Monday, January 3, 2011

Boys that Read...What?

On this third day of the new year, I am returning to Weight Watchers (after a two week break), and returning to the pursuit of writing....again!

In that spirit, I am going to return to a post I started writing in September, but never finished. Probably because I was sobbing to myself over a pile of lego parts after a FLL meeting.

I like books. I always have. My mother still complains about the number of times she had to read The Poky Little Puppy to me, even though I am nudging closer to 40 all the time. I think I have said it before, but I will say it again - as much as I love chocolate, if I had to choose between chocolate or books for the rest of my life, I would choose books in a heartbeat. I read to live. It is like breathing to me - necessary for the functioning of life.

I have also never outgrown children's books. Certainly, I read grown-up books, but that isn't all I read. I am a regular visitor the the "Young Adult" section of the library and book store. Harry Potter, anyone? The Hobbit? The Narnia books? The Mysterious Benedict Society, the Gregor the Overlander series, Charlie Bones, Redwall, Louisa May Alcott and many many more have found their way to my hands and my heart.

I have four boys that read, as well. Okay, one doesn't read all by himself yet. For him it is still Corduroy or Green Eggs and Ham, but he does like to be read to! The other three are readers. Granted, Cookie Boy reads less than the others, but find him the right book, and you won't see him for a while.

We take regular trips to the library and book store (used and new). As my children have gotten older and their reading levels have increased, it can be harder and harder to find good books. Depressingly hard. Not that there aren't books being written all the time. New books, children's books, come out all the time. But many of them are....well, not worthy.

Many people got talking about this phenomenon in the fall, when the Wall Street Journal published an article on How to Raise Boys that Read. The author, Thomas Spence, challenges the notion that it doesn't matter what kids read as long as it gets them to read.

That is a stupid thought, anyway. Like saying to a toddler, "well, you can have as much candy as you want. As long as you eat, it doesn't matter what you eat. We will deal with that later."

Just like too much candy, a steady diet of bad writing will rot the brain. Atrophy it, at the best.

First, let me say that I have no problems with a fluffy read. I read fluff all the time. But I also read a lot of other things, not fluff. The fluff is the extra stuff, the top of the book pyramid. Not something you indulge in to the exclusion of all other things.

For girls, the current trend is vampire stuff (thanks, Stephanie-teen-angst-Meyer), and for boys, a recent onslaught of gross-out books (the Sir Fartsalot books are a good example). And for teens, boys tend to get dark fantasy and girls get the girl-power/sex driven books.
Not that there aren't new, good books out there, but publishers are going to publish what sells. And gross sells, both the body humor kind and the lets-explore-our-sexual-freedom kind. "But it is what is real and current to teens. Why won't you face it, you prude," might be what some think when I say this (concerning the trend behind teen sex/hormone books). First, let me say that no matter what my moral beliefs are, the last thing teens need to concentrate on are hormones and sexual exploration. It comes naturally enough, as it is!

I was intrigued, then a little grossed out when I picked up a copy of  Melvin Burgess' Doing It at our local used book store. This teen novel explores the sexual awakenings of three teen boys. Three...teen....boys.... Like they NEED to read about sexual awakenings! The poor kids have sex thoughts shooting through their brains at a rate of something like one every 30 seconds. Phrases like "I rubbed against her pubis" do not belong in any book (I mean, really? Ugh! There is almost no circumstance in which that is acceptable writing, except maybe a police report). And writing a book from the point-of-view of a sexually emerging 15-year-old boy FOR boys is basically writing teen porn.
And there is plenty more where that came from. Much of it is for teen girls. Lost It, by Kristen Tracy (can you guess what this is about?) and  Forever by Judy Blume show us that teen sex, sexual fantasy, and sexual awakening are strong in the teen-girl genre!

And yes, I am a prude. And no, that does not mean I cannot judge a book. Listen, writing bad literature is shockingly easy. Try it. You'll see. And I can read a book I disagree with the general morals of, except when the writing is bad! Or when it stops being writing and becomes a sensationalist, "see how real I am" impostor.

Good books, and good writing deal with real problems (or real issues) in an interesting way. A good example of current worthy lit for teens is Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games series. A quite interesting read! Whether writing fantasy or teen-awakening novels, good books can be written and usually without falling back on gross-out or explicit language.

When helping my children form their reading habits, I have found an article by Martin Cothran helpful. Titled "Harry Potter and the Attack of the Critics", Cothran explains:
" But the best defense against one idea is not fewer ideas, but more of them; and the best defense against one book is a whole host of them. Being widely read, in other words, is the best inoculation against the dangers of literature. Being widely read enables a person to not only see an idea, but, as Chesterton put it, to see through it."

My children and myself read a wide variety of books. Some of them we disagree with, and we discuss. Some
are difficult. Some are just plain fun. But some are going to stay out of my kids' hands until they are adults. They are perfectly able to read them, then. But just like I wouldn't give a gun to my 2-year-old, I am not feeding my children brain-coke, either.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog and I love it! Have your younger boys read the 'Horrid Henry' books? They are very funny, written by an American woman, living in the UK. For the older boys and for you try anything by Diana Wynne Jones.