Friday, September 7, 2007

I've been working on a list of books for early to middle skill chapter book readers. It's a little longer than I thought it would be and I imagine I'll be flipping back and forth to the Exodus website looking up authors and such and hopefully I'll be able to get it done soon. But because of a conversation I had recently with another mother about reading material, I thought I'd also post about some negatives with some books. I am pretty picky about what I give my kids to read. Early on I read the Barth family's book _Child Training and the Homeschool_ and a major point I got out of that was that just as I was careful about the friends my children played with I needed to be careful of the "companions" they spent time with in books. That made a lot of sense to me because I was a big reader as a child and I remember characters from books who were as real to me as real life. So I tried to choose books whose characters reflected the type of traits I would want to see in my children's lives.

So there are some books that though they are generally accepted even by the homeschool community I've decided to bypass.

One theme I see over and over in a lot of children's books is the idea that the children have to keep a secret for some reason from their parents. For example in _The Indian in the Cupboard_ books. The children in those books don't trust the adults with a major event in their lives and they are left on their own to make all the decisions. The children think they are enlightened with some sort of sensitivity that the adults cannot possess. It is a shame because the story line otherwise would be engaging, but with the secrecy being a major theme I cannot allow them.

Another theme is when the child is disobedient but the outcome is somehow blessed. When S. was little she started reading the Mandy Mysteries, but after a while we noticed that she disobeyed quite a lot, but somehow it all came "right in the end." This too gives the impression to children that somehow they have the power to make their own decisions and don't really need the counsel of the adults in their lives. Mandy is also very independent which is a character trait the world likes to see in girls but isn't one I want in my daughters.

Another is when the children are just plain bratty. I like some of Beverly Cleary's books. Usually Ellen Tibbets is the first chapter book I hand my daughters. But I don't care for Ramona because she is kind of a brat. And Ralph in Ralph and the Motorcycle is awful to his brothers and sisters. I just don't feel like my children need that type of example. Also, Elsie Dinsmore. I'm sorry but that girl is a crybaby. She has this "poor suffering thing" persona that especially a couple of my girls just don't need to emulate because they can be prone to "tragic countenances" themselves.

I also avoid what I call "garbage books". They are the ones that neither the writing style nor the information are very important and reading them is something akin to watching television or something. These would be like _The Baby sitter's Club_ _American Girl Books_ _Saddle Club_, stuff like that. I just fell like the vocabulary is to controlled, the writing styles are to shallow and the story lines aren't all that creative and they are a waste of time. Also I'm afraid if they get into the habit of reading these types of books they will be content with that and not try for anything more challenging.

Sometimes in a book there may be a little of one of these things, but since it isn't a major portion of the book we can just talk about it and move on. Caddie Woodlawn does have the one chapter where she rides off in secret to talk to the Indians, but since it isn't the major theme of the book I feel like we can maneuver it.

So these are some of the things I try to avoid. Sometimes I have to backtrack or get rid of some things and it isn't a tragedy if one of these gets read, but I do try to talk about the problems they have, and especially my older ones are getting pretty good at identifying these themes as well. So sometimes I can have them screen for the younger ones if I haven't read something.


Marbel said...

Loved this. Very helpful. I had been thinking about those Elsie Dinsmore books but will check them out myself before handing them over. Interesting perspective on Ramona. I admit I have never read them and assumed they were worthwhile. I've avoided the Junie B Jones series because of the bratty girl thing! (Though don't you think a mature child with a strong base can read that and see it as a problem and not behavior to emulate? Books can be instructive in how not to live too. But in those cases there must be consequences to the bad behavior.) The only B. Cleary books I have read are a couple where the focus is on Henry Huggins. I don't find them compelling enough to read aloud - I save my reading time for "harder" books they can't tackle on their own yet. (Right now I am reading them _Oliver Twist_.)

I'm thankful that the American Girls books are becoming tiresome and too easy. I found them to be decent "bridge" books to chapter books, and we've avoided the merchandise.

Anxious to see your list. Feel free to send me the draft.

Mrs. Darling said...

Yeah show us your list!
In the Mennonite church our school teacher read us Elsie Dinsmore and the thing we took away from it was how to stand for right. When I got older I reread the book and was amazed at how "martyrish" Elsie acted and how the father wasnt as terrible as I though he was.
BUT... have you read the entire series? I think there's 26 books and I believe Ive read them all. Elsie isnt like that as an adult and the books go right through to her grandmothering days. I learned more about the Civil War from thsoe books than anything in a school desk. I highly recommend them in fact.

I'm with you on Beverly Cleary and Junie B Jones.

I really dont find anything wrong with the Saddle Club other than the fact that it's all fluff. BUT.. again a big BUT....they are the only books Tink will pick up and read on her own so I guess fluff it will be. sigh

kerri @ gladoil said...

Your right, I haven't read beyomd the first three. (Elsie)

I've never heard of Junie B Jones, but I'll take your word for it!

Marbel, I don't expect the characters to be perfect, but as you say there should be consequences or at least some disapprovel somewhere. Like Ramona is kind of thought of as 'cute' or her parents act like they don't know what to do about her behavior and that she will grow out of it. And another thing is knowing your own child's weaknesses and strengths. One child might not be prone to brattiness and read Ramona without a problem, but may be prone to "martyrdom" and not do to well with Elsie. I have so many I generally have someone who is prone to each character weakness. :)

But there are so many good books I don't find it much of a sacrifice to do without these.

Marbel said...

"But there are so many good books I don't find it much of a sacrifice to do without these."

So true. It's finding them that's the problem. Books like the J. B. Jones series and the Ramona books are so visible and so often recommended (by librarians,etc) that it's easy to rely on them.

A few years ago I was looking for some "exciting" read-alouds for my kids. They were about 5 and 6. All the librarian could come up with was the Boxcar children series. That was the best she could do?! At that time I knew they were not ready to listen to, say, _Treasure Island_ and such. And I had never heard of E. Nesbit. We read a couple of Boxcar books, tired of them quickly, and then found _The Railway Children_.

Now I come across great read-alouds all the time, and we can delve into some of the "harder" classics.

But great reading for kids, not formula fiction, is the tough nut, because they are not the ones being featured in the bookstores and catalogs. Well, there's Vision Forum, but their books are out of my budget. :-) And they are not found in the public library.

Mrs. D, sometimes fluff gets a kid over the hump of reading and can lead to better stuff. I know my J needed plenty of fluff because reading was so hard for him. A complex story would have been impossible while he was still working on the mechanics of reading. He is coming along now and starting to read better books. I agree w/Kerri that there's the danger of reliance on the fluff. I know I sometimes rely on it for my own reading!

Wow, I should have made a cup of coffee before coming to read this morning. I almost feel like I'm chatting with you two!

Mrs. Darling said...

Too bad we cant just jump in our cars and run over to Kerris house.