Thursday, February 3, 2011

kids and literary concerns

Peter, my avid reader, began enjoying chapter books during his second-grade year.  Since then, we've been through:

- the Junie B. Jones series

- Cam Jansen Mystery series

- several animal-themed chapter books

- Laura Ingalls Wilder books (my boys thought they lacked adventure, after reading several)

- The Magic School Bus chapter books

- Jeronimo Stilton chapter books (which are translated into 35 languages and out-sell Harry Potter in some countries--though they're unrelated to that genre)

- The Magic Tree House chapter books (currently reading)

Due to his OCD-related religious distortion, Peter has issues that don't arise with most readers his age.  For example, if he reads about religions other than his own--such as Hinduism, Buddhism--he fears he'll suddenly stop loving Jesus and follow after many gods.

He recently read about Ancient Rome in two books from the Magic Tree House series.  He was uncomfortable and kept putting down the books, saying he wasn't going to finish them.  I had to keep reassuring him that he wasn't going to suddenly start worshiping Zeus or Athena.  I did convince him to finish them, finally, after reading a couple chapters aloud to him.  He learned a lot about Ancient Rome--facts that, coming from a dry textbook, he'd have hated.

If he reads books that contain a lot of put-downs--such as the Junie B. Jones series and the Jeronimo Stilton series--he worries he'll start talking like that as well, and displease Jesus.  While I don't care for this type of humor, I don't believe it's a good reason, in and of itself, to say no to a book that otherwise pleases avid readers.  Discussion with a parent is always useful in neutralizing less-than-stellar content.  I definitely need to be involved in his exposures.

If a book's cover, or pictures, contains words or images that sometimes have a scary context, such as mummy, witch, vampire...then he'll flatly reject it, even if the mummy is part of a social studies context, and not a scary one.

As parents, we don't care for witch-themed books, sorcery-themed books, scary books, or certain magic-themed books, but not every book with the word witch in it is potentially harmful.  And not every book with some kind of magic--like the Magic Tree House, which magically takes the two siblings back in time--is potentially harmful.

Regardless of our reassurances, there are a lot of books Peter refuses to read, due to his OCD.

Censorship is a touchy subject among Christians.  My first experience with this came when I brought my collection of trade books to the charter school I worked for, so that the families taking my K-1 reading classes would have access to easy readers, and to read-alouds.

One family brought home The Little Match Girl, a Hans Christian Anderson tale.  The mother complained to my principal about the book. You probably know the story?  The little girl dies in the end and it's definitely sad, but not immoral.  The mother, who didn't know the storyline (poverty-themed) before she began reading it aloud, thought it was inappropriate.  She was upset.  I never spoke to the mother and didn't even know who, exactly, had complained.  

I couldn't sleep well for two days, so I decided the headache wasn't worth it. I brought my collection home.

I've known Christians who wouldn't allow Junie B. Jones, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, and other hilarious books, which contain themes I'd call benign.  No two people parent the same.  What bothers one may delight another.

While some censorship is necessary for discerning parents, the dilemma with it is this: What happens when you've censored so many books that your book-lovin' child is left with nothing of interest and quits reading--at least for awhile, until acceptable higher-level books are within reach?  Kids with passions, or a lot of interests, tend to have higher self-esteem and be happier overall.  For that reason alone, we shouldn't over censor.

I understand the avid reader.  They need books.  As a child and a single adult, there was nothing I liked better than to curl up with a good fiction book.  It was heaven to me.  I can't do it much anymore, due to my lack of restraint when I'm in the middle of a good novel.  I forget everything--even preparing food.  That doesn't go over well with husband.  :)  I've never learned how to read slowly--I only know how to devour.

Now that Peter is flying through books himself, I'm faced with difficult choices.  My years as a first grade teacher didn't prepare me for the third-grade and higher book market.  There's a lot of genuinely scary material on the market for the 8-12 age group.  Furthermore, some of the non-scary material is well-written, with sound sentence structure and the like, while others are poorly-written but have excellent story-weaving.  Some have larger print, which still appeals to Peter, while others contain adult-sized print, which he says he has trouble tracking.

