Friday, March 25, 2011

Reading and Kids

My husband and I have always loved to read.  So, we looked forward to when our children would start reading.  Our oldest daughter began reading in kindergarten and is now in second grade.  She reads well above her grade level.  Since we homeschool, I have a lot of say in what she reads for school and for pleasure.  I didn't realize quite how much control and say I have until yesterday.

We had the chance to spend the day together as a family and late in the afternoon we went to Barnes and Noble.  I love to start conversations with strangers, so I began talking with another mom who was watching her daughter at the Thomas the Tank Engine train table where my son was also playing.  It turns out that she is a 5th grade teacher at a local public elementary school.  She has two daughters, 2 and 10.  Her 10 year old daughter is in a 4th grade gifted and talented class.  So, I began talking to her about what her daughter reads.

It turns out that every book her daughter has read for school this year has been about death.  The series of books that all her friends are reading (and that her mom won't let her read) is the 39 clues series.  There are six groups of family members who all desire to stop the brother sister pair (11 and 14 years old) from collecting all 39 clues and their grandmother's fortune.  Stopping means "death".  I hadn't heard of the series so it was interesting to investigate it.

I was struck as I realized how from a young age, children are feeding themselves on junk food rather than healthy, wonderful tasting morsels in the form of what books they read.  In our culture, there's been a lot of attention drawn to what our children put in their mouths, but what about what they put in their minds?

This mom told me that the public schools in her county have taken all "classics" out of the curriculum.  When I suggested e.l. Konigsburg to her daughter or Roald Dahl, she had no idea who they were.  Both are authors who are good writers, whose books are worth reading.  The girl ended up taking one of my suggestions out the door with her, Matilda by Roald Dahl.  After just reading part of it online, I regret making that recommendation.  Roald Dahl's books are quite clever in plot and language, but the beginning of that book isn't one I'd want my daughter to read.  I just remembered my brother reading it and enjoying it which is what prompted me to recommend it.

As I had this conversation, I realized how much say at this point I have about what my daughter reads since we homeschool and because we're very careful about what she reads.  I'm certain I'd feel the way I do even if she was attending public or private school.    My daughter reads the classics.  She's read every one of Dick King-Smith's books she can get her hands on.  She's read Little House in the Big Woods, "B" is for Betsy, Betsy Goes to School, Milly-Molly-Mandy, and the Littles books.  She's read other books from Veritas Press and Sonlight's reading lists for 2nd and 3rd grades.  She has also read #1-27 of the Magic Treehouse Series.  I was comfortable with that series until there was more magic in the stories.  I face a challenge with her that many parents face.  She has a high reading level for her age so she can read far beyond the books that are at her grade level of 2nd grade.  

Two of the books I've looked to for help are Honey for a Child's Heart and Honey for a Teen's Heart.  Gladys Hunt does a wonderful job discussing reading for both teens and children.  It was her book for teen's that made me realize how many adult themes became considered appropriate material for Young Adult fiction.  Which brings me to a new series that a friend just mentioned to me.  

One of my friends was at a PTA meeting when she overheard another mom talking about what her children are reading.  It's a series of books called The Hunger Games.  I looked it up on Amazon and read several reviews.  I previewed the first page and was struck that the writing is quite good.  It is interesting, though very pragmatic in its use of language.  The book is recommended for grades 7 and up by the School Library Journal.  One mother wrote a review and said that it is required reading for her daughter's 7th grade class.  Now, let me tell you what it is about.  Every year 2 childen (teenagers) are selected from each province to duel to the death for sport... hence the name the Hunger Games.  The mother wrote that it gave her daughter and her both nightmares.  Several people commented and scoffed at this statement.  

That is our culture.  

We have not only desensitized ourselves but our children are becoming desensitized.  Is that what we want?  My concern is both the writing and the material of such books.

A good friend of mine Kim explained her analogy of what you choose to read.  It's like walking into a candy store full of everything imaginable.  There's everything from smarties to the choicest of chocolate truffles.  You could gorge yourself on many smarties or savor a decadent truffle.  I fear that many children are gorging themselves on "smarties" fiction instead of learning what a "truffle" of words tastes like and acquiring a taste for good writing and stories.  

Many times I think I'm silly for contemplating what we, as a culture, and what we, as a family, and what I, as a woman, read.  But, I continually come back to the thought that for some reason God has prompted me to consider these things and voice them aloud.  

Which leads me to... the computer.
I have found this past week that I have gotten on more frequently than last week.  I still fasted on Sunday and had to resist 7 separate occasions that might have prompted it.  I realized this week that I chose to opt out of the yellow pages delivery which precluded me from finding phone numbers outside of the internet.  I was also asked in a survey how often I read books online.  

I don't.  I don't like to and I don't want to.  I know my struggles already of getting distracted on the computer and I don't want to give my mind anymore opportunities to spend more time on the computer.

Two new books came in the mail for me today and it is my intention to sit down and open one of them up tonight when the kids finally get to sleep.  The books on my table tonight are... Evangelical Feminism by Wayne Grudem, Big Truths for Young Hearts by Bruce Ware, God's Names by Sally Michael, and Loving Your Spouse by Kendra Smiley.  All portend that they will be good food for thought!


Kim said...

I looked up The Hunger Games and realized I had looked it up before. I remain mystified that a mom would think that is appropriate for a 4th or 5th grader. Again, not an issue of can she read it, but an issue of can she really understand the subject matter.

At the award ceremony for Abby's poem, the judges mentioned several times that it was so much nicer to read and hear the K-3rd submissions compared to the middle and high school kids. Guess what the most popular subject for the older kids was...yep, death and dying. And now it is trickling down into the elementary grades. Not that either subject is necessarily inappropriate subject matter in young adult or even childrens literature. But...(everything you just wrote).

Good thoughts. Thank you for thought provoking conversation.

Anne said...

Interesting that the judges would say that :( That is very sad to me that death and dying was the most popular subject for the kids to write about.

Anne said...

I appreciated our conversation too! Thanks for talking about all of this with me!