I have a huge pet peeve – adults who limit children’s book choices based on their own biases.
I recently had someone on Instagram see my micro-review of The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier.
To which I got an inquiry from a librarian asking if this book would be suitable for her middle school library or is it too scary for her students?
The question, coming from a school librarian, disappointed me. It’s a middle grade novel. Highly award-winning. Creepy. And kids LOVE it!
Kids come in all shapes and sizes with a menagerie of interests and life experiences. How does any adult, including a parent or librarian, truly know what a particular child can handle? The answer is, they don’t. They can make assumptions and judgements, but not really know what is okay for any kid.
At a book signing about a year ago for Empty Cup, a mom chatted with me about my book and during our conversation mentioned that her daughter was twelve years old. She wanted to buy my book for her daughter. I mentioned that, just for her information, it’s usually recommended for ages fourteen plus. Her reply, “Oh, my daughter is a very advanced reader. I’m sure she can handle it, and if not, she’ll set it aside until she’s ready. I don’t tell her what to read.” What a fabulous reply!
I heard a similar response from a middle school librarian. They have a system of putting red dots on books with more intense content. In a school housing kindergarten to grade eight, only grades seven and eights were allowed to consider these books. They also needed parent permission to borrow “red dot” books (I question this depending on the parents, but understand schools have to protect themselves from liability.) The librarian confirmed the idea that kids who borrow those books will put them back if they are not ready for the content that lies within. He was happy to include Empty Cup on their shelves. The strong message – trust children to make reading decisions for themselves.
Recently in my own home, my eight-year-old, borrowed 39 Clues from his school library. He’s an excellent reader and most of what he reads are middle grade novels for nine to twelve year olds. After a couple of days, he announced that he was going to return it to the library, unfinished. His statement, “I’m not ready for this yet, I’ll try again when I’m older.” Music to my ears!
When I was fourteen, there were limited young adult novels available. Many of us turned to adult novels. At fourteen I was reading Stephen King. I could handle the horror concepts and sped past the explicit sex scenes. I know adults to this day who could not handle reading a horror novel. But would those adults have had the right to tell me not to read it when I was teenager because they couldn’t handle it as adults? Whether or not my parents ever flipped through a Stephen King novel, I have no idea. But they didn’t stop me from reading it. (They may have just been happy to see me reading anything!)
On the other hand, when I was sixteen, my dad did put a stop to me obsessively reading books about Jim Morrison and The Doors. I believe he thought I’d become a drug addict. . . I didn’t.
If you tend to “helicopter” over what your children read, I plead with you, please relax. Trust them. Allow them to expand their imaginations and experiences in the safety of turning pages. In the safety of knowing that if they are uncomfortable, they can close the cover and put it back on a shelf. In the safety of learning to trust their own instincts.