Reader Request Week 2013 #7: Books and My Kid

Cecilia asks:

Have you taken a book away from Athena? What guides your parental choices on book selection for reading.

When Athena was an infant I would take books away from her so they would not be unduly chewed upon. Otherwise, no. The rule of thumb in the Scalzi household has always been that if you can reach it, you can read it, and we don’t have very many books in the house that can’t be reached, frankly. The rule also comes with the offer that Athena can come to us to discuss anything she reads, particularly if it confuses or upsets her.

As a result, Athena’s grown up with the understanding that no information is off limits to her and that there’s very little that she can’t talk to us about, and I think both of those are good things. It’s also demystified the adult world to her to some extent, which I think is not a bad thing. And it’s also allowed her to have a wide range of reading experiences from which to form her own personal taste in reading, which, again, I think is grand.

Does this mean she occasionally reads stuff I would prefer she didn’t? Yes, although that runs more toward “books I think are crap” than “books I think are bad.” Anyway, I read all sorts of crap when I was a kid; by all indications I turned out just fine, bwa ha ha ha hah HA ha ha.

So, no: Athena’s always been able to read whatever she wanted. As a result, she has a good idea of what she wants to read. And also, that she likes to read. That’s the way it should be.

112 Comments on “Reader Request Week 2013 #7: Books and My Kid”

  1. Sounds like a good policy, but what about carrot rather than stick: are there books you’ve positively encouraged her to read? Bought her as gifts, recommended, etc?

  2. We’ve had mostly the same policy with our kids, although there have been a few books we kept on the top shelf. I do actively assign books to them to read from time to time, when there’s a conversation on a particular topic I’d like to initiate with them. Talking about potentially sensitive topics through fiction helps create a safe distance where they’re able to engage the topic on a rational rather than emotional level, always a good thing when dealing with Asperger’s.

  3. That sounds a lot like the policy in my house. So far the three of them are reading (mostly) good stuff. More importantly, they are reading, and enjoying it. I even still get requests to read to my youngest (2nd grade) but I don’t imagine that will last much longer. Sigh…

  4. Interesting. There are some books in our house I probably wouldn’t let my sons read, based on adult content, at this stage of the game, and others that I would discourage them from reading. “If you read it now, you won’t like it. Wait ten years and you’ll think it’s awesome.” I’d give in on the second kind if pushed, though.

  5. I have a similar policy although it can get foiled by the ability of the kids to order their own books through school.

    My kids are 10 now and I have only blocked a book once, The Hunger Games. Not because I thought they would be disturbed by it but because I knew they wouldn’t be, yet. I think it’s a book that should be upsetting and they weren’t there yet. They might be now but I suspect they might not remember the books are there for another year. :)

    Oh, and we had a full discussion about why I thought they should wait on reading where I explained my reasoning. I don’t believe in keeping them out of the decision loop.

  6. This addresses a pet peeve of mine. My kids are huge readers, and I will take some of the credit but mostly they just like to read. If they want to read it, they read it. I do keep an eye on what they read and bring up discussions about some of the more questionable choices. But they fall in love with authors, with stories, and with criticizing book to movie translations.

    However, so many other parents I know make statements about how hard they have to work to get their kids to read. But then they shoot down my suggestions as “not appropriate”. See, (I discovered) reading only counts if it is educational, age appropriate, nonfiction, and usually what some magazine article says kids should be reading.

    My son was obsessed with the story of Beowulf as a 5 year old…so not appropriate but it reached something in him. My daughter will read any book with a puppy on it, or a fairy (and yes, they’re usually as badly written as you could imagine). Reading is a skill for little kids and with any skill the more they use it, the better they become. So let your kids read what looks good. I have advocated for comic books for so many poor readers because the pictures help with the comprehension and across the board, other parents refuse to consider it. WTF? Granted I am a massive geek, but if you are taking the time out to complain about your kid’s reading, then why reject ideas? When did reading boring crap become a symbol of maturity?

