I was fascinated this evening to learn that some parents keep a tight reign on what their children read. This is for fear that they may read something that is not in the upper echelons of good literature. Now, I am the first to admit that we have heavily censored television and movies with our girls, but books? In our home, anything goes when we’re talking literature.
First, no matter what you are reading, you are employing reading skills. What parent doesn’t want this for their child? Whether your child is reading (or listening to) the classics, books with licensed characters, books with very few words, books with pictures, books without pictures, non-fiction, fiction, manga, graphic novels, or the back of a cereal box; They are reading and gaining skills and confidence each time they are successful at it.
Second, if the parent always chooses books for their children, how will the kids know what they really like? Would I really be finding my child down in her bedroom or curled up on a chair with a book, by choice, if the books were always ones I’d picked for her? I highly doubt it. Try as I might to make either of my girls a great literary mind, if they want to read junk, they will find a way to do it. And I’m thinking that having to sneak around to read a book of their choosing isn’t the kind of behaviour any parent would want to encourage? Books are to be shared and talked about, not hidden under the covers or in a drawer like a dirty magazine. Which leads me to my next point.
Third, the discussion that comes from reading any book helps children to distinguish between what makes a book “good” or more credible versus “bad” or even just a fun read to pass the time. Everything a child reads doesn’t need to have an ulterior motive of being “educational”, however if you refer back to the first point, you’ll see anything read is strengthening reading skills and therefore educational anyway. Ask your child what they like about a book that you feel is bad in some way. Perhaps they can relate in a way you don’t understand. Or perhaps they really are just attracted to it because it comes with a glittery pencil. But so what? They made a choice and they will actually learn something from it. Point out why you think certain literature is bad, but actually listen to your children’s opinions too. They are looking at the world with very different eyes than you and I. I bet they can offer some insight that we never thought of, or haven’t thought of in a very long time.
Finally, if we don’t allow them choice, we run the risk of turning them off of books altogether. Are you really going to force-read your children so that they get all that wonderful educational value of the classics? They’ll only rebel and you’ll have Twilight to contend with. Best to reach a happy medium and share in the book choices. I still read to my children out loud, at the ages of 9 and 12. They still love to listen to a good book and I know plenty. It’s my chance to share books with them that I love and I was able to read them the actual old school version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with them in this way. I’m pretty doubtful that either of them would’ve picked it up on their own considering we read it when they were 7 and 10. I’ve also shared with them some books that I loved in my childhood, but realized as an adult, aren’t very good at all. It’s that whole perspective thing isn’t it? Whether or not I think the book they just picked up is terrible, I still respect it, and am thankful that I’m raising children who love to read.