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Judging Books

My greatest love when I was little was reading. I'd often have multiple books going at one time. Long after my parents had said goodnight, I could be found under the covers with a flashlight, unwilling to put a book down. At bookstores, I'd sit myself down between the aisles, pick a book that looked interesting and start reading. Somewhere deep in the book, I'd worry that maybe I should put the book away before getting caught reading instead of buying.

I don't recall choosing books that were controversial, but even if I had, my parents wouldn't have questioned them.
Some of my best-loved books when I was younger -- Toni Morrison's "Beloved," "Forever" by Judy Blume, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain -- I've since seen on the American Library Association's most-challenged books list. But I don't feel like reading them when I was in school ever caused any harm to my development and outlook.

It was with the attitude of "any book is fine to read" that I welcomed "In the Night Kitchen" by Maurice Sendak in my house. And it was with that attitude that I was flabbergasted when a friend told me the book is controversial because of its direct drawing of a boy's anatomy in the illustrations. My kids and I like the book, and that's all that matters to us.

Now, a story by The Post's Valerie Strauss gives us insight into the challenges schools face in finding books that encourage kids to read and think and that meet the needs of its diverse population -- not only in reading levels, but also in the religious and ethnic makeup of our world. Librarians and educators tell Strauss that choosing books appropriate in theme and reading level is an art. The National Council of English Teachers calls the process problematic.

What do you think of your children's school reading lists? Too easy? Too hard? Is there too little or too much diversity? How much do you question your school on its book choices?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  March 27, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Teens , Tweens
Previous: Home Is Where the Learning Is | Next: Plastic Surgery for Teens


Reading is reading. Even controversial books teach you to think for yourself and to read critically.


Posted by: HappyDad | March 27, 2008 7:32 AM | Report abuse

"Librarians and educators tell Strauss that choosing books appropriate in theme and reading level is an art."


Posted by: Jake | March 27, 2008 8:22 AM | Report abuse

I used to work at Deal Jr High as an English teacher. I'll tell you this: I was pretty shocked that my 8th graders were required to read Black Boy by Richard Wright. One parent rightfully pointed out that it was a college-level text. That said, picking the exact right fit for a heterogeneous group of kids is tough. And we all know that you can get different things from different readings of a text. I worked with a librarian in California who was *amazing* at getting kids interested in reading, and she very much agreed with Scieszka - more choice is better. Graphic novels, comics, real life text all should be fair game to introduce kids to the joy of reading and also teach the vast variety of types of reading (reading fiction has a distinct skill set). The parent involvement piece is key, too -- the parents of kids I taught in California were skeptical about witchcraft more than violence. I think you need local involvement -- not in a banning books sense but a parents involved in deciding when tricky topics are taught sense. I was surprised that my Pre-K student learned about homelessness and slavery this year -- we ran with it, but more conversations between parents and schools, not fewer, are probably in order.

Posted by: MamaBird/SurelyYouNest | March 27, 2008 8:33 AM | Report abuse

Going back to yesterday's topic, a homeschooling friend of mine made her decision based on the books read in school.

When I was in middle school, I gave a friend of mine Forever by Judy Blume as a birthday present. Her dad threw it in the fire and ranted at my mom for bringing that book into his house.

And How to Eat Fried Worms is on the list? I remember my 3rd grade teacher reading that aloud to us. When the movie came out recently I couldn't wait to see it. My kids also read the book and thought it was cool that I had read it as well.

I can't think of any books I would censor outright. Age appropriateness plays a big part. I think my son would have nightmares reading Cujo at this point. And he wouldn't understand some more adult topics - like in Carrie and the locker room scene, or Ralph in Forever.

Posted by: prarie dog | March 27, 2008 8:41 AM | Report abuse

We did a project when I was in 6th grade where we each had to read a book that had been banned by a school somewhere in the US and form our own thoughts about it why it was and if we agreed to share with the class.

I am generally of the opinion that any book is worth reading. They challenge you to think, especially if you are of a differing opinion than the author. How is that ever a bad thing?