I would love for him to read classics for pleasure--to have refined tastes--but I know from my own experience that a taste for the refined develops over time.  I started with Nancy Drew in the fourth grade, and eventually ended up with Harlequin romances--for far too long.  Finally, around college age, I began reading only classics.

While I wouldn't allow most romances, I do understand that first, a child has to find something that turns them into a reader.  Simply reading what is required for school does not usually create a reader.  They have to find delight in the written word--something that feels like a friend....something that fascinates...something that compels them to pick up book after book. This process helps them jump one to three grade levels in reading ability, and opens up the world of knowledge...opens up the possibility of life-long learnership.  

Today, I received a recommendation from a homeschooling family in my local group.  It's a chapter-book series for kids ages 8-12 (or younger), called Cul-de-sac Kids, from Christian writer Beverly Lewis.  The series details the funny adventures of nine kids residing in the same cul-de-sac.  Most of the kids are Christian, and the series has strong Christian themes.  I read some reviews on Amazon, finding most to be favorable.  One Christian mother writing a review didn't like that one of the books dealt with an ADD child and "his pills", and another referenced divorce--two things she wasn't prepared for and was surprised to find in a Christian book.  Again, every parent comes from a different place.

What we've done thus far, to protect our kids, is to read aloud one or two books from every new series.  Then, if we feel comfortable, we let the kids read others of the same series on their own.  Peter tells me about every detail, nearly, so I don't worry too much about surprise topics.

When we run out of series titles, we'll probably have to pre-read everything, before giving it to the kids, or find a really good Christian-based literary review website.

Can anyone recommend a site?

Or can anyone recommend some wholesome titles?

Thank you, Terri, for mentioning the Boxcar Children.  I own one of that series and Peter said the print was too small!  I think he just needs a little nudging to take the next, big-boy step.  At his yearly physical the doctor said he was slightly near-sighted, but that glasses aren't presently necessary.  I'll read a few of The BoxCar Children to the boys to spark their interest.


Liz said...

My daughter is an avid reader too!

I found this site that lists series books with descriptions and age recommendations.

Grace likes to read non-fiction too and enjoys checking out books on nature, animals, space, just about anything!

Margie said...

My son is an avid reader as well. We are currently reading the Chronicles of Narnia series together. He also loves the Boxcar Children and there are many so it should take your older child some time to get through them all. He is also a reader of non-fiction as well and will check out books on sports, other countries, animals, etc. Hope you find some other titles your son will enjoy!

Jess said...

have you checked to see what large print editions of some of these suggested titles your library might have? our library circulates with others in the area so there are several large print versions of stories at our disposal. just a thought if small print is an issue on some good books- such as box car kids.

Christine said...

Thanks for the tips, ladies! Peter does like non-fiction and those (non-fiction science) did initially turn him on to books. While he still checks non-fiction out, he now only spot reads them, rather than cover to cover.

Both boys read non-fiction trade books for science and social studies on a daily basis, as I have abandoned textbooks for the content areas--unless they choose them.

I will ask about large print, Jess. Just what we need!

Thanks for the kidsreads site, Liz!

Andrew & Terri said...

Oh oh oh!! My brain overflows with suggestions. This is where the real fun begins and I used to teach third grade. :)

Encyclopedia Brown, The Great Brain, The Chronicles of Narnia, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Beverly Cleary books (The Mouse and the Motorcycle, etc), Judy Blume books (Fudge, etc), The Sugar Creek Gang, The Hardy Boys...

Andrew & Terri said...

Oh yeah....I wanted to mention that one of my favorite ways to find great books is to look up a book we like on Amazon. Then I browse the "Customers who bought this also bought" recommendations. I have found some treasures this way for my little boys!