, ignore the films completely (perhaps even treat them with mild disdain), and reconsider the book on its own merits. The Hobbit is easily classified as children’s entertainment, the movies are not.
Some scenes won’t make for the best bedtime stories with mysterious dark caves, goblins, trolls, giant spiders, wargs and of course, the famous encounter with Gollum. Did I mention all the threats of being eaten? Pretty much all the evil creatures I just listed want to eat our adorable protagonists; who drink a great deal and smoke pipe-weed (in case you’re concerned about your kids saying no to drugs). There are battles and the death of major characters but most all of it is presented in a way that’s exciting without being overly gory. Definitely better to start off with this one before you work your way up to The Hunger Games and Divergent.
March 25th is official Tolkien Reading Day according to the Tolkien Society. It’s as good a reason as any to dig into The Hobbit. I was tempted to say and/or Lord of the Rings but if I was going to point someone to just one Tolkien book it’s a pretty easy choice to go with The Hobbit. It’s got everything Lord of the Rings has in a more compact format and with a broader age appeal. I know, I can hear the fans now, “The Hobbit is nothing like LOTR!” Well, when it comes to recommending fantasy books for children I will agree. The epic scope, mature style and subject matter, as well as violence of Lord of the Rings moves it solidly into teenage territory. If you want the same things worked into a book that’s enjoyable for all ages, then The Hobbit is what you’re looking for.