Censorship VS Guidance

The Goosebumps books were at the entrance to the Children’s Room at the library growing up; you couldn’t help but see them whenever you went it. They were popular, too—very few of the books I loved were ever borrowed by anyone but me (this was back in the day when the patron’s name was written on the card in the back pocket, so you could see a book’s history whenever you picked it up. The nosy neighbor/author in me misses those days, when you could speculate about the other people whose names were on the card, especially if one name cropped up on several of the books you borrowed frequently. “I wonder who that person is,” you could muse. “I bet we’d be friends.” But I digress), but the Goosebumps books were always getting snatched up by kids about my age, and there were always gaping holes in the shelf.

“I don’t think so,” Mom said firmly when she saw me eying them speculatively. “Those are not a good idea with your nightmares.”

Saddened, but not wanting to mess with my nightmares—these were terrible, and plagued me well into my teens, and could be caused by nothing more than seeing a gruesome picture on a tabloid cover in the grocery store check-out line—I bypassed the Goosebumps books and went back to the delights of E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, Lloyd Alexander, and the like.

~

An older friend of mine read and loved the Dark is Rising books, and lent them to me with a caveat that they might be scary in parts. So Dad read them first, and then handed them over to me saying that they did have some dark parts, but that he was pretty sure I could take it, and if I wanted to I could always talk to him about them. In fact, I loved them (as did he, and Susan Cooper remains one of our favorite authors to this day—I bought him King of Shadows for his birthday last year, in fact, and he was just as swept up as he’d ever been in one of her tales. But I digress again).

~

My sister wasn’t much of a reader as a kid and teenager. While I would stay up late reading, she preferred to lull herself to sleep on logic problems. When she did read, she liked books such as Baby-Sitter’s Club, Sweet Valley Twins, and, as she got older, Sweet Valley High and Avalon romances. My parents called those “fluff” books—enjoyable but no substance to them—and the rule was you had to read a certain number of non-fluff books to the number of fluff books you were allowed. My sister grumbled a bit about this, more because she was the oldest and it was her job to complain about all of our parents’ rules than because she thought it was actually unfair, but she stuck with it. And a few years ago she was trying to convince me to give Dostoyevsky a try, because she’d read some of his books and thought they were awesome. She also still enjoys fluff books. And logic problems

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About a year ago, I was desperately trying to find books that Joy would want to read. Excited by her advanced abilities and unduly influenced by memories of the large tomes I enjoyed reading in kindergarten and first grade, I overdid a bit and overwhelmed her. While she was perfectly capable of reading the Little House books, she didn’t enjoy them, and her disillusionment with the “big” books I was giving her spread to reading in general.

Then we found the Rainbow Magic books at the library. Pumped out by computer, lame by any standards, they were nonetheless perfect for a six-year-old who enjoyed the thrill of reading “chapter books” but wasn’t ready mentally or emotionally for the themes in most MG writing. Despite the wrinkled noses of many of my friends, I cheerfully borrowed them by the armload each week for her, while at the same time giving her more picture books and other young readers (the Magic Tree House books were another big hit, which has worked out nicely with social studies, I must say—I never know when she’s going to pipe up over something we’re studying, “Oh! Jack and Annie went here.” Digressing again). I’m exceedingly thankful to have had them, especially now when I catch Joy happily curled up with any book from Ladybug Girl to the Frozen novelization to Winnie-the-Pooh to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. On the other hand, when this winter the library didn’t have the next one in the series, I deliberately did not suggest ILL or skipping that one to move on to the next. Thus far, she has plenty of other reading material, and she hasn’t seem to miss the Rainbow Magic too badly.

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There’s a lot of justified complaints about censorship out there. Including and especially parents censoring what their children read. Or what other people’s children read. But sometimes parental guidance gets lost or unfairly shuffled into the same category as censorship, and I think that’s a shame. Because gentle guidance and help with reading—whether it be in limiting the number of certain types of books your kids read, or reading books before letting them read them, or telling them to wait until they are older, or even swallowing your pride to let—even encourage!—them read books that are frankly crap (and then move on when said books have served their purpose), is something that I wish more parents would do. And it’s a far cry from censorship. It is, to be blunt, simply part of what being a parent is all about.

Clearly, Joy is much more comfortable with reading these days

Clearly, Joy is much more comfortable with reading these days

Thanks to Maureen, whose tweets on this subject got me thinking about my parents, and how grateful I am to them for the way they encouraged my sister and me to be readers, and then prompted this post.

Also, in case anyone is interested, the Little House picture books are well-loved by both Joy and Grace, and went a long way toward piquing Joy’s interest in the real books once she got a little older.

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4 thoughts on “Censorship VS Guidance

  1. I have so many issues with parents trying to censor what children, especially my child, reads. There are so many good books out there with significant historical context that are shunned these days because they contain language we no longer deem appropriate, or reflect a time in our history we would rather forget about. Most of the time, they’re banned without anyone really even knowing the context in which they are written. It bothers me a great deal.

    I like your parents’ approach to encouraging your reading. I like to know what L will be reading. I like a bit of fluff now and again, but I also believe in reading something of substance too.

    I hate the Dr. Seuss books, HATE them(!), save for “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.” However, they are currently L’s favorite thing in the world. We even used them as potty training incentive. They’re encouraging her love of books, so I think I can put aside my distaste for pointless, endless rhymes.

    • I can tolerate most Dr. Seuss books (especially since Carl’s the one who usually reads them), but I draw the line at The Cat in the Hat. I HATED that book as a kid, and even the thought of reading it out loud turns my stomach. So they can read it themselves, at the library, or else endure a childhood without it.

      And there are a few other books/authors where the rule will not be “wait until you’re old enough” but rather “never in my house,” because I have such a revulsion about them. But that’s a matter of respecting the home in which they’re living and their parents, not of me trying to control them or pretend certain books don’t exist.

      It’s a fine line to walk, but it DOES exist, and it’s worth talking about so that people don’t lose all sight of differences.

  2. I’m totally with you. Censorship is about telling *other adults* what they are allowed to read or write. Parenting is a completely different thing. It’s like saying that making your kids do the dishes is slavery – or not allowing your kids to roam the streets at night is putting them in jail.

    As for there being books/movies that you wouldn’t allow your kids to read/watch, on the “not in my house” principle, again, I’m totally with you. And I’m also totally willing to give my kids the exact reasons for my opinions. It’s called “teaching them your values”, and again, it’s not censorship. It’s doing your job as a parent.

    • “And I’m also totally willing to give my kids the exact reasons for my opinions.” Yeah, exactly. I’m not going to be all mysterious about it, and say “No, you just must trust me on this because I am The Mother.” The same way that I will give them reasons why I think they need to wait a few years on a particular book (too mature, too dark, language not appropriate for your age, etc), I will also quite gladly explain why I refuse to allow certain books in my house. And all of this so that, hopefully, when they are mature and able to choose their own reading material, they know themselves and have enough wisdom to be able to make those choices good ones.

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