Today, I had a great experience chatting with a group of moms, concerned about what their kids are reading . . . and what banned books week is really about. It was a fascinating conversation and the questions they asked may aggravate you . . . but all these women had GREAT intentions for their young readers.
Here are a couple of their questions, and some of my answers.
THE MOMS: We started this discussion because our kids are ten and they want to read The Hunger Games.
ME: Asking your ten year old not to read a book before you think he is ready is very different from taking a book out of a library and essentially forbidding all kids who might depend on that library to read it.
THE MOMS: But that book is so disturbing!
ME: And what’s wrong with being disturbed?
(A few laughs.)
ME: Think about it this way: if they are disturbed, they will talk to you. You will have an opportunity to discuss big ideas with your kids. I’m more afraid that if we shelter them and they are never disturbed, they will not be able to make the world better.
THE MOMS: Sounds good, in theory. But isn’t protection a big part of our job? Was there a book you kept from your kids? (They talked a lot about holding books like Hunger Games from their kids . . . mostly because of peer pressure. I love this! Peer pressure to read!!!!! And to their credit, the kids did not see the movies either.)
ME: No. I don’t think kids need protection from books. I never once censored my kids’ reading. 1. I couldn’t. They read faster than I did. 2. If they didn’t think it was the right book for them–if they were scared or disgusted or the content wasn’t appealing, they put it down. 3. I really liked finding out what they found interesting…without my intervention. EXAMPLES: My son found his love of nonfiction without my guidance. My daughter was the girl with the book from the time she was in kindergarten. Funniest story: after reading Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, came to me confused about all the fuss about “the dot at the end of the sentence.”
THE MOMS: But some books . . . the language. (More complaining.) And the sex. Why can’t a community decide not to get a book they think is unworthy?
ME: I know this is hard to imagine, but that book that you think is horrible might change someone else’s life. You can make decisions for your family. But not others’. And wouldn’t you like your kids to explore these ideas safely????
THE MOMS: There are so many books. How do we find the good ones???
ME: Distribution and accessibility are big issues, mostly because there are so many books being published. No library can purchase every book. Bottom line: trust your librarian. Trust your kids. Trust their teachers. And if they read something heavy? Be ready to have great conversations. Books open our minds. They allow us to enter the heads of people who are not us–and don’t we need more of this??? Reading a great book can trigger strong, scary emotions. But this is not to be afraid of. It’s the magic of books.