Book Choice: Talking the talk – pt. 2

Yesterday I wrote about my 12 year old daughter wanting to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower and how it pushed me to “talk the talk” of book choice with my own kids. Today’s post continues with a reflection on a similar event with my younger daughter.

My youngest daughter is 8-years-old and in the third grade. She recently finished listening to all the Harry Potter Books. She enjoys reading, though not as voraciously as her older sister. She knows what she likes and doesn’t like. If it is a choice between not reading, and reading something that she isn’t crazy about – she will choose not to read. However when she gets excited about a book, gets really really into it – look out. That’s what happened when she discovered HP audiobooks. She listened to all of them in less than 2 months, we talked about the characters and the stories. We also watched the movies and compared them to the books.

Last week she had a sleepover with one of her best friends who happens to be in fourth grade. Friend has read The Hunger Games and was telling Youngest how amazing it was, and that she just had to read it. I want to say first, that I love that they were talking about books. When friends recommend books to other friends (kids, teens, or adults), it can be one of the most powerful motivations to read.

So Youngest comes home SO excited because she wants to read The Hunger Games. She has asked in the past, but I think it was more to both imitate and annoy her older sister (who has read the book). This is an important part of the story – Eldest insisted on numerous previous occasions, that it was “not appropriate for Youngest to read”. After what seemed like the tenth time she told me, I sat down with Eldest and told her about my belief in readers choosing their own books. I reminded her of the time that she wanted to read Hunger Games. And I told her that ultimately, me saying “no you may not read that” is a form of censorship. That censorship and selection are something I teach my students about because of how strongly I believe that there are not book “rules” that work for everyone. That it was not her responsibility to decide what was appropriate for her sister (or anyone else) to read. Ironically two weeks later, Eldest wanted to read Perks of Being a Wallflower, written about in yesterday’s post.

Back to Youngest, who by now had asked every day for a week to read The Hunger Games. Youngest is a my sensitive one who has felt empathy for others from a very young age. She is the child who cries when other people get hurt. I had definite reservations about her reading The Hunger Games right now. But she was so excited about it, I didn’t want to squash that excitement. I was also genuinely concerned about how she would respond to the killing scenes in the arena and the fact that people were forced to watch it on tv. Part of me just wanted to say, “No, you aren’t ready, you may not read that book now.” But I realized as she and I sat at the table together I needed to talk the talk of book selection with my own child.

And what do I tell parents and my own students to do in these situations? Start by asking the child about why they want to read that particular book. She was excited about the adventure aspect, mostly she was excited to read something that her friends had read so that she could talk about it with them. Ok – where to go next? I described the general plot to her, the conversation that followed went something like this:

Me: Honey there is killing in this book. You don’t even like it when people get hurt.
Youngest: I know that mommy, Friend told me. She also said not to throw the book across the room when a character you like dies. Because it doesn’t change anything and you’ll get in trouble.
Me: Well, that is good advice. I want you to understand what kind of killing and hurting is in this book. It isn’t like Voldemort. There kids killing other kids because adults make them. And people are forced watch it all on tv.
Youngest: People watch? That’s yucky. <BIG PAUSE>  But it’s still a fiction book, it’s fantasy. I know that means it didn’t really happen.
Me: That is true, but I also know that when someone is injured, it makes your tummy hurt. I’m worried that if you read this book your tummy would hurt a lot and make it difficult to enjoy the story. How about I read a page or two to you, and you can see what you think. If you still want to read it, then we’ll do it together.

I read her the passage where Katniss realizes that she’s had her first kill. She remembers Rue being killed and realizes that the boy she killed has family that watched it happens and wants her to die.

She looked at me with her big blue eyes and said, “Mommy I really want to read it, but I think that it would make my tummy hurt.” Then I went and pulled some other fantasy, adventure books off the shelf for her to try out.

My point in sharing today’s story (as well as the one I posted yesterday), is to illustrate the ways that I had conversations with my daughters about these books. Did both situations work out the way I had hoped? Yes, because we had conversations, they had voice, and ultimately made their own decisions. As I write this, I’m imagining someone reading and thinking, “What if Youngest had decided she still wanted to read The Hunger Games?” That is a fair question.

We would have read it together. Not parallel like I did with Eldest and Perks of Being Wallflower (we read it at the same time but on our own). With Youngest, I would have insisted that we read it out loud together, so that I could have discussions with her about things as she experienced them. And it might have been fine, she might have loved the book. But, what would have been important is sharing it together and her knowing that I trust her to know herself as a reader.

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5 thoughts on “Book Choice: Talking the talk – pt. 2

  1. I don’t agree with everything you say, which isn’t surprising, but I thank you for writing a set of compelling posts.

  2. I’ve had similar discussions with my kids, well mostly with the oldest. The first book that sparked a joy in reading was a book that was far too old for him, but he loved it enough to read it. So we share read it, I read it out loud, and it’s still one of his favorite books eight years later (and now it’s appropriate!).

    I remember when he was eleven he heard me laughing about a paranormal romance I was reading, and when I described some of the crazy plot twists he wanted to read it. But the second half of the book had some very explicit sex scenes that I knew he’d be uncomfortable with. So we talked it over, I put a book mark in the place where the crazy plot ended and the romance really got going, and believe it or not he read to that place and stopped (I told him how the plot ended). It was a real example of trust on both our parts.

  3. I like your Youngest, Oldest, and Friend terminology here. I like it so much I think I’ll borrow it for this comment!
    When our Oldest was in 7th grade, some of her classmates were reading Pretty Little Liars. She tried it, didn’t like it, and never looked back. Meanwhile, our Youngest had a similar situation with The Hunger Games in 4th grade. I processed it in this blog post: http://whatsnotwrong.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/grace-and-the-hunger-games/
    She went on to The Hunger Games but has shown no interest in reading Catching Fire or Mockingjay. She has since re-read the Harry Potter books, again, and loves Lemony Snicket.

    • Thanks so much for sharing Gary. I loved your post – particularly the conversation that you had about Dancing With the Stars — and that you just left it at that. Also the way that you processed the teacher’s decision about how to handle the book in his classroom. I teach preservice teachers and something that I am always talking about is that each teacher needs to make the choice based on what they know about the students in their room. That if you are going to say “no” as this teacher did, that he knows why he did it, pedagogically.

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