So, in my last post, I asked some questions about monitoring the books our children read. And then I focused on how a good parent implements her intentions after answering those questions. In this post, I will go back to the question of what makes a book good or bad.
Good books are those we read for entertainment, edification, and education (but not necessarily all three in the same book). Ideally, my children (and I!) will read many books that are”virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy.” [Rosalie and I must be on the same wavelength because I had written this before I saw her comment on the previous post]. Many books are not praiseworthy because they are mindless fluff and/or poorly written. Many other books are not lovely or of good report.
As revealed by Therese and Robin’s comments, there are at least two senses in which a book can be bad: a) it can be objectionable because it is inappropriate, either inappropriate in general [not virtuous, not of good report, not praiseworthy] or inappropriate for a certain age group or particular child or b) it can be of poor quality in the sense that it does not have content worth reading or in the sense that it is poorly written [not lovely, not praiseworthy]. Correspondingly, there are two ways in which books can be good. a) They can be appropriate in the sense that they are not objectionable (a pathetically weak sense of good, to be sure) or b) they can be well written and have content worth reading [lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy].
After reading your thoughtful comments on my previous post, I was surprised to find that I may be the biggest censorship advocate in the group. As I said before, where books are concerned, I think it is better to err on the side of restricting too little rather than too much. However, I disagree with Zina’s comment that “there’s probably nothing *too* bad within the spectrum of what Amelia’s likely to read.” I think there’s quite a bit of bad stuff out there (yikes, look at the covers of the magazines at the grocery store), in the sense that there are a lot of books that would be inappropriate for Amelia to read ever, and even more that are inappropriate for her to read right now.
I was inspired to write my first post about censorship after finishing the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I had never read it before and found it as I was searching through reviews looking for books that would be good for Amelia. Let me be clear, I really liked A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Although it isn’t always “lovely” in the most literal sense (because the heroine’s life is difficult as are the lives of those she is closest to), it was praiseworthy. I would give it a good report! However, I do not want Amelia to read it. Not yet. And especially if we don’t read it together. I do hope that she will read it in a couple of years. Tree falls in my “inappropriate at this age” category. Amelia is ten years old. The heroine of Tree has to face some adult issues fairly early in her life. Amelia doesn’t. She has time enough.
I am interested in whether any of you have read Tree and would take issue with me. I wonder whether my stand is silly (in a sense it’s not a big deal because Amelia isn’t begging to read it, but the issue of what it is okay for her to read comes up again and again). Like Zina, I was also a precocious reader. My mother did a good job of teaching me which books to seek out and which to avoid, but still–I read some books that I would no doubt judge as inappropriate for Amelia. As Zina mentioned, it is difficult to identify or label the specific harm. Also, children are naturally curious. (Advanced readers are perhaps even more curious than most children. That’s part of why they read). The forbidden is even more interesting . . . I know all that. And I am continually surprised at the subject matters my young children are introduced to through my addiction to National Public Radio. Is sheltering the young even possible in our world? Does what they read matter? Especially in mild (inappropriate at this age) cases like Tree?
I know that arguments can be made in both directions. Like so much of parenting for me, the worry will continue regardless of which path I choose. It will just change it’s object: What if she’s too sheltered? What if she’s unprepared? What if I cause her to rebel? What if she grows up too fast? What if she becomes cynical before ever being both mature and happy?
Two specific categories of books that I worry about for Amelia are books centered around romance and books with sexual content. Given the state of our culture, I think even fairly young children need to know a lot of facts, and Amelia knows how women get babies. However, despite my commitment to knowledge for my children on this subject, I do not think novels are a good way for children to gain the information they need. First, although I believe Amelia should know the facts now, I hope the part of her life where these facts are hers is a decade distant. This isn’t information she needs to review frequently. Second, the books I am concerned about seldom portray the reality I would hope for for my daughter: long term married loving monogamous commitment. Since that reality is seldom portrayed, I am not eager for her to spend any significant time familiarizing herself with alternate competing possibilities.
I believe light romance can have its place. I am not about to ban Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. There are good reasons why romance is an attractive genre for both girls and women. Light romance can be fun and entertaining. In addition it is often a wonderful vehicle for excellent (and educational) historical fiction. That said, Amelia is ten. I think much of the romance reading should wait. Books that focus too much on young love—kissing and dating in the high school and college set—are harmful, not so much because they are outright objectionable, but because it’s just not time yet. Amelia won’t be allowed to date for six more years and I hope that it will be at least a decade before she marries. I want her to walk towards those years, not run. The next few years will bring the pull of urges that will tempt her to believe that her life should revolve solely around attracting romantic attention, that her worth is her value as someone’s lover. I don’t need books to introduce her to these feelings or to the world of romantic relationships before she feels its tug herself.
What do you think? Do you take issue with my characterization of good and bad books? Do you agree or disagree that knowledge of some things can come too early?