Summer Reading Challenge: Week 4. Check out a book your child will love.

I struggle with how much adults should limit or guide children’s reading choices. On one hand, literacy advocates argue that it is important for kids to choose which books they read. On the other hand, there must be limits to what we allow kids to read. We restrict the messages kids are exposed to from movies, T.V. shows, video games and toys, and I believe that it is important for parents, teachers and librarians to restrict the messages kids are exposed to from books as well.

For example, when my son was in kindergarten, I purchased Big Nate in a Class for Himself by Lincoln Peirce for him. I had heard that the Big Nate books were great — very entertaining, popular with kids and attracting reluctant readers right and left. However, when I read the first couple of pages aloud to my husband, we both agreed that this was not a book we wanted to share with our kindergartener. In Big Nate in a Class for Himself, Big Nate’s teacher Mrs. Godfrey is described in very unflattering terms: “That’s Mrs. Godfrey. She’s like a dog. A big, ugly, nasty dog.” My son still thinks teachers are awesome, and I am not about to [knowingly] hand him books that introduce him to characters who tease their teachers.

It is valuable for adults to guide children’s reading choices for other reasons as well. Adults play an important role in introducing kids to all of the wonderful books that exist. Furthermore, for read-aloud time with young children to be successful, I believe that it is important to choose a certain proportion of good quality books that entertain parents as well as children.

Whether to encourage children to read books they love or to set limits is not an either or decision. Both are important. I know this. Yet, when the kids and I head to the library, I struggle to both support my kids’ book choices and set limits when warranted.

Next, a confession, which leads me to this week’s challenge…

I sometimes limit what my kids read for reasons that I cannot entirely justify.

I avoid checking out books about cars (b/c I do not want to teach my kids that gas guzzling cars are toys), princesses (b/c I do not want to teach my kids that girls should aspire to be beautiful and saved by princes), and dinosaurs (b/c as a child I was slightly annoyed and intimidated by kids who spouted out long dinosaur names). I cringe when I see my son reading fantasy books (Magic Tree House books, Dinosaur Cove books, Beastquest books etc.).

I do not criticize my kids’ reading choices or prohibit them from checking books about any subject out. However, I am not supportive. I do not seek out good books about cars, princesses or dinosaurs. I compulsively rearrange my oldest son’s stacks of books, and his fantasy books end up hidden below more realistic stories about Ramona Quimby and Alvin Ho.

This week, my challenge to myself and to you is to check out a book that your child will truly love. Take a moment to consider whether there is a type of book that your child loves that you have been avoiding checking out for them. Error on the side of supporting your child’s reading choices.

This week, I will be scouring the library shelves for good princess books and fantasy books. What about you?

Summer Reading Challenge:

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9 Responses to Summer Reading Challenge: Week 4. Check out a book your child will love.

  1. Debra B. says:

    Very well said! I have always attempted to guide my children towards “good” books, even avoiding books with characters that use poor grammar (at least for the early years, later if it is historically appropriate I let it slide). I have always looked at books as food for thoughts. We try to eat healthy (most of the time) to have good bodies, we should try to “read healthy” most of the time for good minds.

  2. samacwns says:

    It’s wonderful that you’re so involved with your child’s reading, and that you’re encouraging others to do the same. When I was growing up, my Mom read almost all the same books I did, so she knew what I was reading, and the messages I was getting. If she didn’t like the message, I didn’t read the book.
    At the same time though, I’ve discovered that it’s much harder to be a Librarian when it comes to this subject. Limiting the books a child, or anyone for that matter, reads is not the job of a Librarian, and goes against the “Library Bill of Rights”. They are to help the public get the materials they want to read, not to limit them in any way. This is why I’m so glad you’re encouraging people on this blog to be proactive with their child’s reading. They can’t assume that the Librarians, or even Teachers, will be on the same page they are as to what is appropriate for a child to read. So bravo to all the parents out there who are keeping an eye on their child’s books, yet keeping them reading too!

