As parents, we try to screen our children from media that we find unacceptable for their age, and it’s no different from books. We try to give an idea of content that might be objectionable for the age in our children’s book reviews, but since content varies from person to person, what seems okay to me for an upper middle-grade reader might not be okay for you (you can always leave a comment asking the reviewer about the specifics).
I remember when there was a lot of furor over the Harry Potter books. Some conservative Christians protested their inclusion in school libraries and classroom curriculum. My daughter was too young to read them herself at the time, but as she was already beginning to find her destiny as a confirmed bookworm delving into the Magic Tree House and the Boxcar Children, I knew the time would come when she’d want to discover Hogwart’s as well.
As a Christian myself (conservative, even), I wasn’t opposed to magic in general — after all, isn’t Narnia magical? and what about Oz? But I could understand some of the possible issues of concern. I had several adult friends who had already fallen in love with the bespectacled hero, so I bought the first two books before a trip one summer, so I could check him out myself. And it was fine. I was glad I hadn’t just blindly given in to the hype and taken the time to decide for myself. I’m not knocking those who choose not to read it, or don’t want their children to (though I don’t really see any cause for concern), but for me and my family, it was fine. I did make Amanda wait to start reading until she was in 4th or 5th grade. With the amount of time she spent reading, I knew that once she started, she could have zoomed through the books too quickly, surpassing her maturity level, and they do get more mature and more intense as they go along. Kyle is finishing third grade, and I’m considering him letting him read the first two this summer.
That was something I did right, but I only recently discovered something I did wrong.
I had taken a few negative and critical reviews/comments of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events to heart. I thought they were sinister and inappropriate, so I told Amanda at some point that she shouldn’t read them. Even though she’s about to finish her first year of high school, we still enjoy reading books aloud, and oftentimes they are middle grade books that we both still enjoy even though we’ve aged out of them officially. When we were trying to figure out what to read next, she said, “You know, I never read A Series of Unfortunate Events, but I’ve heard they’re good.” She hadn’t even remembered that I had been the reason she had never read them. I had downloaded the first one on my Kindle at some point when it was a free title, so we got to it immediately.
We were immediately charmed and amused. Inappropriate? Creepy? Not really. Count Olaf is bad, but everyone knows he’s bad. He’s supposed to be bad. Lemony Snicket tells us he’s bad and the children are going to suffer from unfortunate events. We were enjoying the first one so much that when I saw the next one at a used bookstore for a dollar, I snatched it up, and we’re reading it now. I’m going to keep my eye out for bargains, and perhaps complete the series. This is another one that I might see if 9-year-old Kyle would like to start this summer. He’s a little tender-hearted, but he also has a great sense of humor, so I’ll just have to see how he takes the first one to see if now is the right time.
Tell me I’m not the only one. Have you ever forbidden something that turned out not to be so bad? Or maybe you’ve allowed something that you later found out more about and regretted that (I’ve done that too!)? Leave a comment and let’s discuss!
Mmmm. Books. Love books. I was in junior high when Harry Potter came out, and my father banned them from the house. It was about the time the third book came out that I started reading them, and by the time the last one came out I drove two hours to a bookstore and had to park on the side of the road to read just one more page, one more chapter, on the way home. I was raised in a conservative Christian home, and I hold to my faith, but I love fantasy. As the kid who snuck books past her parents, I say yes, read them for yourself. Anne McCaffery’s books aren’t always the best for a twelve year old to read. Neither are the “People of the Lightening, etc”. I read FAR above my grade level, and my brain is scarred for life. Kushiel’s Dart anyone?
But there’s a thing to remember. They’re fiction. Fantasy. Harry Potter doesn’t really exist except in the imagination, and what one parent (my dad) finds unacceptable, another will realize that as long as a person is grounded in reality, and hopefully God, I don’t think we need to worry so much as long as a parent does what you just said: Read before you judge.
Thanks for your perspective, Robin. I agree. We enjoy fantasy too, and I think that if a person (whether child or adult) can distinguish between fantasy and reality, it’s nice escapism. I do believe that there are people practicing dark magic, and when HP was all the rage, I hated all the spin off books I saw about trying to BE magic yourself, but one of the great things about reading is getting lost in a story, and fantasy sure does do that!
My kids read above their age-level too, so I do watch out for content while trying to find something that won’t seem babyish to them.
Barbara H. says
I enjoyed the Lemony Snicket books until I got to the second one. There was a four-letter word (though I don’t remember which one) which I was disturbed about in a children’s book, plus and an intimation that is was “necessary” to lie sometimes, though I suppose that could spark a discussion on one’s values. We never did read HP – none of mine were interested in it. If they had been, I would have wanted to check it out first.
