Read enough children’s books and you’ll realise something magical happens after age twelve. It’s even embedded in the English language, which thirteen marks the beginning of the teen years. Twelve is the final age of innocence. In JudeoChristian terms, 12 is the final year in which you can get away with things. Next comes ‘the age of accountability’.
“Nothing that happens after we are twelve matters very much.”
— J.M. Barrie, nearly a century ago.
Twelve As The Age Of Initiation
Amazingly many children’s novels portray characters of eleven or twelve. I do not think this is a coincidence. This is the age of initiation in many archaic cultures, and although this connotation has been lost in Western society, some remnants may be left in the authors’ imagination. Children in The Giver are assigned their jobs, and therewith their place in society, at the age of twelve. Here is what another character says about this age: “Twelve is the magical dividing line, we all know that. I don’t care what grown-ups say, but that’s when your childhood comes to an end” (Johnny My Friend, 89). Formally, of course, after twelve you are a “teenager”, not a child.
— from The Rhetoric of Character In Children’s Literature by Maria Nikolajeva
It’s no accident that in Lois Lowry’s book The Giver, Jonas and his peers are chosen for bigger things at the age of twelve. Jonas feels overwhelmed by this metamorphosis from child to adult:
Jonas trudged to the bench beside the Storehouse and sat down, overwhelmed with feelings of loss. His childhood, his friendships, his carefree sense of security — all of these things seemed to be slipping away.
Twelve As The Age Of In-between
Onkeli portrays a child of around 11 to 13 who is confused by many things. Researchers consider this age group to fall into an in-between area: there aren’t enough appealing activities on offer for kids of this age, who are treated as an awkward bunch both at home and at school.
Writers over at Book Riot understand that there’s something magical about being under 13, because they have published a list of 50 books to read before you’re 11 and 3/4.