I remember when my daughter read her first book, “M-m-m-a-a-t, Mat!” Followed by, “Mat sat. Sam. Sam sat. Mat sat. Sam sat. Mat sat on Sam. *~*giggle, giggle*~* Sam sat on Mat. Mat sat. Sam sat. The End.” She was just one month shy of her 4th birthday. She was proud. I was proud. She got her first sticker on her reading chart.
While Bob Books may be the most simple of any children’s books ever written, [aside from one-word baby books (i.e., “cat”, “dog”, “sun”, etc.) which don’t really tell an actual story, this achievement represented the first steps toward becoming an independent reader.
I now, several years later, say goodnight to my daughter and as I close her bedroom door, she says a distracted, “Goodnight Mom, I love you” from her bed holding her book. This brings back memories of hiding under blankets in bed after bedtime with a flashlight reading late, late into the night. Sigh…my love of reading has been passed down to my daughter.
How do we choose books for our children?
How does one go about choosing children’s books for our new independent readers? Why, recommendations of course! So, when my daughter comes home with her Scholastic book order from school and points out all the books that her friends love, it just makes sense to choose those, right? Or, how about talking to other parents either in your circle of friends, or even those on-line who say “My daughter LOVES ‘this book’ or ‘that book.”? That seemed completely reasonable to me. And then…I decided to read some of these books myself more carefully with my critical parent eye.
Ok, I admit it, my parents didn’t know it at the time but, when I was in Grade 5 I was reading books such as Salem’s Lot, Rosemary’s Baby, Amityville Horror, and the Exorcist, forever cementing my love affair with horror books and all things macabre. Living in a rural area, we were given a list of books available from the public library in the “Big City”; I would then check off what I wanted and wait for the green canvas bag to show up in the mail with my selections.
Remember the issue of good role models for children?
I’m not suggesting that my daughter is reading books way past her level of comprehension or books where she can learn to use swear words appropriately, but what are the messages and lessons learned in some of these children’s books? Are the main characters (who are the same gender and roughly the same age as my daughter) appropriate role models?
Comparing Ivy and Bean (our review), for example, to some of the characters found in Stephen King’s novels may seem a bit extreme, but if we were to imagine Annie Wilkes from Misery as a child, I fancy that she might have been a child with the same moral compass as Bean. Bean – - who lies, plots to play tricks on her sister, throws worms at her, laughs (along with Bean’s mother, apparently) when she falls in a mud puddle, and with a whole lot of name-calling between sisters. And the kicker at the end…Bean’s Mom’s reaction to this horrendous behaviour: smiling because her daughter finally made friends with the neighbour across the street. Say what?!
What message or lessons will kids walk away with after reading some of these children’s books? Will they remember the bond of friendship formed between Ivy and Bean? Or will they relate more to and therefore remember the animosity between the sisters? Do children understand that the book Bad Kitty Meets the Baby (our review) was about the gradual acceptance of a newly adopted member of the family? Or will they remember the sound of Baby filling its diaper or the wacky Pussy Cat Olympics?
Are we swapping our values for a good laugh?
To what extent are we willing to swap our stance on the values, morality, and ethics we hold dear for the entertainment value of a book? Children’s books like Ivy and Bean and Bad Kitty have high entertainment value simply because kids like reading about other kids (and pets) being “bad”. Apparently it’s really funny when Bean throws worms into her sister Nancy’s mouth and it’s really funny when Bad Kitty tries to sell the new puppy.
Let’s compare this to the charming Clementine (our review) or even the classic Anne of Green Gables where the title characters do misbehave, but somehow we can excuse their misbehaviour as mistakes from which they learn valuable life lessons. Their redeeming qualities and quirky, charming personalities far outweigh their questionable behaviour. I can walk away from those children’s books truly liking the main characters and thinking that they are appropriate role models for my daughter.
How can we take an active role in discussing books with our children?
To this day, I still read to my children every night – - it might be a Magic Tree House book, stories from J.K. Rowling’s The Tales of Beedle the Bard, or even some of our favourite Robert Munsch books (all these book reviews to come!). I hope to cling to family snuggle-and-read time for as long as my children allow, but as far as “independent reading” goes, I am still the parent and I will be reading and sharing my views with them about what I see as issues with the moral of the story, the characters and their many flaws (and redeeming qualities), and the themes threaded throughout the book.
While I won’t be able to dictate what my children read forever, especially as they enter adolescence, what I can do now while I still have some influence, is teach my kids to be critical of what they read and the messages they receive through books.
I encourage you to begin this process by picking a children’s book together with your child and by completing a Guest Review. You can click on Guest Reviewers in the navigation bar above for instructions. All children’s book reviews are posted on the Mother and Daughter Book Review website.