    In an era where parents let their kids pick their own video games without any oversight, why do they judge their kid’s reading choices?

  7. One thing I will always be grateful to my mum for – she had a large book collection compared to most people we knew, and every single book was within my physical reach. If I wanted to read the famous five for the seventy-billionth time, I could. If I wanted to see if I was brave enough to read her Steven King, I could. She also always encouraged me to add to the collection, and although I didn’t get pocket money as such, I never got told no if I saw a book I wanted. She also very patiently listened every time I felt the need to excitedly explain the entire plot of a book I was reading. The shelves weren’t “her” bookshelves. They were OURS.

  8. My parents had essentially the same policy but I think they needed to police themselves better (they were liberal but somehow I don’t think leaving “The Joy of Sex” on the first shelf was intentional).

    In 5th grade I was reading Stephen King’s “The Shining” (I’d just finished “Salem’s Lot” and “Carrie”) and took it into school to read while I was bored by the crap being taught. I got to the sex scene in the novel and showed it to the kid sitting next to me. Of course the teacher saw us and walked over to see what I was showing him. She was shocked that a 5th grader was reading this and thought I must have stolen it from my parent’s library. She called a conference with my parents (with me in the room–bad call) and was shocked when my parents responded by saying, “No, we let him read it. At least he’s reading!”

    But from that point onward the teacher decreed I was only allowed to read school-library books in class.

  9. @Bunny, amusing that Stephen King was the example for both of us (I was typing my message while yours was posting; I didn’t read yours until after I posted mine).

  10. Silly little child who displays the pathetic emptiness of his life by trolling here (name changed)

    [Seriously, if this guy isn’t twelve, there’s nothing to do but shake one’s head sadly -JS]

  11. @MNMom, I taught junior-high English for a year and fought tooth-and-nail to let kids read what interested them, to no avail. No, kids must read “the classics”. The definition of a classic: a book everyone talks about and no one reads.

  12. My mom always encouraged reading from an early age in me, and it showed. I was reading 3 grades above my level when I started school, and I once yelled at the teacher for telling the Disneyfied Cinderella story instead of the “right” version (ie, the original, non-sanitized one, as I had been raised on the unexpurgated editions). She never dumbed stuff down for me. She wouldn’t let me read her romance novels till I hit puberty, but beyond that….any book in the house was available for me to read, and any book at the library (within reason). She’s done much the same to my siblings, though she keeps trying to get us to read the political books she’s gotten so fond of (which none of us are interested in, as we’re not conspiracy theorists). And comic books definitely helped both me and my brother (not because we’re poor readers, but because they were just so -interesting-).

    That said, there is something to be said for not pushing a book on children relentlessly. My mother pushed Narnia so hard, I have no inclination to ever read the books. There’s a difference between “I liked this book at your age, you might like it”/”Why don’t we read this book together?” and “YOU MUST READ THIS.”

  13. Interesting. My parents had a similar take. The only thing they refused me was comic books, and not for the reason most people would think. They never had a problem with me reading them but then refused to buy me any because I’d read them too quickly. They felt a nice thick novel was money/time better spent since I’d have my nose buried in one for hours on family trips rather than staring out the window bored or fighting with my sister.

  14. I draw the line with my kids at the hyper-sexual and/or hyper-violent: there’s no way I’d let my kid read “Story of O” or watch (especially watch) “Clockwork Orange”.

    I wish my girls wouldn’t read “Twilight” or Harry Potter ripoffs, and I wish they read more Tolkien and old-school fantasy/sci-fi, but that’s just my literary prejudices….

  15. I’m with MNmom.

    The problem the world has is not finding a way to take books out of kids’ hands, it’s trying to get any book there in the first place.

  16. @Beej says “The definition of a classic: a book everyone talks about and no one reads.”

    Thanks, I totally love that phrase!

