I have to tread lightly when it comes to whether a book is appropriate or not. I live in a pretty conservative city, in a pretty conservative state, so when it comes to recommending books, I hesitate.
I love hearing stories about kids finding the book that they couldn’t put down. Just the other day I had a 16 year old girl tell me about how she found a book at the school library by Jay Asher, the author of Thirteen Reasons Why. I don’t know which book she was looking for but she picked another by Mr. Asher and started it at school that day. On a whim she decided to take it home. She finished it that weekend. She FINISHED IT! THAT WEEKEND!
Please forgive my excitement. She talked to me about how she hadn’t found a book that she liked since Twilight. She has connected the dots. She now realizes that she likes books with relationships where the characters have an issue that they need to work through. She likes books! 🙂
I can have a conversation with students about books that they might be interested in. I can gauge how they might respond to a book by their facial expressions. And I don’t pressure them. If they don’t like it, they know they can put it down and pick up something else. I want kids to read. I know they have to like it to keep going. I know that reading opens doors to vocabulary, ideas, compassion, respect, and less judgement. I can get a feeling for how much gore a student is comfortable with. I’m okay if a student isn’t comfortable with rough language in a story. I’m okay with students reading romances. I’m okay with students reading graphic novels. I’m okay with students reading, even if there’s gore, violence, language, relationships. Students, well…high school students, are generally better at accepting the differences of others in story form. Things that are edgy are appealing. I recognize that it’s not my job to teach my standards to my students. And I respect theirs.
Parents. Parents are trying to protect their children from the sad and scary things that happen in our world. I understand. I’m a parent. I would never talk with my 8 year old daughter about the details of The Diary of Anne Frank. We might talk about it generally. The terrible things that happened during The Holocaust can’t be ignored, but there are levels of appropriateness. I’ll eventually talk with my daughters about dating rules and dating safety. They need to know what’s okay, what’s not, and what I will do if they need help.
Teenagers today are dealing with terrible things that happen at school. They know of students or have friends that have been through awful situations at home, at parties, or at school. They could be dealing with the topics that are coming up in books that are in our public and school libraries. Do we expect our students, our children to avoid these topics? Do we talk with them about what’s happening in the news, in our nation, and around the world? Here’s a small list of controversial, possibly inappropriate titles that are being read by teens in our country.
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
- What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera
- People Like Us by Dana Mele
These aren’t bad books. They have language. They have mature situations. They’re dealing with things that are happening in our world right now. They’re addressing situations and ideas that our young adults are experiencing.
I have found that you have to trust what you have taught your kids. If they find a book, and the book has language that makes them uncomfortable, they’ll probably stop reading it. If they keep reading an edgy book because they have a friend who recommended it, and they’re trying to be understanding, is that really a bad thing?
Have conversations with your kids about what they’re reading and why they’re reading it. Talk about the difficult situations. What should they do if they have a friend who is contemplating running away, or committing suicide? Who should they be able to talk to? Hopefully that would be you.
Reading is an escape, but more often it’s a way to understand other people. It’s a way to understand people who are different from you. Reading is how we learn to treat other people, as if we were the main character in the story. We compare ourselves to the main character. We empathize with them. We cheer them on. We cry when they’re hurt. Reading is magic.
So, when it comes to determining if a book is appropriate for your child, you could search the internet for what other people think, or you could have a conversation with your child about it.
What do you think? Let me know.