Here’s a good piece from The Guardian about parents choosing books for their kids.
I’m sure most parents who chose for their children have good intentions but we have to remember that it’s much the same as choosing an ice cream flavour for them, telling them what they can watch on TV or selecting a house for them to live in when they leave home. Much as we might prefer otherwise, our kids have different tastes from us. If we try to squeeze them into our own mould, they’ll resent it.
We can tell them what we like and why. We can point them toward books that are relevant to their interests. We can lead a horse to water… but the horse has to want to drink.
I grew up well before the Young Adult category was invented. I quickly read everything of interest in the school libraries and moved on to books that captured my attention. Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming featured early and then I moved on to Stephen King, James Herbert, James Clavell and other blockbuster authors. The books weren’t ‘age appropriate’ but they kept me reading. I think that’s a win.
I was leaving the council library recently when a librarian stopped me to say some of the books the Little Dragon was carrying “were in the young adult section for a reason”. I smiled and borrowed them anyway.
As it happens, some of the allegedly dangerous books were for me and some for the Little Dragon (mainly manga). He’s nine so I do try to suss out the contents of the stories – and censor some. If the stories are too mature they don’t tend to hold his attention anyway so he self-censors too. When he chose ‘How To Get Dumped’, both his parents raised an eyebrow – and we both read it after him, partly to see what had captivated him so. I couldn’t see anything harmful in the contents. Far from it. I’m impressed that it interested him enough to seek out other titles by the same author. (Pat Flynn)
But I am conscious I need to be careful. A student asked me last week for a list of my favourite YA books and I provided it. Some of my recommendations feature drug/alcohol abuse, violence, profanity and ‘sexual references’. I can’t know how mature the student is or what her parents will think if they review what she is reading. As The Guardian piece says, the librarian has a crucial role here in knowing the students and what they can handle.
That said, I’d rather my children explore these topics and learn about the risks involved via books, than experiment in real life. If that means reading things that are deemed age-inappropriate, so be it.
Extracts from the sensory and beautiful How To Make A Bird by Martine Murray.
‘I didn’t mean to say it like that. Sometimes sentences rushed out before I checked them over for holes or hidden weapons.’ p6
‘I spent a lot of my life waiting, to tell you the truth, which was why I was getting out of town. It was a deliberate strategy, a counterattack to waiting, which wasn’t getting me anywhere. There are two types of waiting. There’s the waiting you do for something you know is coming, sooner or later – like waiting for the 6.28 train, or the school bus, or a party where a certain handsome boy might be. And then there’s the waiting for something you don’t know is coming. You don’t even know what it is exactly, but you’re hoping for it. You’re imagining it and living your life for it. That’s the kind of waiting that makes a fist in your heart.’ p16
‘It’s not surprising that someone in my circumstances would always be wanting something. Probably ever since I started out with the wrong shoes. There was the wanting and there was the waiting, too. That’s two feelings that move all out of step with each other. Waiting doesn’t really move, it doesn’t have direction, whereas wanting dashes out of you, like an arrow. So if you wait and want and wait and want, then you live in a jagged way. You go along in zig zag, not in a clear line forward, like most people do.’ pp41-42
BTW, I was reading Martine’s Henrietta Gets A Letter aloud to the Little Monkey (5) recently and was pleasantly surprised when the Little Dragon (9) joined us, then my god-daughter, aged 10. Moments later my god-son (7), added to the throng. Only a good story draws kids in like that. The Henrietta books are junior fiction in the vein of Lauren Child’s Charlie & Lola books – quirky & fun.