Author: Johanna Spyri
Filed Under: Chapter Book, Orphans
It’s come up a few times in the comments — something to the effect of “my child chooses books that aren’t that great” or “how do I make sure he’s reading good things?”
I know that there is a prevailing wind of child-rearing out there. This wind would not imagine for one moment that you would give your darling any food that is bad for him, to the point that the poor kid can’t have a cookie. But the wind is perfectly fine with exposing him to any and all ideas.
This suits the wind, because it would like to have sole proprietorship of your child’s mind.
Not content with the normal way of things, which is for the world to have its go at your child once he leaves the sanctuary of the home, the world has made provisions for molding the imagination of the child from infancy, so that it becomes suited to its designs.
This is where the Library Project comes in. It’s really meant to be a help in what we might call the Recovery Project: the recovery of the parental role in guiding the child’s development.
Somehow, somewhere, we lost the idea that the spirit is even more precious than the body, and needs even more careful formation. Your child will survive the occasional Twizzler. For that matter, he will survive the occasional Transformers Blast Mars or whatever trashy book he insists on bringing home from the library.
But a steady diet of bad books is worse for the mind than something analogous for the body. The imagination is starved and then, as a final blow, the stunted intellect concludes that reading is not interesting.
Establish the habit of vetting all the books. You are the gatekeeper.
Remember, for all they know, this is how it works.
If you are confident, you will see that they are docile.
You provide them with wonderful books, and you let them know if a book isn’t going to be good. Just say, “This one isn’t going to be good.”
All my kids’ childhoods, I just handed them books to read. When we went to the library or bookstore, I was right there, pulling books off the shelf.
Of course, they were too, and I gently (I hope it was gently) taught them to bring me a book to see if we would take it out. Just say, “Bring me that book to look at.”
If it was within my standards (somewhere on the scale — obviously not every book is stellar, but there’s a difference between a stupid book and one that is merely harmless), I would provisionally approve it. However, with a limit of what you can carry and actually read, you end up replacing the “merely harmless” ones with better ones anyway. Keeping in mind that “merely harmless” can add up to “stupid” if you aren’t vigilant.
They learn to trust you, because when they bring home, say, four books that are marvelous and two that are really sort of mindless, they notice. Especially if, after reading a mindless book, you say something that guides them — “Oh, I thought this would be better,” or “I can’t read this one out loud again, it’s really boring.” You’ll see, they will agree. Even if they don’t agree, that’s okay. You make lots of decisions for their own good, and this is one of them. (If they happen to stumble on a gem that you weren’t aware of, well, rejoice!)
If they can’t let go of a bad book (and this happens when a child is three or so — they just cling to one wretched book sometimes), there’s a reason: The book fulfills some need. So think about it. What is it about this book that makes you cringe, that your child is obsessed with? And then find a better version of the same theme while completely removing the offending item. Like shorts in winter or snowsuits in summer, it just becomes unavailable. (This goes for deadening books that well meaning people give you. Just quietly get them out.)
Even a teenager should consult with you about what he reads (and you will find that they want to). You would not drop a fourteen-year-old boy off at the center of town for a few hours without inquiring into his plans. Well, a book is a universe, so don’t just drop them off there.
When you have at your fingertips good things to read (there are book lists at the end of the linked post), they will be fine with this. It’s good practice, anyway, because this is what a parent does in so many areas. And if they insist — for instance, my middle kids were teens when Harry Potter came out — you will be able to discuss and figure out what to do. They will have a standard by which to judge something that may be sub-par, because you gave it to them, so you don’t have to be anxious.
And if you insist that they should just stay away from some things (Twilight books come to mind), they will respect that, because they have been trained in a delightful obedience along the way.
*Heidi is a wonderful, deeply Christian book — but! — beware and only get the unabridged version. There are many editions out there. It’s a long book — way over 200 pages, just so you know.
The image of Heidi eating her goats’ milk and bread at grandfather’s stool while sitting on the one he makes here then and there that’s just her size is forever etched in my imagination. And when she crawls into the little loft in his cottage to lie on her straw bed and look out the round window at the bright stars, well, heaven. Heidi is pretty much the ultimate orphan book, I’d say!