The Bookshelf: Hard Books for Kids?

the shiningDo you let your kids read hard books? By hard, I don’t mean grammatically challenging or books with big words. I mean books with big ideas, thoughtfully challenging books, books that push you out of your comfort zone and that push them out of their comfort zones. Books like

I do.

I even read Lord of the Flies out loud to them before the ‘recommended’ age (one suggestion: don’t read the scene of Simon’s death right when the school bus is rounding the corner to pick them up for the day).

Here’s what I wrote about letting them read The Hunger Games trilogy. And here is what Modern Mrs. Darcy says about recommending books with the “F” word in them, a similar topic, just last week.

I read the books too, or at least skim them like I did with the Delirium Trilogy and the Divergent trilogy (what is it with trilogies?) and I love, love, love the conversations that follow. Is love a disease? What faction would you pick: Dauntless, Erudite, Abnegation, Amity, or Candor? What would dad pick and why does he think one thing while all the rest of the family thinks another? What went wrong with the world that kids have to kill kids and what can the people do about it? What would you do about it?

The Shining, now that was a tough one. I’m not a big Stephen King fan except for On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Nudity, swear words, violence, creepiness…so I read that one over my son’s shoulder and we talked his way through the book.

Letting kids read these books or not is a topic bigger than these Friday posts on The Bookshelf can handle, but I generally fall in the ‘let them read and talk our way through it’ camp rather than the ‘don’t let them in order to protect them’ camp. In my own experience, that usually results in the books being read anyway, just in secret. While I might not hand them the book or suggest it, I still want to know about it. And sometimes I might hand it to them. The Catcher in the Rye just might be my next recommendation to my teens. I still remember reading it.

Books. Words. Stories. They change us, form us, challenge us. I think stretching our minds makes us better thinkers and better people as we learn to not read just for consumption or entertainment but for thinking critically.

Here’s what I’m reading this week:

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin
Last week I told you about Erik Larson. He finds and tells such fascinating stories. Can’t wait for Dead Wake to come out in just a few days. But have to finish this one first. Focuses on the American ambassador and his daughter in Berlin just as Hitler is rising in power.


Memories of a Catholic Girlhood
by Mary McCarthy. I love the opening and how she navigates her way through the issues of memory, quotations, and interpretation involved in writing a memoir. She writes her memory of something, like sitting beside her father on a train just before he died. And then she writes about a conversation with her uncle in which he says that never happened, she sat beside him, her uncle, on the train. Candid, honest, and funny, brilliant.

Charles de Foucauld
Will be reading this one for a long time, it involves outside research, some of which is in French. Charles de Foucauld was a French man martyred in Morocco in 1916. This one’s research for a writing project.

What are you reading?