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How Do You Decide What Your Kids Read?

My son is two now. Perhaps you remember his reading tips from way back when he was one.  Now that he’s two, the real parenting is about to begin.

Before I had kids, it was the practical stuff in the first years that worried me—changing diapers, losing sleep, hurried dinners, etc.

But as my wife and I have adjusted to all of that—a lot of which I realized wasn’t a big deal after all, okay, except for the sleep part—I’ve begun see how the real fun is just getting started.

It’s all the emotional, psychological, hard-core parenting stuff now—knowing when to discipline and when to be patient, not letting my fears become my son’s fears or get in the way of his growth, knowing when to say no and when to say one more time, determining the types of discipline that he responds to best, and stuff like that.

As I’ve been told by more experienced parents, all of this will only get more difficult as he grows older. Now my parental sensors go off when he wanders in the next room without supervision, so what am I going to do when he’s wandering through town in his own car? Oh crap.

That brings me to my question for the day. As a parent, how do you monitor–or do you monitor–what your child reads?

Here’s an onslaught of questions:

  • Is it all fair game?
  • Do you want them to be intellectually and emotionally ready to read certain books…and, if so, how do you determine that?
  • Are you guided by spiritual and religious values in determining what your kids should read?
  • Is there a difference in reading a book to understand an idea or an issue better versus reading it because you believe in or embrace those ideas?
  • Do you keep your kids from reading books or novels that you consider to have objectionable material?
  • What are some of the other guidelines you use?

Obviously, a lot of this is subjective, as we all come from different backgrounds and have different styles and ideas about parenting. But it’s an issue that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, and I’m not sure how to approach it yet.

Thankfully, he’s not reading quite yet, so I have time. The Elmo and Thomas the Train books appear to be safe…except for that one scene with Thomas and Lady in the train station. So graphic.

Anyway, I’ve had several people recently ask me for book recommendations for kids in the 10 to 12-year-old range, and I haven’t been sure how to answer those questions. There’s the obvious stuff, like Narnia, but what about To Kill A Mockingbird? Or does a 10 year old really “get” Animal Farm? That’s just one part of the parenting world that I’m thinking about these days.

I’d love for you guys to weigh in on this one–whether you have kids or not.

How do you decide what’s okay for your kids to read?

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31 Comments Post a comment
  1. I have a 28(or 29?)-year-old wife and it’s hard enough to get HER to read.

    Like

    July 27, 2012
    • escritosemanal #

      jaja true that

      Like

      July 27, 2012
  2. Amy #

    Great post. My kids aren’t reading yet either, but I have thought about some of these same things. I think for us, pretty much everything (aside from “50 Shades”-types of books) will be fair game and open for discussion. I’m planning to have a book club with my girls and some of our friends when they get a bit older, so I hope to instill the love of reading and talking about what they read. As long as we can have open discussion about different issues, I don’t think there are many things that I would forbid them from reading once they’re old enough. As to when is “old enough,” I’m not sure on that one yet 🙂

    Like

    July 27, 2012
  3. Patti Zeve #

    When I left my good job to stay home with my children, my very young boss gave me “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein as a going away gift. In turn, because the book is so great, I now give this book to all who have or are going to have children. Of course, it’s appropriate for kids of all ages, even their parents. They’ll all love it!

    Like

    July 27, 2012
    • Great book. I need to make sure I grab a copy for him.

      Like

      July 27, 2012
      • The Giving Tree is fine, but Silverstein’s poetry books are where it’s at. Where the Sidewalk Ends is what I give to new parents.

        Like

        July 30, 2012
  4. Mine are 18 and 15 now. I remember that time quite well and enjoyed (and eventually did well at various different voices which helped) it. It started with Postman Pat, Bob the Builder and Thomas the Tank Engine and ended with the first of the Harry Potter books. It was nice when little people went quiet if I reached for a book. If I tried it now I would probably clear the room! Cherish that time.

