In the locker room after my work-out today,I overheard two women talking. One woman was relating to the other how her son had been given a new book to read by the librarian. The mother wasn’t familiar with the title or the story — I think she said “Box Trolls” — nor was her friend. They talked on as they left the locker room, one giving a synopsis of the book to the other.
It made me really appreciate how much I love having a family of readers. I love to read. The Hubs loves to read. The girls love, love, love to read. Books at breakfast, books at lunch and books in the bathroom. Books under the covers with a flashlight and books in the backseat of the car going to and coming from school. We’re readers, thoroughly and completely. It’s great and I couldn’t be more pleased with that.
The one thing that gives me pause as I see them inhaling chapter books, picture books and graphic novels, is whether or not I should be reading — cover to cover reading — the books they’ve selected before they start to read it for themselves. A number of books that I grew up with like, Charlotte’s Web, Trumpet of the Swan, Stuart Little, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle – –yes, I’ve read those. I’m happy to hand them down to my girls. Some of the books that have come out more recently like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Harry Potter, I have also read, but as an adult. I am able to process them in a different way than my nine and seven year old can.
Some books that M brings home are titles that I’m unfamiliar with. Titles like Warrior Cats and Dragon Fyre and The School of Good and Evil are often in her rotation. I read the back cover to get an idea of whether or not it’s age appropriate. I look at where she’s pulling the books from, whether it’s truly from the children’s section or from the young adult section. I trust the librarians, both at our school and at our local library, because they truly know us and are excellent at selecting titles that are appropriate and captivating. All of which are good choices. They help her, and talk with me, about what the girls are checking out. We’ve done really well. The girls are voracious readers. They’ve read Magic Treehouse, Captian Underpants, Tale of Desperaux and many more than I could possibly name.
There have been a few missteps along the way, though. For instance, M got this serises called the Goddess Girls. On the front is a picture of cartoon goddesses. It’s a chapter book that she’d gotten it from school and I flipped it over and started to read the back cover. I think this one was entitled Persephone the Phony. The blurb read something like,
Persephone is new to school and quickly fits in with the “it’ crowd. Resident bad boy Hades only has eyes for her, but will his affections cost Persephone her coveted frienship with Athena?
That’s not verbatim, but it was something like that. It was like a Greco-Roman tweenage “Mean Girls”. This blurb was geared so much more for tweens and teens, it had acne and a curfew. Now, M is mature for nine, but she’s nine. We’ve got some time before we introduce themes like that, right?
Another book came home from the local library and it was a Monster High title. The girls watch Monster High and have Monster High Dolls, I’ll admit it. Yes, the whole premise is set in high school with characters that are mash-ups of famous scary monsters. I’ve watched a few episodes and it’s fairly harmless. Romantic entanglements are of the Disney variety. Still, when the book came home and I took a look at the back cover, the blurb was decidedly less Disney. Again, the protagonist is new in school, falls in with the popular crowd, upsets the Queen Bee by displacing her as the love interest of the resident jock. Tale as old as time, right? Right, so it’ll still be around when M is like 12 or 14.
Which is basically what I told M when I said that the book was above her pay grade. I told her that I know she liked Monster High. When it comes to content, some of these things are appropriate and some things are best left for a later date. “I don’t think that you’re quite ready for this yet,” is what I said. She was disappointed, but shrugged it off and picked up another book from the bag we’d filled at the library. I’m pretty sure it was The Day the Crayons Quit, which is hilarious and on the completely opposite end of the spectrum from the Monster High book I had been holding.
There had been a book sale at the gym a few months ago. Lots of book that people had donated were being sold for about 50 cents or $1. M saw in the stacks, a partial set of The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot. I was familiar with the Princess Diaries movies with Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews. It was relatively harmless; the ugly duckling becomes a beautiful swan when it’s discovered she’s not just the geek next door, but a European princess. Hilarity that ensues as she tries to figure out her place. M gave me her pleading eyes for the books and I told her she could have them.
Like I said, I’d seen the movie, not read the books. My friend has a daughter who is the same age as M, and the daughter has read the books. My friend said that as the series progressed, the protagonist matures and has to deal with challenges that are in keeping with being a teenager. Around book 5 or 6, ::spoiler alert:: she’s faced with the decision to give away her virginity to her boyfriend she moves way (or maybe he was moving away. whatever). My friend said her daughter had been eating up the books and then promptly stopped reading them. When pushed to answer why that was, the daughter admitted it was because she didn’t really know what was happening, she was confused about this talk about virginity. She just felt like she shouldn’t be reading it any more.
Yikes! But, M only had books 1 and 2. I’d seen the first movie. I missed the second, but it’s Disney, right? Yeah, well . . .here’s what happened. M read the first book in a matter of hours. She starts in on the second one and shortly after powering through a couple of chapters, she comes to me and says,
“What’s a hooker?”
I pick myself up off of the floor and ask her where she heard that word. She explains that it’s in the book that she’s reading. I ask her to hand over the book and sure enough, there’s a line in the book about a hooker. Evidently, the main character has applied make-up in such a way her grandmother refers to her as “le poulet“, a French colloquialism for a loose woman. The narrative is kind enough to explain that for dear readers by spelling it out, using the word “hooker” for clarification.
Well, I told M that I needed to double check the definition and I would get back to her. Now, I’ve done pretty well in explaining things like where babies come from, how babies get in there and why women need “pads and tampoons,” but I really was stumped when it came to how to explain what a hooker was. There’s no technical terminology to discuss it the way you can with body parts and reproduction, at least none that I’m aware of, anyway. A hooker, when you have to define it, is what it is. I decided that I was just going to table the whole thing. I told M that, like with Monster High, some themes in the book were a little too mature and that I was going to hang onto to the book for a while.
“Does this have to do with the hooker?” she asked.
“A bit,” I admitted. I continued on by telling her that I would read the book myself to make sure there weren’t any other situations that could give us trouble. It’s a policy that I have put into practice and right on time, too. C came home with a book called Drama by Raina Telgemeier the other day. While Telgemeier wrote both Smile and Sisters, two graphic novels about navigating middle school with missing teeth and putting up with an irritating little sister, respectively, I had heard through the parenting grapevine that “Drama” explorers dating, relationships, and sexuality. I’ll be reading it myself before simply handing it over to C or M to curl up with on the couch.
So, that’s two books added to my stack. I’m going to pop over to the library and see if I can find some Sweet Valley Twins (ahh, the classics) or some Nancy Drew titles to share with the girls. I’ll be going over those again, cover to cover, too.
Good thing I like to read.