    Also, Stephen King was amazing when I was a kid! I am still scared of clowns.

  17. “Also, Stephen King was amazing when I was a kid! I am still scared of clowns.”

    The first chapter of “IT” was awesome, as I recall. I hated the rest of its 1000-some odd pages.

  18. I think my parents had pretty much the same policy. I devoured a lot of literary junk that makes me cringe a bit now (Babysitters’ Club, eek) and went through kids’ mysteries at a frightening pace (I inherited all my mom and my uncles’ Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Trixie Belden books, and have a clear memory of reading five of them in the course of a day). But I was also encouraged to browse the library shelves – both the public one and my science fiction-loving grandparents’ – and borrow anything I thought I might like. In fact, I usually left my grandparents house with the books that I’d picked out plus a second stack that my grandfather or one of my parents thought I might be interested in.

  19. My kids (2nd and 4th grade) read all the time. I think the biggest factor in that is they see how much their mom and I read. We do have some restrictions based on content we don’t think they are ready for (such as Hunger Games, Twilight). They both love Harry Potter, but we’ve had them wait a year in between each book. My oldest is hugely into a seemingly never-ending series of books about warrior cats.

  20. The one book my mom pushed on me, I wish I hadn’t read. I still don’t know if it was unthinking, or subconscious, or what. It was biographies of Egyptian women, including some very graphic descriptions of FGM. (I grew up in Cairo, Dad is Egyptian, Mom is American). I was about 13. I had read stuff with some sex in it (very precocious reader, combined with small libraries). Otherwise, I can’t recall of her censoring a book (except for one mysteriously vanishing from my bookcase..a racy adult Roald Dahl which I’d already read about three times). Otherwise I read some junk, some good stuff, etc. Lots of Agatha Christie and Heinlein (oddly, that was one thing the Library had a lot of)

  21. I grew up in a house filled with books, and with parents who shared your policy. I still remember the summer I was 10 years old; I read Terry Southern’s “Candy”, and Stoker’s “Dracula”, and found both of them rather disturbing and educational in very different ways. I’ve certainly never had reason to believe they did me any harm, and I’ve always allowed my own son to read anything in the house he can find.

  22. Holland:

    There’s a difference between “I liked this book at your age, you might like it”/”Why don’t we read this book together?” and “YOU MUST READ THIS.”

    My Dad practically had to pin me down to read me The Hobbit. I was sick for four days and he walked in and opened up this book with a hideous cover that I’d been avoiding for years and started reading. “In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit. …” (I recited that bit, under my breath, in the movie.) I was hooked. Later, when I read The Princess Bride I totally related. ;-)

    He had to hide all four books from me so I wouldn’t read ahead. It took us weeks and weeks to read them. I cherish that memory. Later, he read To Kill A Mockingbird to my sisters and also had to hide it.

    That said, I bounced off Johnny Tremaine hard.

    I can’t possibly remember all the books he brought home from the library for me. Book after book after book. Johnny Tremaine was the only one I didn’t like. There were books in the living room and books in my bedroom and books in the school and Scholastic Book orders. Heaven! He took us to the library very often. My mother joined the Book of the Month club because the incentive was the entire LOTR trilogy, The Hobbit, The Silmarilian and the Tolkien Biography. All of which I got for Christmas that year. My parents let me take a class in Junior High that was just reading books (and writing out a 3×5 card for a book report on five of them). I read books the whole period. I must have gobbled through 50+ books in that class. They told me I couldn’t take it again because I hardly needed another class in reading books!

    I don’t remember that they limited my reading much. They didn’t have a problem even with the Judy Blume books and I think that’s as skating the edge as I got. That sort of thing doesn’t interest me even now. (Sunshine is my least favorite Robin McKinley book partly for that reason.)

    Thank you, Dad, for showing me how wonderful books are. And thanks for all the other parents doing the same for their wide-eyed kids.

