Just a brief warning ... I end up on my soapbox for a portion of this post ... proceed with caution. :)
I am a professed bookworm. Growing up, I spent 98% of my life with my nose in a book. Just ask my mom. And as it turns out, it's apparently genetic!
On any given afternoon, Aaron and Norah will be plopped somewhere reading, too. And even Ashley and Lydia enjoy to "read" their books during our down-times in the afternoon. I truly do love to see my kids snuggled down into the couch and absorbed in a book. The challenge lately has been finding worthwhile books for them to get absorbed into.
Last week, Aaron approached me with a question. He wanted to read "Diary of a Wimpy Kid", but he knew that I had already vetoed the book last fall.
"Really?", I thought, "Didn't we already discuss this?"
Here's the recap: Aaron came home with the first book of the series and wanted to read it. I wasn't too thrilled, but I truly had no basis for my feelings except for a quick flip through the pages: cartoons, a few references to words we don't use in our house and some bathroom humor. Still, I wanted to be able to give him an actual reason so we logged on to Facts on Fiction* ... there in black and white was all the reasons we wouldn't be reading the book. The number one reason was the multiple references to bullying. "Sorry, Buddy." He said, "Okay" and returned the book to the school library.
Fast forward several months and here he was again with a different book in the same series. But he had a good plan this time.
"Mom, would you be willing to read the book and then you can decide if it's okay for me to read?"
Hmmmm ... that sounds kind of like something I would propose. Smarty-pants kid. :)
"Sure. I'll read the book and then we'll make a decision based on the facts. And you'll be okay with the verdict, right?"
So ... over the weekend I read the second book in the series: "Rodrick Rules". I would have read the first ... but they were all checked out from the library. Yet more proof if this book's popularity.
In the second paragraph of the book, the main character calls his brother a "jerk". That actually was enough for me, but a deal is a deal and so I lumbered on.
About half-way through the book, I felt I had plenty of proof to write off the entire series, the movies and any video games that might be out there. But ... I had promised to read the whole thing before passing a judgement. Perhaps in the end of the book there would be something positive, something redeeming, something worth reading.
By the end of the book, I had a list a mile long of all the aspects of the book that were inappropriate and unpleasant. ...sigh... Now I had to tell my kids that the book was a "no-go". I hate this part of being a mom ... disappointing my kids.
And that's when I started to talk myself out of saying "no". As I laid in bed that night, I had a few thoughts run through my head:
"Is it really that big of a deal?"
"It's just a book, right?"
"Their friends are reading it ..."
"We could talk about it together."
The next morning at church, I was still mulling over the book and my pending decision when I had a little epiphany ... involving the drummer on-stage. Let me explain:
In the book, Rodrick is the main character's brother and he plays the drums. A lot. In fact, that is the only thing he does. At one point the mom asks Rodrick to give drum lessons to his younger brother, Greg. The story that ensues involves the older brother belittling the younger brother until Greg finally gets fed up and goes downstairs to play video games instead. The impression left of me of this brother was someone completely and utterly lacking in character. As I told Brett, he suffered from role-model-ship-less-ness. (Nope ... that's not a real word, but you get the picture.) Actually ... the entire cast suffered from role-model-ship-less-ness. Mom, Dad ... even Grandma! And that's what finally nailed the coffin in this book for me: would I want my kids to look up to any of these characters in the book and say, "I want to be like him!"? No way!
In contrast, I could honestly say that the drummer on stage (the catalyst for this 5 second revelation) is someone who I would choose to invite to have a positive impact on my kids. This sudden insight strengthened my conviction that what we let our kids read does matter! They are little sponges and they absorb everything they see, read and hear. By rationalizing the impact that this book could possibly have on my kids, I was inviting them to absorb pages and pages of bad behavior, rudeness, disrespect, dishonesty and disloyalty. Yuck.
I was also setting myself up to deal with all that garbage coming back out of my kids! That saying, "Garbage in ... garbage out" is true, I'm afraid. Did I really want to see or hear any of the lousy behavior portrayed in these books in my home? Not one bit.
I felt empowered in my decision and I felt empowered as I stepped out as an advocate for my kids ... protecting them from something seemingly benign that could actually act as a poison in their minds and hearts.
Later that afternoon, Aaron, Norah and I plopped down on the couch to talk about the book. Aaron's first words were, "It's a no, isn't it?" Sorry, Buddy.
By the time I had finished listing all the examples of lying, cheating, manipulating, bullying, shirking, sneaking, deceiving and faithlessness-ing (another of my special words), both the kids were shaking their heads.
"Yuck," said Norah, "Don't say anymore."
Another Smarty-pants kid! :)
Aaron was certainly more disappointed and he even teared up a bit. I know that he feels a little pressure from friends who like the books and we all know that peer pressure is hard. But, then he made a couple of comments about how Jesus wouldn't like the book much either, and I felt like he had come to terms with the facts.
In the end, I left the decision up to them. I told them that I hoped that they would choose to read something different, but that it was up to them. Here's hoping they make the wise choice.
There are a few book series that we have really enjoyed: Geronimo Stilton, The Mysterious Benedict Society, Junie B. Jones, Chronicles of Narnia, The Magic Tree House and we are reading through the second Harry Potter book together.
So ... my question to you all is:
What do your 3rd and 4th grade kids enjoy reading?
What would you recommend?
Summer is coming and I need my kids to be happily snuggled on the couch with a good book for part of that time. I want something that will interest them and entertain them ... while at the same time filling their minds with characters and situations that are going to build them up and challenge them to be strong in their role-model-ship-ness! :)
* I wrote another post last fall about several websites that I use to check out shows, video games and books before my kids get hooked ... hope they help you, too!