    Like

    July 27, 2012
  5. Hi 😉 I have had the great fortune to speak with a Lady who deals with this exact thing for work within the school system. One thing she said to me that really helped was, let your children read the books they gravitate to.

    Like

    July 27, 2012
    • That was great advice and I think true in my own life and with kids.

      Like

      July 27, 2012
    • That is good advice. Now, let’s just hope he doesn’t gravitate toward crappy books. Haha.

      Like

      July 27, 2012
  6. I work in a middle school library. My best advice to you is to know your child. Maturity levels and ability to deep think vary. I’ve had students who have read Animal Farm and got it and we had a student several years ago read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle several times because he loved it so much. Then we’ve had students who are disturbed by Harry Potter.
    I have found that most, but not all, students adhere to their parent’s moral teachings at this age and stick to books that line up with what they are taught. Most don’t read things they are emotionally or mentally incapable of handling.
    With my own children, and I imagine you would be this kind of parent, if they had a book they really liked, I would read it too. That way I could discuss anything I thought was ‘iffy’. My kids are young adults and we still share books. You have years of fun reading ahead of you with your kids!

    Like

    July 27, 2012
    • Well said. Each kid is unique.

      Like

      July 27, 2012
    • Averageinsuburbia nailed it–each child is different, and you’ll know your child we’ll enough to determine if there are books he should or shouldn’t read at a particular age. For example, my kids can pretty much read what they want, but I know my daughter is a little sensitive to violence, so if she asks me about a book she isn’t sure of, and I know it has stuff in it that will keep her up at night, I just suggest that she wait a year or two to read it.

      Like

      July 27, 2012
  7. Congratulations there. That’s so sweet. As to what kids to read , it all boils down to religious values and the road is clear. The bible teaches : teach your child in the way of the lord and when he grows up, he will not depart from it. God will handle the rest from there. Think about yourself while growing up and the experienced and confident person you have become. Don’t know what s responsible. But the same can also be applied

    Like

    July 27, 2012
  8. Lucille #

    You raise important questions on how to direct your son in his literary adventures. You are a lucky man, having the opportunity to revisit the wonderful world of children’s lit. First word of advice: Make friends with the librarians in your local library’s children’s section.

    I raised two daughters (now in their 40s) whose early gravitation to books still seems to hold true. First one liked the Scarry books with lots of tiny drawings of everything in the world and repeated readings of animal books. She is now a scientist whose reading is about 60% non-fiction (science, environment, health). She is the one who, as a three year old, stood by my bed each morning with an armload of books, waiting for me to wake up. She told me many years later that before she learned to read, she thought my reading to her was a magic act.

    The younger one wanted more action, more “kids getting into mischief” books. She especially liked Roald Dahl’s stories, like James and the Giant Peach, but her reading was only a sideline to her social engagements (playtime outside!) with friends. She now works in an attorney’s office, seeking justice for people hurt in industrial accidents. She has a large circle of amazing longtime friends. As an adult, she reads fiction with a heavy emphasis on relationships and solving a problem.

    So my answer to your concerns would be that your child will guide you. Present all kinds of early childhood materials and follow where your little guy’s interests leads. Most important? Your child will see you reading and enjoying it. Talk about what you read and how it impacts you. You may set the tone, but your child will find his own between-the-covers interests.

    Like

    July 27, 2012
  9. Patrice #

    The biggest issue may not be WHAT he reads but IF he reads. So start reading to him now! Instill a love of books in him now! My boys are 20 and 18 and thankfully, both love to read. But it wasn’t always that way. One summer I “made” them listen to me read to them. A few other summers I paid them to read. (penny a page, etc.) They could’ve chosen not to read, but the small motivation I offered them was worth it to them (and me!). Studies show that kids who read anything (newspapers, magazines, whatever) are more successful in school. Surround him with the books you want him to read, but I would also encourage you to let him read what he wants to read (within reason) – and maybe read the questionable books with him for discussion purposes.

