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

~

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.

~

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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January Snippets

Joy is learning about atoms and molecules in science right now, and hardly a day passes when Carl and I don’t look at each other and say, “Huh. I didn’t know that.” Homeschooling can be pretty awesome, folks.

Gracie is finally starting to get the hang of sounding words out properly instead of looking at them as a collection of random letters and wildly guessing at how they’re supposed to go together. Which is also pretty awesome. I suspect, when she finally “gets” it down pat, she will be a reader exceeding even her sister. She loves stories, this girl.

~

I printed out From the Shadows a couple days ago to begin proper edits on it – all 161 pages. Granted, it’s still sitting on my bedside table, waiting for me to begin, but it’s nice having it there, at least. Makes me feel a little more like a proper author.

~

Carl’s classes begin on Monday. This semester is going to be a bit tougher than the last – isn’t that the way of all spring semesters? – but he’s looking forward to it, and I am as well. To be perfectly honest, I’m just eager to get through this semester. Because then we’ll be halfway through, and that is tremendously exciting.

~

I had suggested, back when we started reading through the Chronicles of Narnia, stopping after Voyage of the Dawn Treader (quick note: we read in published order, not chronological order, because both of us feel like you lose half the wonder of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe upon first read if you’ve already read The Magician’s Nephew, and once you start in published order, you might as well continue). I remembered The Silver Chair, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle all being slightly dark/heavy/creepy in places. It might not be a problem for Joy, but Gracie tends to have problems with nightmares as is, and she is, after all, only five.

Carl was not convinced, and by the time they’d made it through Prince Caspian all three were gung-ho to go through the entire series all at once. I subsided. They are now almost finished with The Silver Chair, and Carl has decided that after The Horse and His Boy, they will wait a few months to a year to finish the series.

I only said “I told you so” once, which I think shows great restrain on my part.

~

I am not doing so great on my goal of reading one non-fiction book a month, but I have started reading a commentary on 1 Peter, which even if it takes me six months to finish will be well worth six shorter books. I also have the first collection of Dorothy L Sayers’ letters now sitting on my shelf, and I can’t wait to start perusing those (my parents gave me an Amazon gift card for Christmas, and that was top of my list to buy with it). The last few days, though, I confess to re-reading Tey, Marsh, and Christie. My brain’s been too worn out from school with the kids to tackle anything new, even light fiction. I’m starting to get annoyed with all the detectives, though – Grant, Alleyn, and Poirot alike – so it might be time to give them a break.

~

I have been getting in a good-ish walk once a week the last couple weeks, thanks to Joy’s violin lessons. We walk the 1/4 mile to her teacher’s apartment and then back, going at a good brisk clip. It’s lovely, and it’s encouraging me to try to get out more than just once a week for a walk. The tricky thing is finding the time, between school and housework and cooking and writing and simply needing to make sure the children don’t take a hundred years to do their basic chores. Ah well. I’ll get it figured out at some point. I’m just thankful for being forced to walk at least once a week. It’s so much better than nothing.

~

Also better than nothing is blogging little snippets here and there. If I go too long on here without writing anything, I start to get lonely. Even if the majority of my social media interactions are done on Twitter these days.

Happy approaching-the-end-of-January, friends!

Speaking of exploring Narnia ...

Speaking of exploring Narnia …

Narnia, Redux

We took a little break after finishing Voyage of the Dawn Treader, to read some picture books, some Christmas books, and Children of the Noisy Village, but now the holidays are over and we have finished traveling, and we have picked the Chronicles of Narnia back up with The Silver Chair.

Even as I type, sitting in my comfy grey recliner (“This is my silver chair,” I said smugly), Carl and the girls are curled up on the couch across from me, the girls utterly engrossed as Carl reads aloud. They are on the chapter where Caspian sails away and Eustace and Jill miss their chance to greet him. This is one of my favorite chapters, what with Glimfeather and Trumpkin and “If he’s useless, we don’t want him here!” (paraphrase) which is a favorite line in my family, and used often.