Posted by: Momof5 | March 27, 2008 8:48 AM | Report abuse

I've tried three times to read "I Know Why the Cages Bird Sings" and can't get past the first chapter. BOOORRRRING! Just can't relate to that stuff.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 27, 2008 9:05 AM | Report abuse

Any book is worth reading, to my mind, and I wasn't forbidden any book growing up. There were a few my mom wanted to read first if she hadn't read them and then we could talk about them afterwards for the stronger content, but that was about it (first book I remember falling under this category I think I read when I was 10 or 11). There were also some books I wasn't allowed to bring to school with me to read, but was allowed to read, with teh warning of "You can read this, but I don't want you educating the other kids if their parents haven't gotten here yet."

Posted by: Anonymous | March 27, 2008 9:08 AM | Report abuse

From what I've seen in our schools the problem is that instead of choosing great books that may be controversial, they are choosing drivel like Junie B. Jones in an attempt to "appeal" to kids.

Re: Forever, wasn't that the book that was passed around with all the "good parts" underlined? I'd like to read it again now to see how good or bad the "good parts" really were! haha

Posted by: Moxiemom | March 27, 2008 9:09 AM | Report abuse

What a great idea. Now I wish (for only a VERY brief moment) that I was a teacher or principle, and I could implement your 6th grade project.

I was always a reader, and remember having to bring notes from my mother *approving* my reading choices (that mom had usually bought for me) because I had teachers who thought the material was too mature or controversial for me. I can't imagine banning a book, even if it's message repulsed me. Every book read, picture looked at, story told, is a chance to learn, and to share with the children involved.

Plus, it seems to me that a children's book with anatomically correct pictures (as mentioned in the post) is an easy entree to a conversation about sexuality (age appropriate of course), or good touch/bad touch. And these are important things to share with your kids as they grow.

Posted by: to momof5 | March 27, 2008 9:11 AM | Report abuse

I didn't grow up in the US but I don't remember any books being banned. I read voraciously. When I was a young tween, I volunteered at the Public Library and took out many books there. I specifically remember Watership Down (one of my favourites). I tried other books written by the author but found them more difficult to read.

I also don't remember my parents banning books but I think my parents were probably what one would call slacker parents these days.

Posted by: Billie_R | March 27, 2008 9:19 AM | Report abuse

We grew up without a TV so books were what we had and we read voraciously. We used to go the library weekly and come back with paper grocery bags (plural) full of books. I don't recall any limits ever being set on what I could read (other than the Romance section was pretty much out). I'm sure there were school related controversies about what books the school could buy, but since we went to the public library it was never an issue for us.

Posted by: tsp 2007 | March 27, 2008 9:34 AM | Report abuse

I grew up overseas. We had one tv channel and it was on from 4pm-10pm every day, so reading was a big part of my life. I read anything and everything that was for kids. Judy Blume was my favorite and I read Forever when I was 11 or 12. My grandfather found it while I was reading it and got bent out of shape, so my mother took it away from me. Then, he went home a few days later and she gave it back without a word about it.

My son just discovered Judy Blume's "The Pain and the Great One." He loves it. He is 2 and hasn't figured out that he is "the pain" yet. I have two girls, ages 12 and 7, and I love to reread the books that were my favorites with them and to read new ones. I think controversial books give us the opportunity to discuss important topics with our children.


Posted by: AmyE | March 27, 2008 9:46 AM | Report abuse

I've lived both sides of this issue. When I was in kindergarten, one of the "approved" books was "Boys Are, Girls Are" -- boys are doctors, girls are nurses; boys fix things, girls need things fixed. My mother stormed into that classroom and told them, in no uncertain terms, that they were NOT going to teach her child that kind of sexist crap.

But then when I was in high school, it was the big Moral Majority time, and a lot of real literature -- Huck Finn, Brave New World, 1984, etc. -- was being challenged and removed. So there my mom was, fighting just as hard to keep those books in class.

I agree with the concept that any book is worth reading. But I also think you need good teaching. Huck Finn is a phenomenal lesson, in the hands of the right teacher who can raise the right issues and guide the discussion. Heck, even "Boys Are, Girls Are," could be a really interesting illustration of how gender roles and expectations have changed (or not) in 35 years. It's when you just present something like that as if it's "right," and not as the basis for further thought and exploration, that you get into problems.

Posted by: laura33 | March 27, 2008 9:48 AM | Report abuse

I went to a really progressive school, and we typically read all those 'banned' books, just as regular curriculum.

Of course, any book is good. Laura - you are completely's the teaching that can go with it that could help. Like when we read huck finn and discussed how the writing was supposed to convey the personality of the people and how if it had been written in the 80s people might have complained about the dialogue, as it was written not in 'good' english, but as how they spoke (okay, so *I* didn't learn writing so well...hope that all makes sense).