I was probably too overprotective when the kids were younger, but I figured it wasn’t really harmful to be in regard to entertainment — all we’d really miss by skipping a popular book or movie was the “buzz” when it was out and a few cultural references. I had heard horrible things about Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtles and didn’t let the kids watch that, when it retrospect it may have been ok, but they watched Pokemon when others in their school weren’t allowed to. I think whatever the book or program, it’s important to preview it or watch/read it together and discuss any troublesome spots.
Probably the absolute worst book experience was one about a magic carpet. We’d read other books about magic carpets which were fine, but this turned out to be a full-fledged New Age parable, complete with a message from a “spirit guide” in the back, including veiled incestuous encounters, sympathy for disobedience (including throwing books at teachers) and “abandoning everything you’ve ever believed.” I wanted to destroy it instead of turning it back in, but then I would have had to pay for it and they’d probably buy another copy anyway.
Barbara–We JUST got to that part. Count Olaf says, “Get in the d**n car!” and then Lemony Snicket goes on to say something along the lines of the fact that it’s not nice to use those words, but the children were so shocked they didn’t even say anything to him about it. Like I said, I’ll keep reading, and see when a good time to recommend them to my son is. Amanda, my 9th grader who I’m reading with, hears worse that than every day at school (unfortunately!!)
And yes, I’ve enjoyed watching shows with my teen daughter which I wouldn’t want her to watch on her own, because it does give us the chance to discuss. But in general, I don’t fault people for being “too” overprotective. There are shows that I forbid my daughter to watch that might be okay, but I don’t want to look into them. And if they are “ok,” they certainly aren’t edifying, so she’s not missing out by not watching them.
I fell into the Harry Potter trap and told my daughter she was forbidden to read them. But boy did I change my mind after finally taking the plunge and reading the first one myself. No only was I hooked but she actually read them all faster than I was able to.
When my oldest was in first grade, he came home with a book from the school library that was in his reading level range. I knew it was an award-winning book by a well-respected author, but somehow in my own life I hadn’t read it myself, and I knew nothing of the plot. I was talking with a kid-lit-loving colleague who asked about what he’d been reading lately, as she’d known him for years and knew how much he had always loved books. When I told her what he’d been reading from the library, she tipped her head to the side and said, “Dawn, you do know what that book is about, don’t you?”
Sigh… I read BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA myself at that point, and as I cried and cried, I hoped that I hadn’t scarred my 6-year-old for life. 🙂
When it comes to what our kids read, I think there can be great opportunities for discussion about our values. As a Christian, I want our kids to learn how to engage the world, rather than rejecting it. So when it came to reading Harry Potter, we talked about what we could agree with, what values we supported, where we disagreed with the characters’ actions, etc. We talked about the worldview that was being represented and what that looks like in real life. And then we just enjoyed the story! That’s not to say I let my kids read anything; we have drawn the line on certain series. I think as parents we need to know what our kids are reading, how we think it will impact them, and what good there might in reading it.
For a long time my mom was my “book dealer” (like a drug dealer, but better and not against the law) and she always read any books that might be questionable before they were passed on to me. And if she ever ruled that I was not to read a book, she was clear with me as to why. So consequently I didn’t have to live with the mystery of a “forbidden” book or the temptation to be disobedient to her (well, at least in that area). Plus because she was always feeding me with good books, I never felt like I missed out on anything. The only books that I remember clearly not being allowed to read were the “Sweet Valley High” series, and I in no way feel like my childhood suffered.
My biggest beef with anyone who bans books-whether in their home, school or library-is that most of them do so because of what they’ve heard, not because they’ve done the reading themselves. There are actually a few very extreme conservative websites out there that give page and line references for the books that they deem “objectionable” so that parents can be prepared to fight the liberal public school system that is trying to brainwash their children (grin). As a former public school librarian, I can tell you that any librarian worth their salt thinks long and hard about they books they order for the library and does their best to select a wide variety of titles that will meet the variety of readers and non-readers on their campus. We just want kids to read. We want them to read a lot and we want them to have good taste in books. We want parents to be involved in what their children select. So I always welcome criticism and suggestions if the parent has done her homework and read the book first. That’s actually one of the first questions a librarian asks when a parent challenges a book in the library.
So all this is to say that I completely agree that the responsibility falls on the parent. And if you decide a book is inappropriate, take the time to make it a teachable moment and talk to your child about it.