Joy especially is enthralled with Narnia. She wants to read other books like them (alas, there are few of those indeed, darling daughter!); she informed her grandmother that if she had a magic wand her first wish would be that Narnia was real; and when Carl read the description of Aslan’s Country in the first chapter of this book she had the most incredibly dreamy expression on her face, picturing it in her head. It’s the most delightful thing in the world, seeing her imagination so completely captured.

Gracie incorporates Narnia into all her play. Her stuffed moose become a reindeer, her rag doll made of white cloth becomes the White Witch, a doll stroller turned on its back becomes a sledge, and voila, all she needs is a dwarf driver (usually portrayed by one of her baby dolls). This is also a delight to observe. I have to be careful not to chortle too loudly, or she gets self-conscious and quits playing.

They loved Anne of Green Gables when I read it to Joy for school, and that was wonderful. Seeing them love Narnia so much, though … that goes beyond joy. Narnia was – is – such an integral part of my life, of my very identity. The Narnia books were some of Carl’s sole interest in reading as a child. For both of us, they helped to shape how we view the world, our ideas of heroes and sacrifice and love and friendship and adventure. It is wondrous to see our own children take fire with these very same stories.

I wonder if CS Lewis had any idea, when he wrote these books, of how deeply they would affect children of every generation ever since. I am so, so thankful for them, and for him.

Expanding Her Horizons

We recently did some rearranging in our house so that Joy and Grace could have separate rooms. This, sadly, will last only for while we remain here, in this nice roomy four-bedroom house. Once Carl starts seminary and we’re living in campus housing, it’ll be back to sharing! For now, though, they both seem to be thriving on the separation.

Joy, in particular, delights in having her own space. One of the first things I did was take the tiny bookcase that had been removed from their shared bedroom after I found them trying to use it to leapfrog between beds (and it, shockingly enough, crashed and narrowly missed Grace) and put it in her room. Her special picture books are on the bottom shelf, tiny books like Beatrix Potter and Brambly Hedge are on the top shelf, and the middle shelf is reserved for big girl, read-aloud books. Books that Grace would lose interest in after two pages, but Joy is finally old enough to listen to while someone else reads. Books like The Secret Garden, Betsy-Tacy, The Wind in the Willows, Five Little Peppers, Swiss Family Robinson, Hitty, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, The Railway Children, etc.

This is real life. A few book jackets displaced, the Frances books on the floor because she was reading them most recently, and Bunny Douglas forlornly squeezed between the bed frame and the book case.

This edition of Anne of Green Gables took its place on the shelf on Christmas Day (Grace received Peter Pan).

The book I placed on the shelf with the most secret hope was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. That was the very first long book I ever read all by myself, and it is the book that started my lifelong love of fantasy. I so want my girls to love it as well! But I didn’t say anything to anyone, not wanting to influence Joy, and in fact didn’t even push any of the books on that shelf. I borrowed Little House in the Big Woods from the library and we started reading that together, but I left the middle shelf alone.

Then, one night, out of the blue, after Grace was tucked in and Carl came into Joy’s room to tuck her in, she handed him The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and said “Daddy? Can we start reading this?”

Carl’s never read it either, so now BOTH of them are experiencing (and enjoying) it for the first time. Both of them (separately) tend to come and fill me in on what they just read. Carl is mostly blown away with how different it is from the movie. “This is SO MUCH better!” he enthused. “Why did they even call the movie ‘based’ on the book, anyway?” The other night Joy chattered to me all about how Dorothy melted the Wicked Witch with a pail of water and won back her sparkly shoes, and how the Cowardly Lion isn’t really scary, he just pretends to be scary so he won’t be scared by everything else, and isn’t it silly that there’s a man made of tin instead of skin?

And I am dancing with glee.

Only a few more years before we can start reading Lewis, Tolkien, and Alexander!

If I keep thinking of more books to add, eventually we’re going to need a bigger bookshelf.

Reader

A possible near-future conversation between Joy and a librarian or teacher.


