How Much Do You Oversee A Child’s Book Choices?
Reprinted from my blog post at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors
My daughter is in fourth grade, and by the grace of the book gods, she really enjoys reading. For the past year or so, if she’s not reading for school, she’s been reading—and re-reading—a few series; Dork Diaries and Diary of a Wimpy Kid being the two main ones.
I know what the experts say: let a kid pick their own books for fun. They’ll develop as readers and their tastes will evolve in their own time. I know! I know! And I had no problem with her book choices. She was happy, she was reading, I’d overhear her giggling from the other room. It was all good.
Except, I admit that there was a part of me that wanted her to try something new. Why? I’m not sure, exactly. Maybe I was impatient for her to read the books I’d devoured as a kid or I thought she “could” read harder books and would be happy if she made the leap. Mostly I worried that she’d get bored of the same thing over and over but blame it on all books and not on fatigue over these particular titles, and then she’d stop liking to read and then what?!?! (I have an active imagination, in case you’re wondering.)
I worked really hard not to say anything—no “Don’t you want to challenge yourself?” no “There are so many wonderful books out there, are you sure you want to re-read Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Talented Pop Star again?” Nothing. I don’t always do this as a parent, but in this situation I was actually smart enough to keep my mouth shut, trusting that either she’d move on or she’d be an adult who read Dork Diaries every night before bed. Hey, there are worse things.
I made a few stealth attempts, like taking The Phantom Tollbooth out of the library and reading her the first few chapters, but after that it sat sadly on her bed, gathering dust, while she revisited Greg, Rowley and Rodrick’s exploits again. Ditto Brown Girl Dreaming.
Last week, I was at the library with her and her brother, and off she went to search the stacks. She returned with The Mysterious Benedict Society. She’d mentioned that a few friends in her class were reading it. It must’ve grabbed her—she’s been tearing though it every morning when she wakes up and again every night before bed, and she made us bring her back to the library today to borrow the second title (The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey) so when she finishes the first book she’ll be ready to dive into the second one.
She may wind up reading—and re-reading—this series for the next year now, too. That may be her way. Fine. There’s a reason experts tell parents not to rush reading and not to push “harder” books or “better” books or whatever it is we think is best for them. Because somehow kids will figure it out on their own, so long as they’re allowed to do so.