It is always eye opening to me regarding the whole banning of things. I just don't understand it. I do understand waiting til kids are older to read some books, but really, some of the 'newer' kids books are far more harmful, in my opinion, than anything kids would or could read in high school (like - that all the kids books need to have 'lessons' etc - I like the older books, like curious george - i mean really, they're fun, and just cause a monkey is smoking a pipe doesn't mean that anyone is going to start smoking. Or that he gets into trouble will give kids 'ideas.' Trust me, kids get ideas all on their own).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 27, 2008 9:58 AM | Report abuse

I would not ban any books. If an individual family has an issue with a book or a reading selection, they should be able to opt out (or given an alternative). But, no one family should be able to dictate to the school and other families what is appropriate reading material. And, I would raise my objections were this to occur.

I personally have read many of the books that are now deemed "controversial" and am nonplussed. How to Eat Fried Worms is controversial? I read that and some of the others and seem to have survived without any ill effects. The Judy Blume books were read several times over as an older child. I learned about things that my parents weren't willing or able to discuss and am thankful for that.

My own view: I don't think parents are doing their kids any favors by censoring difficult (in terms of topics) materials if they level of reading is otherwise age-appropriate. My approach is to speak to my daughter about the subject-matter and encourage discussion (my views, her views, answer qeustions, etc.) Again, just my own view.

Posted by: JS | March 27, 2008 10:30 AM | Report abuse

JS: but at what point are the schools allowed to teach? What I mean is - parents most definitely should be involved with what's going on - but they should not be dictating particular curriculums. At some point, we have to allow teachers to teach - if you are unhappy with the school, take the kids out. But we all know censoring is no good - but plenty of parents do it anyway. TO no avail, but whatever...

Posted by: atlmom | March 27, 2008 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Someone mentioned Curious George (the very first in the series) Was anyone else disturbed by the beginning? I read it recently to my son and was a little bothered by the happy monkey in the jungle captured by the white man who thought he would be a great to add to a zoo.

I also recently read Babar to my son (the very first story) and was kind of bothered by the long focus on fine clothes and how wonderful that was. Babar is picked to be the king because he looks so good in a suit, essentially.

I know these are kids books and classics, but I guess I didn't feel there was enough redeeming value in these two particular stories to keep them around (we got them from the library). Frankly, Babar was just plain boring. Future volumes of these stories are more likely interesting. I remember liking them as a kid.

Posted by: Rebecca | March 27, 2008 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Rebecca: yes, the beginning of the first curious george book was not exactly how it would be written today - but how do you *think* all those animals get to the zoo?

And - I hate the new books that are written where they all have to have a message and the kids always have to be perfect, etc. I mean - why is it so horrible to have a monkey making a mess and doing bad stuff, and having fun, or getting into trouble. I can't imagine my kids looking at that and saying: *that's* what I'll do tomorrow! No, it's more like - they have fun seeing the MONKEY get in trouble - and they think - oh, I'm glad it's not ME.

Posted by: atlmom | March 27, 2008 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Want a kid to read a book? Just ban it!

Posted by: MDMom | March 27, 2008 10:59 AM | Report abuse

There's a difference between banning books and judging what's age appropriate. My 8 yr old who reads some on his own but still prefers to be read to - has discovered comic books. Well, they are considered graphic novels and they're all together in the library. He's made a lot of discoveries - not all of which are age appropriate. I find myself editing as I read - and will have to watch closer what he's bringing home. The historical ones are okay - tho does he really have to hear about the soldier getting his legs blown off - but the fantasy ones are a bit violent for his age - I think. I know not all parents would agree. But - I guess that's me doing my job as a parent. I don't want them out of the library- but perhaps some better sorting by age or grade would be appreciated.