Librarian or Teacher, looking at Joy’s armful of books teetering nearly above her head: My, that’s a lot of books! Are you going to read all of them?

Joy: Yes, all by myself.

L or T: Really? How old are you?

Joy: I will be five in November.

L or T: And you can already read all those books by yourself? How did you learn to read so young?

Joy: I got bored.

End scene.

This kid, she amazes me. I really did start to teach her to read simply because she was bored. Bored to the point where she was getting into trouble out of frustration. She struggled a bit at first because it didn’t click immediately (and because I was an idiot and thought I could teach her with easy readers and flash cards – I’m sure that’s all some people need, but I am a lousy teacher and needed a curriculum), but we persevered (all of us – Joy and I did the official school books, but Carl would sit down and patiently work with her through regular books, even letting her read the bedtime stories sometimes), and then, ever so slowly, it started to come together. She would recognize one word when she saw it, then two. Then five. Then she could put together sentences. Then she started figuring out the whole “sound it out” business.

Yesterday afternoon, I walked through the living room and paused. Joy was curled up on the couch with “Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea,” which we had borrowed from the library last week and hadn’t had a chance to read together yet, and she was reading it. Out loud. By herself. Sounding out the words she didn’t know. Getting some of them wrong, but more of them right. Going back to re-read a sentence that she hadn’t added the proper emphasis to before. Immersed in her own world.

I very nearly burst into tears.

She finished that and picked up “Sam and the Firefly,” another library book, and read through that. Then she read through “Go Dog. Go!” She had to take a bathroom break partway through that one, and I sat in Carl’s study and listened as she read all the books we keep in there for the littles to look at while they use the potty (leftover habit from the days they were potty-training).

I quite honestly had a lump in my throat the rest of the evening. Reading has shaped my life, my very nature, for as long as I can remember. It has been one of the deepest desires of my heart that my children share the same passion and love for the written word as I have. Seeing this love take root in Joy is one of the most rewarding moments in parenthood I’ve had thus far.

She’s reading. My kid is reading.

It still blows my mind.

Now I just have to keep from going absolutely crazy on Amazon and buying every easy reader I can find. I just want to shower her with ALL THE BOOKS IN THE WORLD, but that’s what libraries are for, and I don’t want to deprive her of one of my other deep-set joys, which is finding those amazing books at the library, and the thrill of bringing them home to read.

Taken first thing this morning after she came downstairs. Please ignore the mound of clean laundry next to her. It was a long weekend.

I have a reader. A real live reader. Somebody pinch me!

By the way, the scene up top would never really happen. Joy hates talking to strange adults. I can’t really blame her; I’m not crazy about it either.

Lessons From a Pig

picture from kristiyamaguchi.com

When I first heard that one of my long-time heroes, Kristi Yamaguchi, was writing a picture book, I was both excited and nervous. Excited because for one thing, there aren’t enough books out there for kids that feature figure skating. Ballet, yes. Skating, no. Also excited because it was Kristi! I was nervous, though, because excellence in one area doesn’t always translate to excellence in another. Not all figure skaters make great writers, and as a writer myself, I knew I would be hyper-critical.
I shouldn’t have worried. Dream Big, Little Pig is a fantastic book! Instead of what I would arrogantly call typical inspirational tripe, gallant little Poppy taught an important lesson. You aren’t going to magically be good at something and have everything handed to you on a silver platter just because you dreamed it – but if you love something, you should work hard and pursue it despite what other people say, and in that very pursuit there will be satisfaction. Awesome. My sister bought the book for my Joy when Joy just started skating, and I loved being able to read to her about how Poppy kept getting up every time she fell, and how eventually, she started falling less.
So when we heard that Kristi was writing a sequel titled It’s a Big World, Little Pig, we were thrilled. And rightly so, because the sequel is just as charming as the first book. Aunt Lis and Uncle David bought this one for Joy to help celebrate her completion of her first season of skating lessons, and again, it is a fun story (with great illustrations) with an non-sterotypical message behind it. Poppy gets to go to a big international competition, and she’s nervous, but soon discovers that all the competitors, despite being different animals from different countries, participating in different sports, they “all smile in the same language.” I half-listened as Carl read it to Joy and Grace the first time, and I asked when he finished “But did Poppy win?” All three rolled their eyes at me. “It doesn’t say,” Carl said. “That is not the point.”
Oh. Oops.
Not every athlete or actor can turn to writing stories, especially stories for kids, well, but Kristi certainly does. She inspires me to look at my own stories, and make sure I’m not falling into the trap of writing expected tropes, but instead pursue messages I would want my own girls to believe.
And to be perfectly honest, Poppy is a good inspiration to me, too – to not expect magical success, or to expect success to look like wild popularity or medals, but to work hard at what I love, just because I love it.
My big dreamer at her very first ice show (she’s the one in front)


