Something I see a lot in arguments about whether kids should have access to a particular book is that, as parents and guardians of children, we want to protect their innocence. If you live in a middle class family that was relatively intact, in an area where everyone seemed to be pretty much like you, controlling your kids’ reading might help to preserve that innocence for a while, but if you take a closer look at the individual families there, what you see is that under the surface, children have already faced, or learned about, some pretty terrible things. Even at school, they’ve faced lockdown drills, practice for what to do if the school is invaded by a shooter. The terrible things we live among are so commonplace, and many of us are so numb to them, that it may be difficult for adults to realize how affected some of our kids really are.
I was in the library with my daughter, who is a huge fan of the 43 Old Cemetery Road books and was looking for something similar. The librarian kept making suggestions and asking questions: is this one too dark? Are you looking for something scary, or something funny, or both? I can’t remember what it was the librarian pulled off the shelf that I looked at and said “I think that one might be too dark and scary for her”. My daughter put her hands on her hips, looked at me with exasperation, and said “Mom, my dad died. Nothing is sadder or scarier than that”. Okay, then. Keeping kids away from the media doesn’t preserve their innocence. Fiction is a safer place than fact. And let me tell you, there is a lot of scary stuff, and a lot of death, in children’s fiction. Even Little Women spends a lot of time on death.
Children’s writing has gotten a lot edgier today, so I can see where some of the discomfort comes from, but we are living in an uncomfortable world. It is a scary place. We can respect that our kids are dealing with a lot of the same things that make the world a scary place for us, and help them choose the reading material they want, or maybe even need, in hopes that even scary books will give them a space in their lives for hope.
If a kid doesn’t think he’s ready to read a scary book, there’s time yet. And certainly there are choices that need to be made about what’s developmentally appropriate: for instance, most Holocaust fiction is not recommended for elementary students (the one exception I can think of is The Devil’s Arithmetic) but if you take your kids to The Sound of Music, you are going to have to come up with a reasonable explanation of who the Nazis were. But that means having dialogue with your child about that, not making choices for him or others to protect his innocence. For a lot of kids, that innocence just isn’t there anymore. Taking books out of their hands can’t save that. Talking to kids about them can help a lot.
For a partial list of banned children’s books, from picture books through Young Adult, go here.