Posted by: Maria | March 27, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Maria: exactly, you should be choosing the books and certainly not all are age appropriate. That's why at an elem school (or even middle school) to actually NOT have some books there is not, in my opinion, 'banning' them, but it's just not age appropriate for those children to be reading...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 27, 2008 11:36 AM | Report abuse

i agree that almost any book is worth reading, excepting the real trash....which i vividly recall devouring in the 6th grade, to my teachers' dismay! when i was 12 i read the entire "flowers in the attic" series, which is truly garbage from a literary standpoint, and which contains numerous themes--child abuse, incest, statutory rape--that anyone would consider "adult." my mom never worried about it, figuring that reading anything was better than reading nothing, and at that stage of my life most of the really raunchy stuff was completely lost on me. i had no idea why my catholic school teachers questioned the appropriateness of my choices! i don't think my mom should've stopped me, i only wish i hadn't wasted so much of my time reading garbage.

that said, the passage quoted in the post story, from the book on slavery, is absolutely gut-wrenching; it brought tears to my grown-up eyes, and i cannot say that i would want my daughter to hear it at age 8. violence is my one big hang-up; the longer i can shelter my daughter from what is ugliest in human nature, the better, i say, because those images stayed with me as a kid. do i think the book should be banned? certainly not. but i can see why it's a complicated issue.

Posted by: vikki Engle | March 27, 2008 11:37 AM | Report abuse

"My son just discovered Judy Blume's "The Pain and the Great One." He loves it. He is 2 and hasn't figured out that he is "the pain" yet"

How exactly is a 2 year old reading Judy Blume?

Posted by: HappyDad | March 27, 2008 12:03 PM | Report abuse

fr atlmom1234:

>...That's why at an elem school (or even middle school) to actually NOT have some books there is not, in my opinion, 'banning' them, but it's just not age appropriate for those children to be reading.

Not having books because some "committee" (read wasp older people) has decided that the books such as the WONDERFUL Harry Potter series is "inappropriate" IS banning it.

Posted by: Alex | March 27, 2008 12:10 PM | Report abuse

What is the new 'Forever'? I think it was a great book and helped me learn a lot about things, but really it is dated to an extent. Is there anything newer to give a young reader to read that will 'explain things'

Posted by: Anonymous | March 27, 2008 12:14 PM | Report abuse

What is the new 'Forever'? I think it was a great book and helped me learn a lot about things, but really it is dated to an extent. Is there anything newer to give a young reader to read that will 'explain things'

Posted by: Anonymous | March 27, 2008 12:14 PM | Report abuse

My daughter, who is almost 10, loves to read, as in any given morning you can hear a parent yelling "Put the book down! I better not catch you reading!" when we're trying to get the kids ready to catch the bus. I've never even considered telling her she can't read something. She is a wienie about scary stuff and I have sometimes told her "This book has some parts that are a little scary, just so you know" and she might or might not read it anyway.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 27, 2008 12:23 PM | Report abuse

To whomever commented on "trash" books. I will freely admit, I enjoy reading "trash". I've always been irritated that books written for women that fall into the category of mindless entertainment are considered trash, while books written for me or that are gender neutral (anything by Michael Crichton for example) is just "pop fiction". To me it's all the same. And even when it's mindless entertainment, it provides more mental stimulation than the tv. Reading is always a positive force. And I agree with others, help your children select their books, and feel free to pull something that's not age appropriate, but odds are the kid either doesn't get that part anyway, or could learn a great lesson if you read the book with him/her and discussed it.

Posted by: JBinVA | March 27, 2008 12:44 PM | Report abuse

To alex: BUT do you not agree that some books shouldn't be available for those ages? And the kids can still go to the PUBLIC library to get the books, no?

Posted by: atlmom | March 27, 2008 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Bodice-rippers and Harlequine novels are trash. Just a waste of time to read that garbage. History and biographies are far more entertaining. My favorite when I was little was "Little Black Sambo" until somebody decided it was racist. What's racist about a little black kid in the jungle with his fancy slippers and tigers turning into butter? I loved that book.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 27, 2008 1:03 PM | Report abuse

HappyDad: Every person who reads and believes the Washington Compost has children who are reading at birth. They are highly intelligent, in the talented and gifted programs in school, and are enrolled at Harvard and Yale before they're in pre-K. Yeah, right. Their kids are not more special than anybody else's kids, and most likely they're ADHD, asthmatic, and allergic to everything. They can't produce normal,healthy children.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 27, 2008 1:06 PM | Report abuse

One man's treasure is another man's trash.

Anon might think that history and biographies are more interesting but I don't necessarily. Have I read them? Absolutely. I like fictional history novels that are well researched and fit a story into real history. I read a really good one somewhat recently about World War II and the secret meeting of Churchill and other leaders in Egypt. But I also love mysteries and MIRA (a harlequin division) and also like the Inspired romance novels from Harlequin.

