I work with kids and books. Like a lot. I work for a childhood literacy nonprofit and I volunteer basically all my during-school-hours free time at my sons’ school library. I also write children’s literature, dabbling in everything from the occasional picture book to can’t-stop-addict-levels of YA. Oh, and I am raising a herd of wild bookivores, constantly saving all our pennies for our next raid on the used bookshop.
Pretty much everyone knows I am That Mom, so I understandably get asked for book recommendations a lot. And I got one last week that stuck with me a bit more than usual.
Probably because it annoyed me.
The mom wanted a time travel middle grade book, preferably part of a series. So I started rattling out whatever floated to the top of my head. As we proceeded, I offered yet another series title and then hemmed and hawed a little at whether it was more sciencey time travel or more magical time travel. You know, just to explain the flavor.
That was a no-go. She didn’t want anything fantasy. Not even remotely. In fact, she was looking for this series as a way to ween her child off of this dumb fantasy kick he’d been on.
The conversation ended pretty quick after that.
Now, I am not the most perfect laissez-faire parent on the planet. As my sons’ school librarian can witness, there are some books the children will not be bringing into my home. (Except during banned book week. Then there is so much Captain Underpants around this place. *claws at eyes* SO MUCH CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS.) But shuttling a child away from an entire genre of books because—what? they have magic? they’re made up? Seriously, after this kid’s been successfully weened off fantasy, is the rest of fiction at large under the gun?
Now there is a lot of stuff that I personally choose not to read. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want the rest of the world reading it. As a general rule, censorship is for military-uniformed evil overlords cackling in their plushily-appointed offices. I don’t like. Honestly, I don’t really understand anybody who thinks hard censorship in any form of media is a good idea.
However, the game changes a little bit when the little absorby-brains belong to children. I mean, I don’t let my kids watch movies that I sometimes want to watch. (I mean, the Iron Giant and Star vs. The Forces of Evil proved to be just too terrifying. Nobody sleeps for like a week after the kids watch a ‘scary’ show. Can you imagine if I let them watch Invader Zim???) There are lots of books, music, and movies that I don’t necessarily want the kids ingesting for lots of reasons. Am I required to defend those reasons?
(That said, a small clarification on why I don’t like Captain Underpants books: I think they’re obnoxious. I don’t hate that the characters are disrespectful to authority figures or anything like that. The kids are free to read them anywhere I don’t have to see it. They can have their desks at school chock full of Captain Underpants books and that is fine. But if I hear so much as one tra-la-la…)
Part of a parent’s job is to shield their kids from bad stuff—‘bad’ usually being a somewhat subjective term. Another part of their job is to raise their kids up to be good people—‘good’ being another subjective term. Parents go at these objectives in different ways. Sometimes the routes don’t make a lot of sense from the outside looking in.
I don’t know what was going through this mom’s head when she decided to steer her kid away from the fantasy genre at large. My annoyance with her was a knee-jerk reaction, but maybe she has really good reasons that I just don’t know about. Maybe I’m a judgmental monster. Parenting is tough and there will always be someone there to deem your best effort not good enough. If I don’t feel like I need to defend all my own reasons for not letting my kids read something I object to, why do I feel entitled to this other mom’s reasons?
I wish I had a clearer conclusion, but this is murky stuff. I can’t make the call on what is appropriate or inappropriate reading for another person’s family. It could be that forcing someone to allow what they don’t agree with is a problem right along with removing other things that they might want access to. I suppose that’s a thing each parent has to decide for their own home.
What do you think? What’s the line between thumbs-up-you-are-an-involved-parent and boo-on-you-you-censoring-dictator? Does that line change over time as a child grows? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below! And until next week, happy reading!