  23. Flip side: Are there books you put directly in her reach in hopes of getting her to read them? Or is saying “You should really read this!” a direct route to “I have no intention of ever reading that”?

  24. Enid Bylton and the Famous Five!!! I only discovered those stories as a parent after reading J K Rowling talking about them. My daughter made me read all of them to her in a row.

    I also think that parents need to be open to discussing books with their kids. A lot of my son’s friends loved the Hunger Games books (how did that get marketed to kids???) but their parents never read them or cared to hear about them. We would have the most amazing discussions with a bunch of 10 year olds discussing social policy and ethical choices. Also, the Little Princess (with my daughter’s friends) brought up a lot of talks about war and poverty, and what being an orphan would be like. Kids can learn a lot from books without them ever being educational.

    I also approve of not making your kid finish a book that just doesn’t fit them. I freely admit to loving Harry Potter, but not liking the books.

  25. “Andy, she’s written a series with polar bears too.”

    Erin Hunter is actually four people, and my younger daughter got me to read the first in the new series, about dogs. I much prefer Richard Adams, but I couldn’t get either child to read “Watership Down.”

  26. I read at a much older age group when I was younger and feel I benefited, with a more advanced vocabulary for my age. I encouraged my childrent to read, but alas no amount of encouragement rubbed off on them. I think you have a very healthy perspective which will I am sure set Athena up for adulthood.

  27. Joel Finkle:

    I’ve suggested books to her, yes, of course. Sometimes she reads them; sometimes she doesn’t. Sometimes she’ll read a book and be surprised I read it when I was her age.

  28. MNmom: It does seem that for many parents, reading is like eating your vegetables; kids should only read what’s good for them, not stuff that they (might) like. ;-)

  29. “Erin Hunter is actually four people, and my younger daughter got me to read the first in the new series, about dogs. I much prefer Richard Adams, but I couldn’t get either child to read “Watership Down.””

    We tried giving her Watership Down also, with the same results. My youngest has read the new dog book, but neither kid has wanted to try the polar bears. I tried reading one of the cat books, but couldn’t do it. They seem fine though.

  30. heh, I’ve always encouraged my boys to read whatever they wanted, even when they weren’t neccesarily ‘age appropriate’ (and often would reccomend books to them I thought they would like!). now as young adults, both have a definite appreciation for a good book :)

    and fully agree with the definition of ‘the classics’ given above – I’ve never been into ‘eating your vegetables’ equivalent books… give me action! romance! fantasy! entertain me, darn it!

  31. When I was a child, there were no books in the house that I couldn’t read. I learned about sex from the Kinsey report. There were books that my father strongly recommended to me that I didn’t read until much later if at all, such as Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico and Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but none that I wasn’t both able and allowed to read.

  32. I remember a time when I hated reading. Having to read for a book report in grade school was the worst torture ever inflicted on me. That changed my freshman year of high school when I read Weis & Hickman’s Drangonlance series. It went all down hill from there and I hope I am passing on my love of reading to my boys.

    Both my boys are into reading which is great. My oldest – who is 11 now – has started reading more and more and shares my interest in the science fiction/fantasy genre which is awesome. We used to read to him every night before bed. I thought it didn’t “take” at first as he quit liking to read books, but now that is a thing of the past. My youngest is 7 and still loves for us to read with him. He is getting much better at reading on his own, but we still have that bedtime reading time together. Like @loximuthal I’m hoping it continues.

    I’ve never discouraged the boys from reading anything, but I do think there are a couple series like A Song of Fire and Ice that I would make them wait to read. Only because I don’t know if they would be able to fully understand all that is going on. Also it one of those things that I struggle with as a parent to not stifle their curiosity but keep the themes age appropriate.

  33. “We tried giving her Watership Down also, with the same results. My youngest has read the new dog book, but neither kid has wanted to try the polar bears.”