I spend time reading to escape what I consider to be some fairly depressing facts about life. If that is accomplished by a mystery book or a bodice-ripper then I am there. If its accomplished by a biography or a history book - also there.

The reasons for reading are varied and different genres of books fit different needs - whether some might consider them trash or not.

Posted by: Billie | March 27, 2008 1:13 PM | Report abuse

My parents had to make a rule that books weren't allowed at the table, otherwise I forgot to eat. Sometimes I read the breakfast cereal box. The other thing was that in the summers they'd have to chase me outside, but I'd take a book with me and sit reading under (or in) the willow tree in front of the house. I was a total and complete bookworm, and read absolutely everything I could get my hands on - even the encyclopedia. There were no rules or restrictions on what I read, only that I had to stop occasionally for food, sleep, and exercise.

I did set some of my own limits - at 11 I started reading The Exorcist, and had to put it down about 3/4 through, because it was too scary for me. Two years later I picked it up again and finished it.

My sons both like reading very much - not quite as obsessive as I was (and maybe still am), because they have video games and "screen time" which wasn't available when I was a child. When we're out as a family, we can't walk past a book store. We always have to go inside, and we can't ever seem to walk out without having bought at least one book per person. We'll tell the boys if we think something is too "grown-up" or too scary for them, but still let them read it if they want to, and make sure we discuss the mature subjects and our values.

Kids all over the world, and in every generation, have been subjected to things (wars, violence, sexuality, etc) before they were ready. Some sheltering is not going to do any harm, certainly, but trusting kids to self-limit seems to work pretty well. At least for our family.

Posted by: Sue | March 27, 2008 1:18 PM | Report abuse

This is reminding me of all the books I read growing up - I totally forgot about The Flowers in the Attic! I really enjoyed those books! I wonder if I re-read those books now if I would like them as much.

Posted by: prarie dog | March 27, 2008 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Oh, we read all those flowers in the attic books - mostly at camp. They were great.

Posted by: atlmom | March 27, 2008 1:39 PM | Report abuse

I never read Flowers in the Attic. NEver went to camp. I was reading Cornelius Ryan's WWII trilogy in high school when the rest of the kids were popping zits and picking their nose.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 27, 2008 2:26 PM | Report abuse

My mom never actively limited my reading, but she certainly was concerned about the religious/spirituality/witchcraft ones I got into for awhile and I hid the ones that had a lot of sexual content in them.

I do remember at age 9 reading Anne Frank and totally not understanding it. I could read all the words and understand the vocabulary, but I had no historical context or understanding of the situation so it really didn't hit me.

I completely agree that parents should know what their kids are exposed to- play the video games, watch the movies, eat the food and read the books.

But by the time your kids are actively seeking to read independently- you've either instilled an understanding and baseline of judgement or you haven't. I think school reading lists are generally poo- either necessary basic reading or an excuse for parents to not have to worry about their precious darlings.

Posted by: Liz D | March 27, 2008 2:27 PM | Report abuse

My parents really had no idea what we were reading. I mourn the idea that we don't get a daily paper, cause that was the first thing that I really read on a regular basis. So what if it started out as the comics.

But our local paper is cr** and we get our news on line....

so my kids don't see the paper daily or us reading it. We get magazines, but that's not the same.

We had books in the house all over the place, but I think mostly I stole my sister's books.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 27, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

I think my early reading came from the fact that we had a small TV that we weren't allowed to watch and it only got 2 channels anyways. Plus my parents had books in the house. I can remember reading Marc Anthony (Shakespeare) and Flowers for Algernon before I was twelve.

of course... I hated Shakespeare in High School - go figure. Perhaps they just sucked all the joy out of the books by analyzing them to death.

Posted by: Billie | March 27, 2008 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Billie: no joke, re: shakespeare. The times in school I enjoyed it were when we took 'field trips' to see the plays. Or we saw them on video.

There's a shakespeare tavern in Atlanta that is AWESOME. They have pub food and we went one evening and it was SO much fun. I hope my kids go there when they're older to see how much fun shakespeare can be.

Sitting in a class discussing it really does suck the life out of it.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 27, 2008 3:04 PM | Report abuse

My kids are still in preschool, and I think that the book choices there are very non-controversial. I'm very curious what will be on their school reading lists as they get older. Even next year, I suppose, when my older child will start K.

