What are Your Kids reading?
Or are you just happy that they are reading at all?
When I was 12, my dad “caught” me reading Flowers in the Attic (VC Andrews). I still remember how angry he was, flipping through the pages and realizing that it was about incest and murderous plots. He threw that book in the garbage and suggested I get some better reading material. (Throwing a book out? The thought still makes me cringe).
The next book I checked out of the library was Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler’s auto biography. I picked it out trying to impress my dad, thinking – how could he possibly object to such a clearly historical gem? How educational! I left that one on the coffee table in plain view. Looking back, it probably wasn’t a more appropriate choice. The thoughts of a madman that led him to execute millions of innocent people simply for their heritage or their beliefs, was that any better reading for my young mind? By the way, I borrowed Flowers in the Attic from a friend and continued to read the whole series anyway. Except the second time, I knew to hide the books. Thanks anyway, dad, for trying to keep me sheltered just a little bit longer!
Bright kids will always look for answers that they can’t ask their parents in the books that they read. I don’t think that reading things deemed beyond my years hurt me in the long run, though I certainly didn’t think they were beyond my years at the time.
Even books targeted at younger ages have historically had mature themes. I was appalled when I recently brought out some of the books I’d loved as a kid, to share with my own children. Madeleine (Ludwig Bemelmans) talks about guillotines and animal cruelty, I had to answer lots of questions about smoking, shockingly, while reading Ramona and Her Father (Beverly Cleary) and Curious George (H.A. and Margaret Rey). Curious George smokes a pipe in one of his earliest appearances.
“Mom, doesn’t Curious George know that will make him DIE??”
The wolf eats the pigs, the Farmer’s wife cut off their tails with a carving knife (Three Blind Mice), the old lady in the shoe whips her children soundly… the list goes on.
The trend in recent years seems to be to take these mature themes out of picture books, thank goodness, though the trend is for Young Adult books to contain more violence. This certainly seems true when we look at the break out successes in the past few years. To name a few, the Divergent Series (Veronica Roth), The Book Thief (Markus Zusak), Paper Towns (John Green), all feature teenage characters who deal with very grown up danger and potential violence.
But should young adults and teens really be reading these? Would you let your own kids?
Let’s look at an example you may have read. Yes, the Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) includes violence, but the reader feels the characters’ disgust and helplessness at the world they find themselves in, and I think that’s a great thing for kids to experience through reading. It sends the message that just because everyone around you thinks that everything is okay the way it is, if you know in your heart that it’s wrong, you can find the courage to make the change. What a lesson, hidden in a terrible world. There are many great examples like this. These are the books that stand head and shoulders above the rest, and their weeks on the bestseller lists speak for themselves.
I for one think that reading some of the material out there, violence and all, can still be an amazing learning and growth experience for youth.
So, will I let my kids read Flowers in the Attic when they are twelve? To be honest, I don’t know. I guess I’ll just have to see what happens when we get there.