    My girls (both teenagers) thought WD boring, and to be honest, I thought so, too at their age: I only fully appreciated it last year when I re-read it again. When I was their age, I liked the movie, but I doubt they would want to see bunnies fighting and dying.

    The first dog book was, frankly, wretched. Like one-star wretched. My younger daughter said the cat books were much better, but complained that there were so many of them that she gave up on them. Series fatigue.

  34. …and no, I don’t buy into that mentality of, “Well, what do you expect? It’s just for kids!” It can be “just for kids” and still be awesome.

  35. Cancerkiller: There’s nothing wrong with reading a book you don’t fully understand. I do it all the time myself. And if that were the standard, no kid would ever read and enjoy Alice in Wonderland.

  36. John, What books do you suggest?
    I teach a literature of the future course in my high school. (Yes, I know you are now jealous) I saw a student reading a military science fiction novel based on the video game.
    I said, “That book is crap. Let me give you something superior to read.” I shove Starship Troopers in his hands.
    Two days later he thanks me for giving him something so much better.

  37. Cancerkill and Theophylact: Agreed that there nothing wrong with not reading a book that you don’t fully understand (this is why I continue to re-read Dune periodically!). It also seems to me that given the freedom to do so, kids will probably choose to stop reading something if they really, really aren’t getting into it; that was my experience, at least.

    (On the other hand, apparently my husband read all of Stranger in a Strange Land when he was about 12, and has never been able to get into Heinlein as a result, so perhaps that’s not a good generalization to make!)

  38. You guys all had such cool childhoods. My mom wasn’t much of a reader; all I had around were Tom Robbins and John Irving books. And a few books her youngest college attending sister would drop off; Tolkien, Iliad and Odyssey, and Beowulf. Wasn’t until middle school and a bus driver that would drop us off at the mall that I had access to a bookstore. JOY!

  39. @Beej: I wouldn’t assume that your parents didn’t put The Joy of Sex on the bottom shelf unintentionally – I’ve bought more than one book that is strategically placed so that my voraciously reading children can find it, with a note inside that I’m happy to answer any questions they have…Goodness knows they can google almost anything and I’d rather they “conveniently” found the stuff I think is well-produced than something random and potentially really wrong.

    Side note: At some point, I would love to see a list of books that Whatever readers recommend for kids of different ages – the books that changed them or comforted them or that they couldn’t wait to read to or give to their own kids….

  40. I will take books away from my kids when it is Way Past the Time to Go To Sleep Darn It and You Both Are Going to be Cranky as Heck Tomorrow.

    The wife and I would benefit from a similar service, actually.

  41. “I have advocated for comic books for so many poor readers because the pictures help with the comprehension and across the board, other parents refuse to consider it. WTF?”

    I’m a literature teacher. I agree SO MUCH with what you said. But not only do the pictures help with comprehension; study after study has shown that the majority of kids who read comic books when they are young become avid readers when they are older. The percentage of avid readers among kids who grew up with comics is far larger than the percentage of avid readers among kids who did not. Further, the vocabulary in most modern comic books is far and above that of traditional grade-level texts, with many books possessing college-level vocabulary.

    Some teachers seem to think if it’s fun, it isn’t worth reading. Well, crap on that. I’m teaching Steven Gould’s JUMPER right now, and my kids are loving it–and having interesting conversations on terrorism, the effects of childhood abuse on adults, and the role of the media in shaping public opinion, as well as the old question of who watches the watchers. Good stuff. From a book many call a “juvenile escapist novel.” Feh.

  42. @martin says
    but don’t you smile inside when you check on the kids an hour later and they have the book and a flashlight under the covers?

  43. So I take it that none of the Laurell K Hamilton books are in reach in your house, then.

  44. I’m not aware of any Laurell K Hamilton books being in the house. But I wouldn’t really have an objection to her reading them if they were. It might make for interesting child-parent conversations, however.

