On Reading and Autonomy

How much control do you exert over what your children read? And how has it changed as they grow?

I've been thinking a lot about books at our house lately. A recent post about "appropriate" reading materials for different ages on a popular homeschooling site I follow encouraged me to think about my own views and simultaneously made me a little grumbly.

We've pretty much declared November Reading Month, as we haven't been doing much other formal school other than reading book after book after book. Between the two Senior Agents we have had nearly 100 pleasure reading books out of the library this month so far. (I don't include "school" books/texts in that count, although we have read several of those as well.)

Agent E has been exploring the worlds of American Girls, Magic Tree HouseClarice BeanCam Jansen, and (of course) Star Wars.

Agent J is enjoying early chapter books like Mr. Putter and Tabby and Henry and Mudge, as well as Curious GeorgeArthur, and Little Critter.

(Note: The Star Wars books Agent E is reading are the junior novelizations of the movies, aimed at ages 9-12. I couldn't help but read these myself, too. Giggle. They basically follow the script/story of the movie almost exactly, not a lot of "extra" the way you think of most book vs. movie adaptations.)

Agents E and A check out a recent library stash
Anyway, the girls came to love these books/series on their own. Oh, sometimes I can't stop myself from offering suggestions based on what I read in elementary school (which sometimes they take and sometimes they don't) but for the most part they choose what they read.

My kindergartener is reading mostly books aimed at first/second graders. Still, she will often pick up a silly book obviously geared toward beginning readers and read it because she likes it and it makes her laugh. (The Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems comes to mind.) Or she'll read simple board books we have around mostly for Agent A. 

My second grader is reading many books written at a third/fourth grade (or above) level. Yet, she still loves to read all the books we bring home for her younger sister. She will also take books from my bookshelf occasionally just to see what they are like. (She always returns them to me with the assessment of maybe in a few years, but these have too many words.)

Simply put, we don't see certain types of reading materials as more worthy than others. 

My very informal and unscientific anecdotal-evidence thoughts on this are that parents, and homeschooling parents in particular, tend to be split as to whether or not this is a good idea.

Some (like us) are very supportive of their children choosing their own books. Others feel it is necessary to censor somewhat: No popular characters, no just-for-fun series, no abridged versions, no television- or movie-based books. Words like twaddle and beneath them and junk food for the mind are frequently thrown out.

Agent J with one of her favorites, Curious George
I'm not saying there is anything inherently wrong with wanting to expose your children to good literature, the classics. And we have read our fair share around here. Two of Agent E's most favorite reads are the abridged versions of Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. Our copies literally falling apart. 

(Note: I don't think allowing her to experience these types of books in condensed form is a problem; in fact I think it has enhanced her enjoyment of reading and made her eager to read the full versions in the future. She has also come to love the condensed versions of Peter PanAlice in Wonderland, and The Secret Garden, among others.)

But . . . I also don't have a problem with her wanting to escape into science fiction or fantasy or a movie-based book or poetry or historical fiction or even a Junie B. (although admittedly she does make me cringe a bit). 

For us, books are simply, books. We love them. We read them. We talk about them. We don't select titles for our children or think we can make "better" choices than they can for themselves. They know their limits. They are very good at choosing appropriate books based on age level, reading ability, and content.

I know some folks might immediately jump to but what if they want to read [fill in the blank with some age-inappropriate content] and to that I would say, they won't. I wholeheartedly believe that children who have always had input into what books they choose are very aware of their own interests and limitations when it comes to reading. My seven-year-old is reading well for her age/grade level, and because she's always had the freedom to decide what to read and what not to read, I have faith in her decision-making skills.

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