Here's my -- possibly impossible -- list of things I'd like to see in the books they read in school: 1) Books about people of different religions, ethnicities, backgrounds, and sexual orientations. 2) Books with an understandable storyline, yet which also offer some challenges, whether in content or language. 3) Books which introduce topics for discussion (ie Curious George shouldn't have done ____, but what were the consequences? Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer: we know racism is wrong, but this was the mindset THEN. Discuss. Etc.) 4) Historical fiction is a great way to bring history to life, so I'll include this as a category, too. 5) Books which engage the kids. I don't think books need to be "dumbed down" to do this...a good book taught by a good teacher will engage most kids (and adults, for that matter).

As for what they read outside of school, I'd support just about anything (except porn magazines, I suppose). I also remember devouring Flowers in the Attic, as well as the Wagons West series, the Kent Family Chronicles (title of the first book: The Bastard), and The Clan of the Cave Bear by the time I was 12 or 13. My mom was somewhere between amused, impressed, and exasperated by all the synonyms I knew for "prostitute" at age 11!

Posted by: nvamom | March 27, 2008 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Re: Shakespeare. Honestly, Shakespeare is fabulous, but to really get him you have to realize how raunchy and low-brow he really was. I didn't learn this until college. Reading Hamlet, Macbeth, even Romeo & Juliet in middle school or high school, when it wasn't appropriate to get into the sexual innuendo, was torturous. It's like trying to enjoy a fine wine by mixing it with Sprite to make Spritzer. A travesty!

Posted by: nvamom | March 27, 2008 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and the bobbsey twins. I LOVED THAT. Okay, not controversial at all, but my parents bought me every copy they could find. They liked to go looking for antiques, so we were always in stores that sold old stuff, so we'd find copies of them everywhere, for probably less than $1. And my parents bought all of them for me, cause they were encouraging my love of reading. I remember getting a new one and being so excited.

The problems in high school are that while the kids can and should be open to stuff, they are mostly not yet ready for some of it. I.e., adult themes in some books. Or the learning the drudgery of lower level math - in order to have it be so much more understandable when you get to the upper levels you might find in college. So reading those books in high school - and learning a little about them, then reading them again in college or later, helps one to learn a little bit, then understand it more later.

Seriously, for all and any books, is the teacher than can bring it to life or create a boring day.

Posted by: atlmom | March 27, 2008 3:24 PM | Report abuse

I was a cereal box reader too.

I felt like middle school books were too sad. Every darn book that came home had some tragedy in it.

We had a high school teacher who had a list of books with lots of SAT words in them. So one summer we cajoled our son into reading "Gone with the Wind" - which had a high SAT word count. I think the reward was an iPod, and he did make it through.

Posted by: RoseG | March 27, 2008 3:32 PM | Report abuse

I read gone with the wind after graduating college. It seemed like a book I should have read, so I did. It was a fabulous book. Not really a love story at all. I had seen the movie (at least parts of it) before, but then started to watch it after reading the book and was horribly disappointed.

Posted by: atlmom | March 27, 2008 3:37 PM | Report abuse

My home-schooled 3-year-old has finished all the works of Shakespeare, War & Peace, and is just now starting on The Guns of August. He was reading Gone with the Wind and Watership Down in utero.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 27, 2008 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Wow Rose G can I come be your kid? We had to read GWTW as a pre-junior summer project for AP US History (partly also because of the SAT word count) and all we got was a quiz! :)

And no, I didn't really like it much at all.

Posted by: Liz D | March 27, 2008 4:05 PM | Report abuse


Judy Blume's The Pain and the Great One is a picture book. She writes for all levels including some pretty interesting but raunchy adult novels.

Posted by: MDMom | March 27, 2008 4:15 PM | Report abuse

You guys are giving Huck Finn a hard time. Isn't Jim the moral hero of the book, and isn't the overall message about Huck's gradual questioning of his original racist beliefs?

Posted by: Nell | March 27, 2008 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Did anyone here love Trixie Belden? I remember thinking that 12 was so grown up!

