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.