Monday, April 16, 2007

Do You Know What Your Children Are Reading?

One of the many things I do for fun, as a City Councilperson, is serve on the Library Board's Collection Development and Reconsideration Committee. As the name suggests, this committee's job, when it's not working on collection development, is to reconsider books that have been challenged by patrons.

(See my earlier post, Offensive, for some of the philosophy behind the reconsideration policy.)

During a recent e-mail discussion, a board member posed the following question as to the feasibility of rating books:

As a parent of teenagers that read many books, I often wonder what my children are reading. I am not able to read all their books before they do and without doing so, I have no way to determine if something is inappropriate. My children generally do not raise concerns about questionable items in a book. I wish there was some kind of rating system that I could review that would give me the opportunity to begin a dialogue about something in the book.
It's an interesting question. We rate movies and video games; why not books?

Another board member suggested a few reasons:

Who makes the decisions? Librarians, the committee, the board, the community. Labels are value judgments and a single source cannot arbitrate the values of a community. What is ok in my view may offend another. I wish that YA literature did not push the envelope to attract or shock readers, but I do not feel empowered to set standards for others. All patrons may choose what they will or will not read. Labels may deter or attract certain readers. What a seventeen year old reads may differ significantly from what is developmentally appropriate for a thirteen year old. Do we label for appropriate audience? How do we do that? All thirteen year olds are not developmentally equal. I admit that I have a hard time finding suitable solutions and have relied on parents to monitor their children’s reading habits.
It's an interesting debate. But the question that really interests me is, how does Board Member A get his children to give him so much space?

Honestly. I know at all times what my children are reading -- through no fault of my own.

Even as we speak, I am trying to send a child to bed. He won't go. He has got his nose in Homer Price, and he's telling me about the donut machine that won't stop. "Go to bed," I say. "The donuts only cost two for five cents," he counters.

Then there's the note I found on the kitchen table yesterday morning from another child, a Harry Potter fan, which I quote:

Mom -- If you get bored, read the part where ******* dies, and consider these: JKR tells you you have to say the Avadra Cadavra curse with meaning, Snape can think spells and make them happen while he's saying other things, and finally, ******* goes flying backwards (I think) when he's "killed," which is exactly what "Expelliarmus" does to you. And Dumbledore trusts Snape. What do you think?
Okay, not all my children are this easy. I do also have a teenager. He has less use for me than a cat has for a dog. "Mmpphh" is all he can say to that perennial bedtime question, "Good book?" So yes, I have to work a little harder for him. I have to be a little subtle. But the rewards, when they come, are only that much sweeter.

Library policy states that "the library cannot act in loco parentis." In my heart, I'm glad -- because life yields few pleasures greater than reading and discussing a book with a child.


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