Posted by: Kennedy | March 28, 2008 8:22 AM | Report abuse

i've been an avid reader all of my life. as a child my parents bought a set of child encyclopedias and i read the entire set.

my parents never monitored what i read. unfortunately i read things i probably shouldn't have. looking back on it i really didn't understand. for example the rape scene in saturday night fever. i read the scene a couple of times and still didn't have a clue. kept reading and thought it was a good story.

on the other hand i wanted to read 'soul on ice' which was kept locked in the 'special' section in the library. i had to bring a note from my parents to read that story. again didn't understand a lot but thought it was a great story

Posted by: nall92 | March 28, 2008 8:24 AM | Report abuse

We read anything that they want to read. I've got children in 1st and kindergarten, and they pick what interests them. I choose books for them, also - and I've actually made us stop reading a series my son chose because it was too intense to my mind (it was excellently written, however - the "Spook's Apprentice" books). But for the most part, we read whatever they are interested in reading, from the Yu-gi-OH graphic novels to Norse mythology (talk about your violence and sexual undertones!) - to beautiful picture books.

Particularly small children are rather bloodthirsty. I taught myself to read and - like some of the earlier posters - read for dear life. There wasn't much to do around our town, unless you were nose-down in a book. I was (like my son is now) particularly interested in dark topics. I read all the Agatha Christie books when I was in first grade, and also a complete anthology of Edgar Allen Poe. I read tons of nonfiction about the occult. Considering that I'm not writing this from prison, I'm pretty low-key about worrying about what they read.

Posted by: Bad mommy | March 28, 2008 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Yes, Huck Finn is a book with a lot of subtle messages that that has to be well taught. Despite the fact that it's about a teenage boy, possibly it should be left for adults to read - when they are old enought to get the jokes as well as the bitter social commentary. Obviously it shouldn't be banned but I suspect it rarely gets its due in a high school curriculum.

Somebody commented about tragedy in kids' books. You can't shelter your children but I have often been puzzled by the prevalance of desperately sad or grim coming-of-age books like "Bridge to Terabithia" or "Hatchet" in middle school curricula. How many children have quit reading because all the "good" books depressed them for days? I know I used to shy away from those books at that age (still do) Maybe books with more comedy or adventure, or less overloaded with moral messages or social problems would be more encouraging to borderline readers. After all, the goal is to get people to read, well and often, and over time to start thinking about what they read.

Posted by: lurker | March 28, 2008 11:23 AM | Report abuse

I remember having the middle schoollibrarian call my mom because the book I'd picked out that day had a scene where the cat has kittens. (I may be weird, but I STILL don't know why that would be an issue, even at 9 or 10.) I was always much more interested in the books that have become part of the cultural lexicon. My AP English teacher was great, although we gave him a really hard time about readong "only depressing things." Norman Mailer's "The Naked and The Dead," assigned as summer reading, remains one of my favorite books.

Posted by: LizW | March 28, 2008 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Altmom, about the Bobbsey Twins: I was obsessed with them when I was growing up. I had the whole series. And I still have them. I was recently reading one to my almost 7-year-old, and I realized something: They are JUNK! OMG, i was stunned. I worked to make sure that this whole box full of hardcover books was moved from house to house and never discarded, and they are just not that good.

I was a big snob about the American Girl books (what a racket!) but I have to say, having read them aloud to my daughters, in terms of children's series literature, they have the bobbsey twins (and Nancy Drew, for that matter) beat. Better stories, better illustrations, better message. I've now bought in.

That said, back to the original point, the Bobbsey Twins helped make a reader out of me. I think all books can be "gateway" books -- they can lead to more and better and help create the habit. But you can help along by reading things to them that they wouldn't necessarily tackle themselves. I've read my 8 year-old most of the Edith Nesbit books, which require some explanation and context, and I've been reading my younger daughter the "Freddy the Pig" series. I think exposing them to those books will make them more likely to appreciate better, more enriching literature.

Posted by: MarylandMom | March 31, 2008 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Kennedy: I loved Trixie Belden. They are back in print, FYI.

Posted by: MarylandMom | March 31, 2008 1:12 PM | Report abuse

The Bobbsey Twins made a reader out of me too. I read much of that series, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, the Judy Blume books, and Beverly Cleary. Loved "Anne Frank" and "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." I remember when "Forever" was made into a TV movie back in the 70s. My friends and I couldn't wait to see it.

It's great that my kids love books, especially my son. The other day, he was reading while walking through Target with us. That's better than overstimulation and acting out any day!

Posted by: ree | March 31, 2008 2:42 PM | Report abuse

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