More on Parenting and Reading

July 7th, 2011 • Kate

SoapboxHeaderYesterday saw two YA authors on NPR debating the issue of whether YA is too dark with the author of several essays in the Wall Street Journal that high-handedly suggested that they are. Over and over over the course of an hour and a half of these debates, I listened to people talk about how kids go, in the words of one caller, “from SpongeBob to Twilight, with nothing in between.” And I have to say: Really? REALLY? REALLY?

You’re discounting the ENTIRE realm of middle grade fiction? I guess no one read Harry Potter then, or Percy Jackson, or Lemony Snicket, or The Mysterious Benedict Society, or Artemis Fowl, or The Spiderwick Chronicles, or Wimpy Kid, or James Howe, or Pseudonymous Bosch, or Jonathan Stroud, or Hilary McKay, or Carl Hiaasen, or Kate Messner, or Grace Lin, or E.B. White, or Beverly Cleary, or Mary Norton, or heck, any Newbery winner for the past 89 years!

What enrages me about this lack of attention to middle grade fiction is that those same people who are bewailing the dark tone of YA fiction are deliberately doing their kids a disservice. Can some 12 year olds read YA? Sure! And many do, I’m sure. Is YA aimed at 12-year-olds? No. The wide range of books marketed as middle grade are — books specifically for the 10-14 year old reader.

Of course these age ranges are guidelines, not bold and fast rules, but perhaps if the mother of the ten-year-old who brought home Twilight had sat her daughter down and had a conversation about the book instead of railing on all YA fiction years later, maybe they’d be in a better place.

I was an advanced reader, as was my husband. It looks like our kids will be too. As a pre-teen, if my now 5-year-old stepdaughter starts hearing about a book marketed for a reader five years older than her, am I going to let her read it? Not before I do, and not before I consider if she, personally, is ready for what it may bring up. I bet she will be — at 5, she loved The Hobbit.

But that’s called parenting. And I wish the uninformed who write ridiculous opinion pieces or call in to radio talk shows would do a little more of it, and stop asking publishers to police their children’s reading habits for them.

OK, getting off my soapbox now. It’s exhausting being here. To the comments for further discussion! I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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11 Responses to “More on Parenting and Reading”

  1. Christine S. Says:

    There's only one thing worse than parents who want publishing to do their jobs – those who demand that the local librarian let them parent EVERYONE.

  2. Shannon Says:

    There will always be people who feel they can parent my children better than I can. I ignore them and shove the tall decaf frappaccino with whip into my 11 yo's hand – the one she cleaned her room, took out the trash and watered the garden for.

    What's sad is that MCG will have a lot of people looking for her articles now. She's the Omarosa of the YA world, the person we love to hate.

    Maureen J. did a great job of lovingly trying to show MCG the error of her ways. She was caring in her responses and patient with MCG's ignorance. Bravo Maureen!

    My only regret in all of this is the free publicity it's given the WSJ and MCG – neither one did anything positive to get their publicity from this.

    Well, I'm off to shamelessly bribe my kids with candy and let them read the newspaper full of death, assinations, murders, drunk sports heroes, missing children, child molestors and so on – did I mention my husband gets the WSJ daily?

  3. Jenna Wallace Says:

    What astounds me is that these parents are so quick to spend the time calling in to NPR or getting online to make comments, and yet seem to spend no time talking to librarians or bookstore owners/employees or looking at the amazing websites that exist to HELP PEOPLE FIND BOOKS!

    Honestly, I think people are more interested in getting attention for complaining or stirring up trouble than taking the time to parent their children. They are the first to rant and rave about what's wrong with the world, and the last to step up and do something to help their children through the world.

  4. Courtney Koschel Says:

    I do not have any children of my own, but if I did, I would want them to be as passionate about books as I am.

    I, too, was an advanced reader, and fortunately, my parents did not censor what books I read as a child. However, I grew up in a very small town where the librarian would oftentimes try to deem what books were age appropriate for me. I told my mother this, and she went to the library and signed a waver saying I could check out the books I wanted. She also made it very clear to me that I had to show her the book so she could read it first, or so we could read it together. That is parenting.

    I personally thought Mr. "Spongebob to Twilight" was rudely trying to use the opportunity to promote his book.

    Maureen and Lauren did such a fabulous job representing the YA community. They backed up their comments with fact and testimonials while MCG sputtered around the issues she raised in the first place.

  5. Ellen Booraem Says:

    Bingo. Good for you, Kate.

    Frankly, I think the fellow who made the "sponge-bob" comment was more interested in publicizing his own book than engaging in real discussion.

