what to read, what to read

My children love to read.  They devour books, and both of them read well above their grade level, with large vocabularies and excellent comprehension skills.  I’m not bragging; I’ve met many children in this same situation.  The temptation with children like this is to let them read any book they are willing to crack open.  After all, reading is good for them, right?  Not always.

In watching my children grow, I have discovered that there are three aspects to reading ability.  The first is functional:  vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar, and things like that.  Can they convert letters into words and words into sentences?  The second is mental:  following a plot, keeping up with multiple characters, understanding imagery or foreshadowing and other subtleties.  The first time my daughter read The Secret Garden, she could read all the words, but she couldn’t really follow the story.  Same thing happened with a Nancy Drew book.  Now, of course, she loves both of those because her mental reading skills have increased.

The third aspect of reading is more social or emotional.  And more difficult to gauge.  It involves understanding the situation, social context, or implications of the story.  Early-reading books revolve around loosing a toy or getting your feelings hurt by a friend.  More advanced reading exposes the reader to some of the uglier things in the world:  injustice, abuse, prejudice, witchcraft, death.  Or sometimes just more mature topics:  relationships, sex, struggles with money, eating disorders, mental illness.  Even books like The Diary of Anne Frank require a certain level of social and/or historical understanding.

We do a fairly good job of measuring the first aspect of reading.  It’s easy to see if our children have the functional ability to read a book.  And in a brief conversation, we can know if they have achieved the mental ability to understand that book.  The challenge arises in measuring their social/emotional level for reading the same book.  Just because they CAN doesn’t mean they SHOULD.  Like Paul said,  “I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial.  “I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive (1 Cor 10:23 totally out of context, but it’s the same idea).  If we won’t let them watch ‘R’-rated movies, if we protect them from explicit song lyrics, if we instruct them to think on whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, etc. (Phil 4:8), why do we put overly-mature books in their hands without a second thought?

As parents, it’s our job to guard our children’s hearts.  Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Prov 4:23).  There’s an incredible scene in The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom.  She and her father are on a train, and she asks her father about sex.  Instead of answering, he asks Corrie to pick up the heavy suitcase sitting between them.  She can’t.  He tells her that some subjects are like that suitcase:  too heavy for her right now, but she will grow.  She must trust him that, when she is able to “carry” the information about sex, he will give it to her.

It’s not about sheltering our children from the world.  It’s about protecting them against things their hearts aren’t ready to manage just yet.  For a long time, we didn’t let our first-born read the Harry Potter series.  (Not judging here.  I read and loved every one of them; we just didn’t think she was ready.)  When all her friends read them, we talked about guarding her heart and thinking about things that honor God.  I asked her to trust me to know when she was ready.  I told her the story about Corrie Ten Boom and her father.

For now, there are SO many excellent, challenging books for my tween-ager.  Sure, she reads some “fluff” (she especially likes girl secret agents like Ruby Redfort), but we’re also working on the Newberry Award Winner list.  Have you read Carry On, Mr. Bowditch or The Witch of Blackbird Pond?  Do you remember Caddie Woodlawn or A Wrinkle in Time?  I’d forgotten; these are fantastic books!  In general, the Newberry winners are not at all childish (a complaint we sometimes hear from our double-digit-aged kids), but they handle mature topics in a way that’s appropriate for younger readers (think The Scarlet Letter without adultery for The Witch of Blackbird Pond).  They generate fantastic discussion topics; they help us engage with the world, and they supply a big dose of American history without any grimaces or complaints.

Also, it’s important to read questionable books before or at least alongside our kids.  This includes “Christian” books (e.g. Ted Dekker).  If I’ve already read the book, my child knows she can talk with me about anything she doesn’t understand.  I can even broach topics or scenes that I think need more light shed on them.  Let’s not allow literature to parent our children.  That’s our job.

If you were to finish all of the Newberry winners and honor books (which date back to the 1920s, so it should take awhile!), you can start on the AP English reading list.  This list, of course, is far more mature, but by the time they get to it, they should be ready.  I plan to read these books alongside my child too, so we can filter everything through our faith as she learns to knowledgeably engage the world around her.

By the way, my daughter is going to read Harry Potter this summer.  She can handle it now.  We’ll talk about it as she goes, and I know she’ll enjoy every minute!

 

 

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5 thoughts on “what to read, what to read

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jeyna. Certainly, fiction books should not be the primary avenue for our children to learn about the world. And even when we read parenting books, we have to filter the information through our faith, parenting goals, and the personalities in our family.

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  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I may not have kids but I have worked with kids over the last… (well you get the picture.) Something happened recently with my mom and a 10year old girl she was watching. The young girl kept insisting she was a young adult. My mom told her “Young adults help to do things without being asked, they don’t talk back to their parents and they work without complaining. They clean their toys and make their bed without having to be told.” But, the girl was so insistent that she was a young adult my mom casually asked “where did you hear this? to which the girl replied “All the books say it! It’s on the back of all my books.”

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  2. We are to the next stage with our biggers – and they are making their own reading choices independent of me… but we still talk about much of what they are reading and they now help me evaluate the appropriateness of books for some of the littles. With 8 kids… i realized pretty quickly that it was impossible to keep ahead of all that they want to read and had to come up with some other strategies. I’ll never forget the first time one of my kids came to me, gave me a book they’d started reading, and said, “Mom, I don’t think I’m really ready for this one.” About a year later, she was and we had some great discussions afterwards, as a result.

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    1. What a great chance to really disciple our kids in the world! Those discussions are precious, invaluable times. Good job, fellow-Mom, for raising children who can discern what is good for them! Our daughter recently brought home a book from her 6th-grade language arts classroom. She read about a third of it before deciding it was inappropriate. I challenged her to share her thoughts with her teacher, and she did! The teacher’s response was very positive (praise God), and this Mama was over-the-moon proud (in the non-sinful kind of way-haha).

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