Let Them Read Crap

Many of my parent friends have laughed at me over the years because they think I have too many rules for reading books to kids.  If I’ve literally just read the book, I won’t read it again.  If it’s a comic book or something that requires doing voices, I won’t read it in front of adults (I’m self-conscious!).  Most importantly, I refuse to read crap.

Mind you, everyone has their own definition of crap.  I try to set the bar pretty low.  Mostly, I won’t read books involving the majority of licensed characters.  There are exceptions.  Many of the Sesame Street books are outright classics and I’m always happy to read a Charlie and Lola.  However, I’ve found egregious grammatical errors in Dora books and Scooby Doo stories.  I cannot read them.  When I read them, I adopt an increasingly sarcastic tone until by the end, I’m not just rolling my eyes, I’m giving nasty asides about the so-called “author.”

However, when it comes time for my kids to pick their own books, I say, let them read crap.  Let them read the junk on the shelf if they want to.  Let them read Scooby Doo, Pokemon, Captain Underpants, Animorphs, Warriors, the Twilight saga and every other piece of brainless junk.

And guess what?  Studies show that’s the way to create better readers.  In this piece in The New York Times, they talked about a study where kids who picked their own books picked exactly the sort of horrible books we all cringe at.  The most popular title was a biography of Brittney Spears.  Those books still helped the kids’ reading abilities.  I especially loved this quote from one of the study authors:

“Teachers and middle-class parents undervalue kids’ preferences, but I think we need to give up being so uptight about children’s choices in books.”

So while it makes me cringe, and while I’ll still offer Frog and Toad or Fly Guy or any number of other choices, that’s why I let BalletBoy read A Pet for a Princess when it’s time for reading.  It’s not high art, but it’s free choice and it’s words on the page.  If someone had taken away my Sweet Valley Twins novels in fourth grade, I might have had conniptions, so I’ll leave him with his Disney drivel.  As long as I don’t have to read it myself, that is.

6 thoughts on “Let Them Read Crap

  1. I’ve always thought that *any* reading is going to contribute to something good – be that the child’s self-esteem, imagination, sense of accomplishment or some other unspoken virtue. My mom let us have pretty much free reign and we’ve done the same thing with our kids. *I* read comic books, and have for years attempted to open the kids to them, yet they ever decline my solicitations. Our only types of book that were disallowed were the button-pushing kind and the ‘lift a flap’ books (because I think that books should remain silent, and because I have yet to meet a child that doesn’t ache to pull the flaps out and off of the book.)
    ~h

  2. “However, when it comes time for my kids to pick their own books, I say, let them read crap. Let them read the junk on the shelf if they want to. Let them read Scooby Doo, Pokemon, Captain Underpants, Animorphs, Warriors, the Twilight saga and every other piece of brainless junk.”

    It’s sad that you included Animorphs in the list of books you consider ‘crap’, meanwhile it’s one of the best series out there for kids around the ages of 12. In fact, I started reading them when I was that age and STILL enjoy the series now that I’m almost 18. I also run into a lot of people (mostly on Animorph chatrooms and on websites where people can post Animorphs fanfiction, like fanfiction.net) who started reading Animorphs when it first came out and still read them even though their already in adulthood.

    I also find that people who were fans of Animorphs when the series was released in 1997 are STILL fans of Animorphs today. It’s a really great series and doesn’t at all deserve to be associated with The Twilight Saga.

    The characters are developed, there’s a great plot and it really shows a side of war people can’t get from most other movies and books. The Animorphs series curtainly isn’t ‘mindless’ junk. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. I suggest you actually read the series before passing judgement. And if you have read the books, you obviously need to reread them and pay a little more attention this time.

    And next time, before you go insulting an amazingly good series, remember that just because you don’t like it, doesn’t make it bad.

    1. I admit that I only read half an Animorphs book ages ago when I was teaching, just to see what the deal was since they were in their hayday then. I remembered thinking the writing wasn’t all that great and it wasn’t my thing at all, though I’m a totally sci-fi/fantasy nut. I know they were loved, though I don’t think you’ll convince me they belong in the canon of great children’s literature. But that is partly an issue of taste. The list there was less my opinion of the examples of the worst literature and more in response to what I’ve seen others refer to as twaddle or crap recently, or even take away from their kids or ban from their houses.

      1. I guess what you consider great writing is a lot different than what a lot of other people consider great writing. Although I do think The Twilight Saga was rather bad (I really have no opinion on anything else you mentioned), I know that the Animorphs were great. Not just the writing, but mostly the themes. I know for a fact I wouldn’t be as accepting as I am now, for example, if I never read the series back in elementary school. It’s a great series that really got me to realize that the difference between people didn’t matter at all, without me even realizing I was learning that until highschool.

        I was just offended that you added Animorphs to that small list of what you thought were bad books/series, meanwhile Animorphs helped me a lot with all different parts of my life. I honestly think I’m, overall, a better person than I would have been if I didn’t read the series. And, probably, a little smarter too. (I actually HATED reading until I came across the Animorphs series. Once I read some of the books not only did I start to greatly enjoy reading, but I also discovered my love for writing. And I greatly improved with spelling, that’s for sure.)

  3. I just found your blog and am enjoying it so much! I really appreciate your perspective.

    I have a similar attitude about reading & licensed-product books. (It’s one of the enticements I used to convince my 5yo to learn to read.) The NYT article linked is interesting, but I have to wonder about one thing: she says that reading scores increased 1/16 of a standard deviation, which is so absolutely tiny that it’s hard for me to believe that they had enough statistical power to even detect a difference of that size. I wonder if it’s a misprint? (If not, it’s depressing to think that 3 years of summer school would have such a negligible effect.)

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