    I have just one month remaining before my youngest travels 3,000 miles away to begin college. And he still likes to read “with me” – which just means we’re in the same room, each reading our own books. So I say, surround your precious son with books – even if he just likes to put them in his mouth! He will mostly likely model your love for books.

    And take it from me, you will blink and he will be going off to college, so have fun and take lots of pictures!

    Like

    July 27, 2012
  10. I concur with the librarian above who says the key thing is to know your child – that’s true in most parts of parenting, when it comes down to it. I have used a great guide for read-aloud books for kids – The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. A friend of mine swears by a very similar book, Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt. Both of these talk about the importance of reading aloud to your kids and also provide a list of books that are good readalouds for various ages (through 6th grade).

    Going along with the idea that it’s important to start with a thorough knowledge of your child, it’s important to consider emotional maturity more than vocabulary. If your child is going to be freaked out by a story of kidnapping or the death of a parent, steer clear of it, even if it is within their reading level. They can come back to it later.

    And To Kill a Mockingbird is great for a 11-12 year old. I read it to my daughter and she had no problem with it and enjoyed it very much.

    Like

    July 27, 2012
  11. The only thing I would add is read the books they are reading. That way you can have discussion about those books and the subjects they cover. Otherwise your head might swirl as they discuss the various plot lines and characters affected by those plot lines.

    Like

    July 27, 2012
  12. I’m a librarian and my husband is an English teacher. There’s some great advice on these boards. I’d say for right now to choose purely for enjoyment, and as your child gets older, to let your reading reflect the culture in your household. Some families are very open and encourage plenty of discussion and disagreement, so they tend to choose stories that present controversial perspectives, whereas other families have firmer boundaries about what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and tend to choose stories that reflect their values. I think as long as you talk with your child along the way and observe any reactions to the books you’re reading, you’ll know how to steer the ship.

    As for books for 10-12 year old boys, try Jenny Nimmo (Charlie Bone series), Rick Riordan, Gordon Korman, Louis Sachar, William Bell, or Eric Walters. If the boys like dogs, they could try Jack London, and if they like adventure stories, they could try Farley Mowat, (if they want classics). To Kill a Mockingbird should be fine, but it depends on the child.

    Like

    July 27, 2012
  13. I am a writer and reader and general lover of literature. My parents essentially let me read what I wanted. Generally, the skill level of the reader corresponds to the subject matter. Even if your seven year old picked up a romance novel, they’re not going to understand it, let alone stick with it long enough to get to any inappropriate (for their age) sex scenes and what have you. I credit my parents with instilling me with a love of reading by not restricting me. My fondest memories involve reading in the living room with both my parents.

    Like

    July 27, 2012
  14. I struggle with this too. My oldest daughter is 3 years and she loves Disney princesses …! So we read a lot of stories with them. I think that as long as you read to your child, you are doing everything you can to give them a love of reading. I do like to choose some books for her that will teach her about various things – like ‘And Tango Makes Three – and I’m looking forward to really start reading my own favorite childrens’ author to her (Astrid Lindgren). The next book I’m going to read is ‘How to Make Your Child a Reader for Life’ by Paul Kropp and I’m hoping that will give even more insights.