Disclaimer: I am not being compensated in any way for this review, and the opinions therein are solely my own. And my children’s, so far as they have communicated them to me. :-)

To Sleep, Perchance …

I haven’t been doing anything terribly interesting this week, writing-wise or life-wise. However, apparently my subconscious is doing its best to make up for my dull life by WILD dreams.

The first night wasn’t so great – it was actually more of a nightmare. Trapped on an abandoned cruise ship with a serial killer, me against him, (apparently I was a detective) me trying to catch him but feeling uneasily certain he was toying with me. Thankfully I woke up before the final confrontation. The overall tone of that dream was dark and creepy, even more than the events in it. Took several cups of tea that morning before I felt normal again!

The dream returned in a lighter fashion the next few nights – the cruise ship wasn’t deserted, and it had more of a Peter Wimsey feel – still serious, but not creepy, and this time, I always had the upper hand over the killer. One night it wasn’t even a murderer I was after, but a jewel thief.

Then last night – oh, I have no idea where this one came from, but I do most earnestly hope it returns, because FUN – my dream was a veritable sci-fi television mashup.

Started out in a green clearing, trees all around. All kinds of characters from sci-fi tv were waiting for their assignments from a platform at one end of the clearing (and no, I don’t remember any of them clearly). I ended up being sent on a quest with Chakotay (from Star Trek: Voyager) and Mal (Captain Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly). Now, I was myself – Louise – and had no idea why I was tagging along, but dudes, I was not complaining. Both Mal and Chakotay (naturally) wanted to be in charge, but since we’d only been given a direction to go in, no actual specifics as to what our quest was (bad planning, Management), there weren’t too many problems at first.

Then we ran into a friend I know in real life, except something was weird about her, and then, as we were chatting, she told me that she’d downloaded her consciousness into an android’s body because she’d been afraid of getting fat, and droids’ bodies never change. And then she ended up coming along with us because she had nothing better to do.

Things got hazy after that (I think I was starting to move toward waking up) … I remember a fight between Mal and Chakotay, and then a fight between Mal and my android friend (Mal, apparently, had a lot of anger issues to work out – though the droid friend started the second fight, and would have won it except I tried to pull them apart and accidentally dropped her off the cliff, but we figured she survived because, hey, droid bodies are remarkably resilient), and then just as we were getting close to figuring out what the point was of the quest, what we were after to begin with …

thump thump thump little feet coming up to the bed, “I have to go potty” little voice whispered, and even though Carl got up and I was able to get back to sort-of sleep, the dream was gone.

I most sincerely hope it returns tonight – I want to figure out this quest now (and also, would like to know if I was sent for more than just taking notes and pushing droids off cliffs).

What sort of fun dreams have you been having lately?

Note: I have not watched any sci-fi shows in the last several weeks, and the only sci-fi book I’ve read has been A Swiftly Tilting Planet, which is more science fantasy than science fiction, nor have I been reading/watching anything related to mysterious happenings aboard a cruise ship, so I really, really have no idea where these dreams are coming from. But they are, with the exception of that first nightmare, immensely amusing to me.