The Right Book

Mary Helen - Los Angeles, California
Entered on March 10, 2009

How many times have you heard a parent say: “My son’s just not a reader. My daughter doesn’t like books?” After 12 years volunteering in our school library and having raised three readers, I believe every child likes books if they have the right one. In some bookstore, on some library shelf, there is a title to set them on fire.

The problem is, sometimes clumsy adults accidentally stamp out the spark. For the good of their kids or out of fear, parents try to control information to the point of censorship. At home, literary arrogance is an accepted form of censorship. If we want our kids to read and love books, I believe we can’t be either book snobs or censors.

The parent who says “My kid hates to read” is often the same one who says “ I hate that book “ (and you can fill in the blank with the title they think is unworthy of their child). I remember feeling that way. I sneered at a book called “Captain Underpants” until my non-reading son wanted to devour it.

It’s easy to understand my hesitation. My firstborn loved historical fiction from the age of 6. My second wanted a superhero in underwear. Try as I might to press more classic titles on my son, the half naked Captain was the first literary hero he sought out for himself. He couldn’t wait to finish a book so he could read the next installment. So we did. Then he went on to read The Magic Treehouse books, every word of Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket. Captain Underpants launched him.

I believe that because I overcame my own distaste for his reading choices and supported his passion, he learned that there are books out there meant for him, books he will love.

The book on his bedside table now is S.E.Hinton’s “The Outsiders,” which shows up consistently on the ALA’s list of most challenged books, that is, books that parents, teachers, even some librarians try to keep out of the hands of young readers. ‘”Super Diaper Baby” a spinoff of Captain Underpants, made the list too. “Bless me Ultima,” another consistently challenged title , made news when it was recently removed from the curriculum of a high school in Stanislaus County, California. Community leaders called it profane, violent and anti-Catholic.

After the book was banned , students rushed to the library to check it out. Maybe they thought this was the title to spark their literary fire.

I asked my daughter, the historical fiction reader, about “Bless Me Ultima.” She remembered reading it in middle school and said she didn’t like it, because, and I quote, she didn’t “appreciate the genre or the extended metaphor.” She wasn’t disturbed or shocked by the book, as that school district feared she might be. As a reader, she analyzed the literature and came to her own conclusion. Critical thinking, that’s something I can believe in.