    Like

    July 30, 2012
  15. I have three kids in varying stages of reading. My oldest is turning nine years old but reads at an eighth grade level. My six year old daughter is still learning how to read and my four year old son doesn’t read yet.
    The hardest one is my oldest then, especially as he is at such a high reading level. This was a big surprise for me. I thought my son was at the usual first grade level and his aunt bought him The Lightning Thief. I scoffed and thought no way but he actually read it. So I thought no way he GOT it and I read it and asked him questions and HE GOT IT. In first grade. At 7 years old. Percy Jackson. A middle school book.
    Since then I have opened the floodgates. The primary source of his books is through me via the library. I try and mix things up a lot. I’ve been using the Top 100 Children’s Novels as a guide but I also mix in a lot of the… um how do you call them… trendy stuff? He’s read every single book Rick Riordan has put out. He dove into the 39 Clues and read the first arc. But he’s also read the entire Harry Potter series and The Hobbit (he loved it). he tried reading the Lord of the Rings. I had cautioned him I didn’t think he was ready for that yet because it is SO BORING but he tried anyways and gave up. So I think he’s learning to listen to me more and trust my taste more. He’s read a ton of books by Dahl. There was another fantasy trilogy he devoured. I mean the kid reads everything. He even read Ramona and liked it. He read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. He read the Lemony Snickett books (actually I can’t remember if he actually finished that series). He read the Captain Underpants books and he read the Wimpy Kid ones too. He also tried reading Journey to the Center of the Earth but I noticed it sort of kept vanishing. I asked him about it one day and he said he thought it was boring. That was illuminating too. Pay attention to your kids. When they like a book, you’ll know because they walk around with their nose in it at all times. When they don’t, you’ll find yourself prompting them to go read. In other words, there’s no surefire way to test his readiness for certain content or styles, it’s trial and error.
    One thing I have tried to do with him, and failed at miserably, is to keep track of what he’s read and what he’s liked. I am THIS close to setting him up with a Goodreads account just for that purpose. I figure that will help me help him find other books he might like.
    I might also add that early on I fantasized that I would read everything my son did so that we could discuss the books together. Yeah didn’t happen. I’ve read some of the Percy Jackson ones but it is really hard for me to keep up with him and I get tired of too many young books too. I do try and read one every now and then though and I think that’s important. He recently read Holes which was on that Top 100 list and he told me it was REALLY good so I read it too. He also really liked The Giver and convinced MY mom to read it. I think that’s important too– encouraging him to be a book enabler.
    I think the important thing is to encourage the love of reading. Be open minded and let them try things THEY think they’d like but also present them with things YOU think they’d like. The library is the best way to do this. Books are free and endless so no harm done if the kid DOESN’T like what you suggested or DOESN’T like what HE thought he’d like. It’s the best way to encourage a variety of books.
    And don’t stop reading to him. Lately, I’ve been reading Charlotte’s Web. Usually the oldest is reading his own book but I’ve noticed he ALWAYS puts it down and pays close attention to the story. Charlotte’s Web has been an interesting one. It’s held the attention of the oldest two but the youngest is having a hard time sticking to it. We only read one chapter a night.
    Religion does not play a role in content choosing in my home. I actually encourage them to discover and learn as many things as possible and that includes religions. Percy Jackson was great for that with it concentrating on Greek mythology. And then they started another series that focused on Egyptian mythology. We had a lot of really good discussions thanks to those stories. I’m actually excited for him to read The Golden Compass series because it’s SO great but I know a lot of people are against it because the author is an atheist. Oh and because God dies. But it’s such a good series and interesting too! I’d like my kids to make up their own minds on things. They might agree with me, take a more liberal view, or a more conservative one. But whatever they do, I want them to do it AFTER being informed properly– not because of someone else’s influence. And I think books are key to that.

    Like

    July 30, 2012
    • Outstanding advice, Mutant! I should have let you write a guest post on that. Great stuff. I like how you are letting him read based on his level of understanding. I think it’s easy to say a 1st grader should read this and a 6th grader can read that, but every kid is unique.

      Like

      July 30, 2012
      • Aw you’re welcome! Glad you found it helpful. And yes, absolutely with the uniqueness of each child. They’ll figure it out with your help.

        Like

        August 2, 2012
  16. One thing that my mum did when I was growing up was make sure that she read at least one book in a series that my sister or I was interested in. That way she could keep tabs on what we were reading and answer awkward questions if need be. I don’t remember either of us being discouraged from reading anything–though once I started reading it was difficult to keep up (like Mutant’s son, I had a much higher reading level–high school level books from age nine or so).