    • Anonymous says:

      You raise a very good point of the difference between the roles of parents and librarians in guiding children’s reading choices. If a child his heart set on reading Big Nate, the librarian’s role and responsibility is to help the child find Big Nate. In other circumstances, librarians do offer guidance and choose to recommend certain books and not to recommend others.

  3. Beth says:

    I have very few rules about what my kids can read, but I definitely pick what I offer them. For one thing, if I’m sharing the book with them, it’s better if I enjoy it as well. And if a younger kid fears alligators, I’m not going to stuff Lyle Lyle down his throat. So some screening is my preference, and some is kid specific.

    I find it a little funny that you think the Magic Tree House books are fantasy. I love fantasy but have little tolerance for endless series books, so I haven’t read many, but the ones I read seemed more like mini-history or nature lessons than fantasy, and I’m leery of educational leisure reading. I want my historical fiction to be beautiful, not museum evoking. And I want my nonfiction to be proud of its Dewey Decimal notation. So my kid found his mom dodging them for the exact opposite reason you shuffle them away from your son :-)

    Where do you classify Magic Schoolbus?

    (PS. I went to the library today before reading this post, and coincidentally came home with a book about Transformer Toys through the ages. I think that very clearly lands square in the middle of this challenge, and reading it with the boy will be an act of heavenly devotion. Thanks for these challenges!)

    • Amy says:

      You are right. The Magic Tree House books would not appeal at all to most teen or adult fantasy-lovers, but they seem to appeal to my son because they involve magical adventures. He does not seem to realize that they are thinly veiled lessons in history and science. I was initially turned off by the magic tree house magically transporting the kids to various times and places, but I have since changed my tune. I am happy that my son reads the Magic Tree House books. I do not love them and have a hard time reading them aloud to my daughter who is not yet an independent reader, but I happily check them out for my son.

      The Magic School Bus books strike me as nonfiction books. My son seems to check the Magic School Bus books out with the intent of learning about a particular subject, but he does enjoy the magic school bus hook. A very fine dividing line now that you mention it!

  4. PragmaticMom says:

    Good point about screening books for kids but also allowing them freedom. I think the answer is just variety. My kids can pick whatever books they want from the library but I have a stash of books that I offer to them that I’ve selected that are very different from their choices. And all the books get read eventually so it’s all good.

  5. Amy says:

    There are definitely some books that are off-limits at our house (Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown because I don’t like the potty language and books about Spiderman because I don’t like action figures). I think as parents it is our responsibility to steer our kids towards good books…after all, we know what the good books are! It would be unfair to make them select everything themselves…they’d totally miss out. That said, sometimes when we’re at the library, and one of my boys brings a book that he wants to bring home, and I’m about to say no, I look at it again and think, “Is there a real reason to be opposed to this book, or is it just because it doesn’t interest me?” If it’s the latter, then we get the book. I think it’s empowering for kids to make choices for themselves.

  6. I really enjoyed this post – thank you! I too need to set myself the same challenge, not because I have a particular aversion to any topics that my children might show an interest in (although I do worry that I’m a little out of my depth with some of their choices – I am rapidly increasing my knowledge of construction vehicles in an attempt to keep up with their current obsession!) but because I try and get them to vary their choices so that they select, to use the example above, at least one book that ISN’T about diggers and crane trucks! Your post has made me stop and think and I plan to have at least one visit to the library where they can select every single construction book should they so wish! I hope we both enjoy the outcomes :-)

    • Amy says:

      Thank you! This is exactly my intent with this challenge. I generally let my kids check out books they like, and I check out books that are good books that I think they would like…but also often books that are different than their choices and get them to branch out. This week at the library, I devoted my entire time there helping each kid find books on the topics that they wanted. I looked for princess books with my daughter. I looked for graphic novels and Calvin and Hobbes for my son. (This one wasn’t a stretch for me b/c I like the graphic novels he chose and love Calvin and Hobbes.) I looked for rhyming books about vehicles with my youngest son…He was also excited about princess books.

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