Alison Clement

observations from a novelist who sometimes wants to say something small and see it published immediately

>Leave the kids alone

I was never encouraged to read as a child. I never heard of Caldecutt or Newbery. I never saw a reading list. I read randomly. I read classics and trashy novels. I read plays and books of cartoons. I read science fiction before I knew there was such a thing as genre. I read biographies and history books and (with great confusion) Naked Lunch.
I work now as a librarian in an elementary school. We have reading contests and prizes for whoever reads the most, as if reading has to be rewarded. And we have lists of books recommended for children, as if reading is anybody’s but the reader’s own business.
I think reading is deeply personal. I think whatever happens when someone reads, whatever goes on between the reader and the book, is nobody’s business.
A woman once told me that her daughter only wanted to read Babysitter’s Club books, and she had told the girls’ school not to let her do it anymore. The girl needed something more challenging. She needed something of better quality, her mother thought. Sometimes kids have bad taste and, while it’s natural to give our opinions, or to suggest books they might like, I think basically we have to leave them alone. I thought of my friend’s daughter a few years later when a girl in my school spent the whole year reading only Babysitter Club books. The girl’s father was in jail, her parents in the middle of a divorce, and then one day her uncle had murdered his family. For a while, I made gentle suggestions of other titles she might like, but one day it occurred to me that maybe she needed the calm predictability of The Babysitter’s Club. Maybe she needed to inhabit, if only for a little while, a wholesome world of natural consequences and small, solvable predicaments.
I thought of those girls with their Babysitter Club books after the last election, when I found myself reading only mysteries. Mysteries—stories driven by the pursuit of truth and justice. In mysteries, the good guys almost always win. In mysteries, the world is set straight for a moment.
My humble opinion: Recommend books to children, just as you’d recommend them to a friend, but then get out of the way.

Categories: Uncategorized

2 replies

  1. >I couldn’t agree more. Research indicates that reading skills grow faster if a child reads to their interest and if they read beneath their reading level. Any reading, even comic books, increases this skill. Can you tell I am also a librarian?

  2. >Alison:You should publish this essay. Parents need to get out of the way of their children’s development. We tend to mess up their lives with our intensity and lofty expectations. Why can’t we let them breathe?As I child, I remember reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Then, I moved to books about collies authored by Albert Payson Terhune. Then, it was the Black Stallion, and more. Finally, at the age of 12, I turned to stories about people. That’s when I read Sayonora, Battle Cry, Marjorie Morningstar and one of my favorites, Seventeenth Summer. Even today, these books seem very real to me. They opened up my mind and heart and allowed me to feel grownup, even though I was not. Pam Stone

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