FOR PARENTS: Concerned About What Your Child is Reading? Some thoughts...
Updated: Aug 3, 2021
As a writer and an English/Literature teacher, one of the most frequent conversation starters from parents is this:
"Mrs. Martin, our child loves to read, but we're having trouble finding books at their Lexile level that are appropriate for their age. Any suggestions?"
The short answer: "A few."
As a writer and an English/Literature teacher, one of the most frequent conversation starters from students is this:
"Mrs. Martin, I want to read ALL the books, and my parents won't let me read whatever I want! Any suggestions?"
The short answer: "A few."
With big Lexile levels come big ideas, and there always seems to be a certain measure of contention between kids and parents about what is appropriate or not appropriate for young readers. It's a conversation that I am happy to participate in, albeit on the sidelines.
Trust me when I say that I do not, will not, and should not be involved in conversations where I am asked to "take a side" in these discussions. As someone who promotes literacy and puts books in kids' hands, I see this from every side. This argument, after all, is nothing new.
In his book, Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism, Michael Cart tells all involved, "... the twenty-first century has brought new artistic freedom to both writers and publishers of young adult books. With that new freedom, however, has come new responsibility--not only for them but also for librarians, teachers, and reviewers. That responsibility includes reading widely, receiving a grounding in the history of the literature, developing critical evaluative skills, being aware of the realities and problems of YA life, and being on the lookout for the truly exploitive and irresponsible" (Cart 162).
Well? I've done and continue to do all that, and I agree with Mr. Cart when he says that "...parents need to be aware of and responsible for their offspring's reading, viewing, and interacting habits" (Cart 162).
That's part of my short answer as well. My long answer includes three things parents can think about and one great resource to help guide you as you navigate through all the content that is out there in the world for your children to read.
#1 - Think about this if you will: The most impactful source of questionable content available to your children are not books. It's LIFE. No matter the extent of our efforts to shelter our kids (and ourselves) we are all bombarded with content we wish we could avoid. And it's not just sex and drugs and underage everything-under-the-sun. It's violence. It's war. It's poverty and bigotry and hunger and even child abuse.
Exposure to these societal ills is not lost on our children, and all of this leaves kids with questions and fears that are very, very real. Books actually provide safe environments for kids to grapple with these issues. Perhaps the safest thing they can do if it gets to be too much for them is to put the book down and not read it at all. Sometimes it's just as powerful NOT to read a book as it is to READ a book.
As a victim of child sexual abuse, I wish--I WISH--I had had a book in my hands to help me sort out all that I was going through and help me navigate my way out of that by finding my voice, my strength, and my courage. This is why I cannot stand in the way of a child from reading a book they want to read--because maybe they need to!
Now, having said that, let me say that a copy of Fifty Shades of REALLY CRAPPY WRITING found its way into my classroom several years ago. I called the student's parents and talked with them about what that book was. (They didn't know. For reals, they didn't!) That book didn't appear again in my class. It wasn't a book that was written for kids! AND... did I mention the REALLY CRAPPY WRITING? AND... NO, I DIDN'T READ IT!
#2 - Think about this if you will: Books are not didactic, nor are they prescriptive--the good ones, anyway. I believe it is helpful to approach this issue with that in mind. Books don't necessarily offer right or wrong answers or, perhaps, any answers at all. They are simply stories that reflect real life. Sure, there are thematic ideas in books, and authors surely wish to make some commentary about life. But here is what writers know: kids have the capacity to accept or reject these stories in whole or in part and wrap their heads around complex, multi-faceted life scenarios. Furthermore, they can imagine and contemplate what choices they might make given similar circumstances. Truly! They do! I've seen their hearts and minds in action for the better part of thirty years. They are astounding.
When kids read about characters like themselves in books, it is so incredibly validating. When kids read about characters who are NOT like themselves in books, it is WORLD-CHANGING--because reading builds empathy and compassion. It is very, very, very important for kids to read books about people who do not look like they do or live where they live or eat what they eat--and still be able to make a human connection. It has a wonderfully miraculous impact on our planet.
#3 - Think about this if you will: Read the same books your children are reading with them. You read a chapter out loud and have them read a chapter out loud. (TEACHERS LOVE THIS!) Laugh together and cry together and be horrified together and ponder together. Come let us reason, right? It's phenomenally powerful. Not only do you get to share that unique experience, it opens up a floodgate of communication and safety between you. It reminds your child that they can trust you with ALL their questions and fears. They are more likely to open up to you because you have established this very important connection.
Now, do you notice who is not part of this equation?
I am the least qualified to determine what your child should or should not read. It's "out of my lane," as they say. Yes, I am currently writing books for kids with higher Lexile levels that tackle big issues--books you can happily sign off on.
I'm also writing books for kids you might not sign off on--but those books will be the very lifeline someone else's child needs to read.
And that's okay.
It's all up to you as a family. I can make suggestions and help guide you in some different directions, but I haven't read everything that's out there in this world--although I have read a ton. Here is a great resource that will help you tremendously, not only in regard to books but movies, TV shows, apps, and games. Give it a click!
COMMON SENSE MEDIA
Miss Daisy thinks kids are WAY cooler than adults which is why she hangs out with 7th graders five days a week peddling grammar and structure and form. Somehow, she manages to get them to buy into most of it. Well, most of the time.
But she also helps kids to find their voices—she shows them how to be heard on the written page. It seems to be working.
In the summers, you can find Daisy in her gardens with her husband. You might also catch her in her office writing underneath a real chandelier. As often as she can, though, she loves spending time with her grandson. (He was born on her birthday, you know. She’s been impossible to live with ever since.)
If you would like Miss Daisy to come speak at your school, you will definitely want to share this website with your principal!