    Maureen and Lauren were spectacular.

  6. Stephanie Scott Says:

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but Spongebob isn't even a book. Maybe there's a book series now, but it started as an animated TV show. At least the caller could have given an example of a kid's book rather than a cartoon! To me, that said everything about his ignorance on the topic. Also, Twilight isn't exactly dark…

    Maureen handled it well and advocated for everyone who sees the value in YA. I was proud of her!

  7. Shannon Says:

    Daphne,

    Have you read the children's nighttime picture book "Go The F**k To Sleep"? I think you and the webmonkey would love it – just going off some of the stuff you've RT'd on Twitter. The book reminds me of the link you sent from the guy who put hilarious post-it notes all over the place the 1st year after his child was born.

    I downloaded the book to my Nook and my hubby and I laughed til it hurt.

    "Go The F**k to Sleep" would probably give MGC a heart attack.

  8. Olivia Says:

    Hooray for Hobbit-reading at 5! I didn't read it until 7 or 8, but my dad had told me the entire plot via bedtime stories well before then.
    Maureen was amazing. I was literall applauding at one point.

    My dad and I read Paper Towns aloud to each other (I'd already read it, but still), and just skipped over all of the sentences we didn't feel comfortable saying in front of each other. We'd pass the book to the other and point to he part in question. He thought it was a great book for teens and definitely enjoyed it for what it was.

    I've now written two posts on my own blog about this (one when the article originally came out, and one after listening to the NPR segment). Here's the link to the most recent one, if anyone on here cares to read it (it links to the first, too): http://elfarmywrites.blogspot.com/2011/07/more-ab

  9. Mandy P. Says:

    I think a lot of people fail to realize that to advanced readers, age limits mean nothing. YA books may be dark, but so are adult books, and kids are reading adult books too. If you make YA books "lighter" kids who like "dark" books will find them in the adult section.

    I started reading "adult" books when I was ten and I never looked back. If it hadn't been for Harry Potter coming out in the 7th grade I probably would have never read another "kids" book again (Harry Potter was the only "kids" book I read between the ages of 11 and 19. In college I learned the error of my ways and read more YA). Back then, I felt too many MG books were patronizing and too many YA books were sappy romances. I was happy with my Star Wars books, Wheel of Time, and The Dragonriders of Pern.

    So by all means, lighten YA books. Then complain too many kids are reading adult books.

  10. nicolemarieschreiber Says:

    I agree that so many parents (all of them that I know from my six-year-old's school, within my three-year-old's circle, and at the school I teach at) do not "search out" books. They want to go into the bookstore (big chain or Target or Wal-Mart), find the book for their child without much effort, and go home. Almost all of them have never even heard of our local indie children's bookstore (A Children's Place in NE Portland, Oregon), most likely because we live 25 minutes south of downtown, but then they don't even bother to go to Powell's, the largest independent out there, because it is "too far."

    It's a sad, sad commentary on how little these parent's know, or want to know, about the children's book world. But as a writer for children, I do my best to spread the news that yes, there is MUCH more out there in the world of children's literature that you don't know about. I've given out our indie children's bookstore's address out more times than I can count, and I've even brought some newbies there with me. I guess I am on a quest to spread the true canon of children's lit to as many parents as I can. I have found some success, but unfortunately, not always.

    A neighbor across the street pretty much let her now 12 year-old girl (high reading level) skip over all middle grade starting when she was 9 because, after showing her a few back then and noticing that her daughter didn't like them, she just started letting her pick from the chain's limited selection, and she went for the darkest possible YA. The family doesn't "do" libraries, so I just wonder what would have happened if someone had invested time showing her the other books out there in middle grade. I think dark YA is great, but to skip over so many fabulous middle grade novels due to a lack of exposure, trying out the indies, and not going to libraries is a catastrophe.

    Thanks for the post and discussion on this topic!

  11. Guest Says:

    I have four kids (ages 9-14). We're blessed that each of them loves to read. I am convinced that their reading passion is why they excel at school. My 14 year old will be a Freshman next year. Like many of you have expressed about your own children, she reads a lot and over her age (2-3 novels a week). She reads mostly fiction, but anything from the contemporary to the classics. Could you imagine us limiting her to only books in her age group? __Amazing doesn't begin to explain the benefits she gets from reading young adult. She's done it since 8-9 years old and we haven't had a problem with it. My wife and I read nearly everything she does and discuss adult themes with her. Did I mention we are a very conservative family? Still, we think our kids are in this world and should know what is out there while we can discuss it with them. Example of an issue for our family