Like eating more fruits and vegetables, reading more books is often a goal that parents have for their kids. There are innumerable benefits to reading early, often, and in varying genres–they learn how to see things from other people’s points of view, they develop their imaginations, they learn moral lessons, they learn facts, they increase their ability to read and write the English language effectively, they can fight boredom and increase attention spans, etc… I am a big fan of reading books and I believe that one of the most important things I can do as a parent is to help my kids love to read.
Because I am such a book pusher, I usually buy books as gifts for birthdays and other holidays. I was looking for a book for my niece’s birthday gift and the nice bookseller lady who reads all the kids books suggested that I should get her The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler. It is a book for girls around 8-12 about a girl who discovers that she is a mermaid. I thought she might enjoy it, so I got it for her and she liked it a lot. I got her the next book in the series for the next gift-buying occasion, and she liked that one too.
The other day I found a copy at the library used book sale, so I bought it thinking that my daughters might like to read it when they get older. Over the weekend I decided to read it just to see why my niece enjoyed it and to relive my youth a little, since I wish I had read more children’s books as a child. Well, it is no Harry Potter, which is liked as much by adults as kids, I think, but I see why little girls enjoy it. As a religious parent, I didn’t have any concerns with it until the very end. The main character is on trial and has to defend herself and her parents in hopes of being freed. Her mother is a human and her dad is a merman. They fell in love and it is against the law of Neptune to marry each other. She pops off to Neptune, the GOD, saying, “You can’t make people stop loving each other just because a law says it’s wrong,” and later, “he wants us imprisoned because of laws that were written centuries ago. Things have changed. Humans aren’t all bad, you know.” *spoiler alert* Of course, Neptune relents in the end and there is a happy ending. My problem with this is that here is another example of children disregarding authority and overturning it because it doesn’t please them or they don’t agree with it. Children need more examples where the wisdom of the authority figures is proven good and true. As a Christian, I know that there have been injustices that needed to be rectified in the past, but there are also eternal laws that are true and good for all people and times and should be defended. Children’s literature should reflect both these realities in order for the child to see the wider picture, in my opinion. More problematic for me is the thinly veiled argument for homosexual marriage. It probably wouldn’t be perceived by the child, but it is plain as day to any adult, and I worry that seeds are being planted that will later grow into a weed in my child’s mind.
How do we protect our children from these unwanted lessons in the books our children are exposed to?
Of course, it is not feasible to read all books in advance of my children reading them. I don’t want to censor and make something into forbidden fruit. I also think that it is good to come across ideas that you don’t agree with so you can better understand your own and the other perspective.
The books written before the 1960’s probably contain less questioning of authority and ideas from the sexual revolution. Maybe encourage more of those.
Read lots of good quality and spiritually edifying books with your child to help form their taste for good literature.
Seek out recommendations from trusted sources like Honey For a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt–a children’s book list compiled by a Christian woman.
If there is a book you are not sure of and your child really wants to read it, perhaps it could be a read aloud. If you come to any troubling spots, you and your child can discuss the topic and it can be a chance to teach the faith.
If you can’t read it with them and you don’t know what surprises it might contain, you could always ask the child to narrate to you what was read that day in the book. That way he gets practice thinking about and summarizing what he read, and you get a chance to hear about the story and guide them in their thinking about any questionable things. If it is too upsetting, then of course, you have the ability to help them discontinue that one and choose another book at that time.
Unfortunately, we cannot assume that every book out there is edifying for our kids to be reading–in fact, if it is popular and recently published, it is probably better to suspect it and check it out before allowing our younger kids free access to them. Vladimir Lenin said, “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” We have to be careful and selective about who gets access to teach our children. Books are our teachers and we must read them critically. While children are still learning what is right and wrong and how to think critically, we need to protect them.