    I think the important thing is to encourage reading, and the whole ‘everyone is unique’ thing. My sister reads only Harry Potter, whereas I have a soft spot for military memoirs (Seven Pillars of Wisdom and Band of Brothers anyone?).

    One thing I would suggest is when your son discovers Roald Dahl, be sure to keep the adult stories out of his hands, at least for a while (My Uncle Oswald in particular).

    Like

    July 31, 2012
  17. Meredith #

    My parents parents taught me their values, then they let me read whatever I wanted. They also made sure that I knew if I started to read something, if I didn’t like it for any reason, I could stop. I was a voracious reader, so my parents couldn’t keep up with me, but if I ever started to read something that I felt uncomfortable with, I’d read something else instead. They also always made sure they knew what I was checking out at the library, although I’m sure that was more about avoiding fines than anything else!

    I’m a children’s librarian now, and I basically never tell the kids they can’t check something out, but if they ask me to get them a book that is obviously for grownups only, I say, “Are you sure that’s the book you’re looking for? It’s for old people.” Usually that convinces them to try something else.

    Like

    August 1, 2012
  18. I was a precocious reader as a child and tested several years ahead of the curve. I loved (and love) nothing better than reading. My parents struggled with limits because I was a dark kid, and moody. I started reading Edgar Allan Poe when I was 7 and Stephen King when I was 10. Ultimately my folks decided to let me go in the direction I wanted to go in because I enjoyed it and I discussed it with them. To be honest, I’m not sure if it was the right direction to go in or not. I asked my mom once why I never knew anything about Where the Wild Things Are. She told me it was because my interest in childrens’ books only lasted about a month. Now, as an adult, I find myself jaded more than I would like, more cynical. Part of it, I think, is the world we live in. But I wonder if some of it was not allowing myself to experience wonder at the time in life when most equipped for it. They say you can’t protect your kid from the world, but I think maybe the point is that you find the best part of the world and present it to your kids because the worst will find them soon enough. While I think it’s important to encourage kids to stretch their wings, I think making sure they lay back and appreciate the simple things can be just as important.

    Like

    August 2, 2012
    • That is outstanding insight, especially those last two sentences. Thanks for sharing.

      Like

      August 2, 2012
  19. Sarah C #

    I am not a parent, but I started reading really young. I was reading way above grade level as a kid, so it was a bit tricky to find books sometimes that were challenging enough for me, but weren’t beyond my comprehension. I was asking my mum about this not long ago, wondering how exactly she “let me” read all the stuff she did when she did. Didn’t she think my obsession with historical fiction about the holocaust happened a bit young for example? She had a pretty straightforward answer.
    She brought a lot of books home to me. She introduced me to books that she loved, or books that were recommended to her. There were lots of classic and just generally older children’s and young adult novels in my house, so I read all of those. I was allowed to check anything I wanted out of the library. I don’t remember my mum ever telling me I wasn’t allowed to check out a book. I could also read anything available at the school book fair. I basically read everything in reach. If something was way over my head, I usually lost interest and came back to it later. If something was fluffy and really easy, I usually finished it and promptly moved on. My mum usually read the same stuff I was reading, either before or after I was done, and when I had questions about things, I asked her. My mum just said that she remembered her school librarian telling her she wasn’t allowed to read a certain book and my Gramps coming in and telling the librarian that my mother could read anything she wanted. So she did the same for me.
    So in my highly limited experience, present your kids with the kind of books that you love and hope they will love too. But also let them choose their own books. I read all kinds of books now, fiction and non-fiction, classics and fluff (unless it features vampires)and all kinds of things in between. I think it is because as a child I read Charlottes Web and Little Women and Babysitters Club and the Diary of Anne Frank and the Bobsey Twins and Cloning Miranda.
    And to my parents that was always okay.

    Like

    December 11, 2012

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