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We all want our children to read, to experience the joy of learning new things and discovering new worlds and people and places through the beauty of the written word. Reading is a marvelous thing and books are a joy, but we really make an egregious mistake when we assume that, so long as our children are reading, they are making worthwhile use of their time. Honestly, that just isn’t always true.
Obviously we don’t want our children reading books full of questionable or blatantly inappropriate material, but that’s not at all what I’m talking about here. I’m simply curious how often we are perfectly content to see our kids reading, even when the books they are absorbed in are mostly mindless. We assure ourselves it’s better for our daughter to be reading Book 47 in The Purple Llama Detectives Club series than for her to be playing a video game or watching a movie. But is it really?
Listen, all books are NOT created equal. Reading is not automatically, indisputably beneficial to our children, particularly if the book is not challenging them in anyway or teaching them anything or inspiring their creative minds. Sometimes reading can be just as much of a means of “checking out” mentally as a video game or T.V. can be, and so perhaps we should do a more careful analysis of the books our kids are reading. Are they mostly pointless? Are they written well below our child’s reading ability? Are the novels they’re enjoying just repackaged versions of the other 24 books in the same series? If I’m answering yes to these questions, it’s very possible my child is reading a bunch of twaddle.
So am I saying it’s wrong to let your child read The Purple Llama Detectives Club series? (Which I made up, obviously, though it sounds very much like every other preteen book series I can find at my local library.) Do I think it’s wrong for them to read that stuff, provided it’s clean and age appropriate?
No. Absolutely not.
Should I stop being impressed and satisfied with that kind of reading?
Yep. Probably so.
I was literally disturbed when I ran across a list of books popular with children and teens 100 years ago, titles like Robinson Crusoe, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Secret Garden, The Wind in the Willows, and Gulliver’s Travels, some of which might be considered difficult reading for adults by today’s standards. Meanwhile book series like The Hunger Games or Twilight, which are wildly popular among teens and young adults, are written on an elementary to middle-school level. (And no hating on me for saying that, please. I haven’t read either book series, but reading level information was readily available from multiple sources. These books are plainly easy reading.)
I think it’s safe to say we’re expecting far too little from our kids; patting ourselves on the back because they’re reading, ignoring the fact they’re reading mostly twaddle.
So how do you get kids reading better books, books that challenge and inspire and teach them? Granted, when twaddle is all the rage, it can be hard to motivate our kids to read better things than their friends are reading. But it can be done. And I don’t believe forcing them to read good books is the only way to make it happen. (Though as a homeschooling mom, I’m certainly not beyond doing that!)
- Expose your kids to good books via audio dramas and audio books.
We have this horrible tendency to take beautiful books, particularly many of the classics, and because they’re thick and wordy and maybe a little challenging in their language, we look at them as dry, dull, and lifeless, even when they are some of the most amazing stories ever written. Good audio dramas, though not necessarily word-for-word reenactments, at least offer exposure to good books, which can begin to stir an interest and a curiosity in them.
I’m a huge fan, so I’ve mentioned them before, but Focus on the Family Radio Theatre has produced some very good quality dramas. Oliver Twist is a personal favorite, but I also love Les Miserables and Little Women and, (very suitable for the current season,) A Christmas Carol. Lamplighter Theatre produces beautiful retellings of old, out-of-print books, and Heirloom Audio has produced Under Drake’s Flag, what I hope to be the first in a long line of G. A. Henty books turned into a audio dramas.
Perhaps you think your child would never sit and listen to an audio book, but audio dramas are a good place to start and I know from experience how much they can help a child to look at a thick, daunting book on a table and realize there is much, much more within those pages than looks could ever tell. Playing a story while kids are doing chores or having a little quiet time before bed or while in the van running errands can have more of an impact than you might ever imagine.
You may think they’re not listening, but just wait until you turn the story off so you can talk to the lady in the bank drive-through and then forget about it.
“Mom! Turn Oliver Twist back on!”
- Read good books aloud to your kids
- Read good books YOURSELF