What to do when other parents cancel your kid’s book choice

OCTOBER 27, 2022

What to do when other parents cancel your kid’s book choice
Allowing kids to choose their books encourages them to read on their own. Above, titles from the “Dork Diaries” series
What to do when other parents cancel your kid’s book choice
Allowing kids to choose their books encourages them to read on their own. Above, titles from the “Dork Diaries” series

Empower children to make decisions especially in choosing books. It encourages them to read on their own. But what do you do if other parents and educators find your child’s choice problematic?

My husband and I actively nurtured our child’s interest in books. There are strategies we applied, like having several book nooks in our home. In our main bookshelf, the titles are arranged in the order of what I think she will like at a certain age. Activity and storybooks for under age 7 are on the lowest shelf (so she could see them while she’s lying on her belly); chapter and comic books are on the second shelf; and science and reference materials are on top.

Pop-up books take special space because my daughter loves them and shares them with her friends who come over. She enjoys the surprises each page has and the engineering involved in making them. She even crafts her own. Her favorite pop-up book is “Frozen” by Matthew Reinhart.

My daughter started reading at 4. We enrolled her in a program that taught her how to read through phonetics. The course took five full months.

We didn’t do it for academic reasons. It was so she could explore reading on her own. This was important during the pandemic lockdowns because we limited her screen time to movie nights on weekends. I can still remember how her eyes opened wide when she realized that she could read Dr. Seuss’ “Hop on Pop” on her own. This began her exciting journey of reenacting scenes from the book to brag about her newfound skill.

Reading time

But even this was quickly outgrown. She made puppy eyes at her father and pretended to cry when she was 5. “I am not like other kids because nobody reads to me anymore,” she whined.

That’s all it took for my husband to start reading to her every night. He would take a break even on his busiest nights to read to her for 10-15 minutes. It didn’t stop her from convincing him to extend the reading times.

She chooses the book to read. Mostly she would go for storybooks that she has read on her own but wants to hear her papa’s version. These include “Winnie the Pooh,” “Peter Rabbit” and plenty of Dr. Seuss.

My husband makes it fun not just by changing voices, but also by making side commentaries that annoys her to no end. “You are the worst book reader in the world!” she declares. “Read it properly!” Despite the overdramatic complaints, she would beg for book reading once again the following night.

Books are always within reach. There are books in the car. Her bag will always have one book because she would read at restaurants. She follows a playlist on Spotify that she says “calms her” when she’s reading.

There is also an active guide on our end on what books she should read. I recently suggested “Chronicles of Narnia” and she immediately related it to her other books that mention the series.

I directed her to Roald Dahl’s books given her fascination with the Ooompa Loompa, thanks to YouTube Shorts trends. She fell in love with Dahl. She would make up words to express herself in Dahl’s style. “Schikibongkzi” means I hug her too tight and “dorodop” means yes and “chigijibong” means she hit something hard. She introduces herself to us differently every day. Sometimes she’s a “meep,” sometimes a “blopblop.” It’s a growing lexicon that is very hard to keep track of.

Bigger influence

Admittedly, her peers hold a bigger influence on her. Titles that interest her the most are books that her friends read. She discovered chapter books such as “Rainbow Magic” and the “Tiara Club” because they were shared with her. Chapter books are very quick reads because the text size is big and the stories are short. They are also pretty cheap to buy secondhand at P50 each. A friend led her to “Dork Diaries” by Rachel Renée Russell.

Our copies were bought a long time ago, but I gave her the set when she started reading them. This prompted a mommy friend to send me a concerned message. She claimed that this series is bad for kids. Her child’s school was discouraging their students from reading it, the reason being that the main character Nikki Maxwell is shallow and boy-crazy. And that there are some “bad” words in the series.

This has been very concerning. On the one hand, I want my daughter to consume good literature. But I also remember reading “Sweet Valley High” in grade school, which has similar themes. I read Edgar Allan Poe’s works when I was my daughter’s age, as well as Filipino romance books that my yayas loved reading. I also know that some of the interesting young adult books have antiheroes as protagonists. Case in point, Artemis Fowl kidnapped and tortured Holly Short.

The mommy’s message prompted me to browse through the book. I found the theme superficial, but funny. Nikki openly talks about her crush/boyfriend and her nemesis. The illustrations are very pretty and I knew that this is why my daughter likes it.

Learning moment

I followed this up with a serious conversation with my daughter. Surprisingly, she said she doesn’t like Nikki very much. She likes the book because of Nikki’s younger sister who delivers the punchlines. She mostly ignores the situationship between Brandon and Nikki, but she finds Brandon to be nice and level-headed. Nikki’s friends are defined by their loyalty.

There are words that might be deemed bad, but they are crossed out in the book. My daughter, whose favorite subject in school is Catholic Christian Formation, knows that these words are not to be repeated. I explained to her that her friend’s school has sort of banned the series from their library. I asked if she still wants to continue reading the series.

“Yes, because it’s a funny book,” she said. I told her to come to me if there are things she doesn’t understand in the book. That was over two months ago, and now she points things out to me about other books with problematic characters. She finds “Horrid Henry” rude for bumping the queen.

Ann Abacan, principal of Sophia School, said that she understands the concern of parents. Not all children can define fiction and nonfiction, she said. Some young minds are susceptible to copying bad behavior if it was described as cool.

She suggested turning the choosing of books into a learning moment. Teach kids what is right and wrong. If parents don’t have time to do that, she suggested checking the school’s library. Most books have been curated and checked for the students.

As for our family, we found that discussing the complexities of fictional teenage characters a good conversation starter.

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