  45. I don’t recall my parents having any policy on what I could read. But then, neither of them did much reading when I was a kid, so our one bookshelf was filled with Colliers Encyclopedia, and every yearbook from 1952 (the year my brother was born) until they stopped publishing them. I got my books from the NYC public library. They were great folks at our local branch, and were happy to let me read anything I wanted… and I wanted to read everything!

    I learned to read accidentally, while my mom was trying to make my older brother learn how. And I never stopped!

  46. I have only one memory of my parents criticizing my reading choises. I was 11 or 12 when I picked Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn from my mom’s shelf. She saw me with it, raised her eyebrows and said “I don’t think you’ll like that.” After about 10 pages I decided that she was right and put the book back.

    As I librarian I weep every year for the poor teenagers who come to the library with their list of required reading. A sullen 14-year old boy who’s into hockey and/or gaming will not learn about the joy of book when faced with Moby Dick.

  47. My parents had a very similar ethos regarding books; if you could reach it, you could read it. Anything illicit they kept hidden in a secret part of mom’s dresser, which of course I found. I read all of their parenting books and was able to foil all of their attempts at operant conditioning.

    There was also the month where anytime they left I dug through mom’s copy of “Our Bodies, Our Selves”. Since it was furtively read, I never remembered the title – I just knew it was lady-related. Mom must have finished that book and returned it to whence it was borrowed (or found a better hiding place) because the next time I dug into that top drawer, it took a solid chapter of “Fascinating Womanhood” to realize that the stylized curvy lady with the flipped hair silhouette on the cover wasn’t an abstract drawing of lady-business. My mom was right to hide “Fascinating Womanhood”, although I was right disgusted with it even at the tender age of nine. But she still regrets not making “Our Bodies, Our Selves” available to us.

  48. @Beej, Kenton, Alicia:
    My parents not only left The Joy of Sex on the bottom shelf, but also The Sensuous Woman, How to Make Love to a Man, and, yes, The Story of O. It was a bit eye-opening at thirteen.

    The only books I wish I hadn’t read at a young age (10 or 11) were a couple of film adaptations that gave me nightmares: Alien and (this is embarrassing) The Swarm. I’m allergic to bee stings, so I was leery of them anyway, but that book turned it into a raging phobia. And I had nightmares for weeks about Aliens Jumping Out At Me. I still avoid horror movies and any horror media having to do with insects.

  49. Nobama:

    She read it before I knew she read it (I wouldn’t have stopped her). I just now asked her for her review. It is: “Horribly written. Terrible grammar. Interesting yet disgusting sex parts.” Seems a fair assessment.

  50. (I should probably clarify that my parents weren’t responsible for Alien and The Swarm. Those were on the reading shelf in my fifth-grade classroom, along with The Princess Bride.)

  51. I think that’s a really great – and interesting – response! I remember, as a kid (and one who read really fast), my mom would insist on reading things before I was allowed to read them, up through some time in grade school. Once in a while, she’d let me start a book and then read it herself, or something. I still have a really vivid memory of reading some Dick Francis mystery in the back of the car on a roadtrip, and having it yanked out of my hands when my mother either caught the title or had gotten to the same place I was (I don’t remember which) – a pretty mild description of a woman flirting, followed, I found out years later, by a description of them having sex – in mild terms, for about two sentences. It was a minor moment in the plot, not an erotic fiction. I understood that my mom thought some things were “too adult” for me, but it also really upset me, as a kid – it wasn’t like I didn’t know about sex (they’d explained the fundamentals of reproduction to me really early, maybe at 5 or 6) or was going to take this as an encouragement to do something I shouldn’t at that age. I didn’t understand why mom thought that this was something I shouldn’t see at all. Especially because they were otherwise parents who encouraged discussion and questions and learning the truth. I think that moment sticks in my mind, all those 25 years later or so, because it was so confusing and disappointing. So, from the child’s perspective, I am all in favor of your approach – and I think, as a kid – especially a smart one (which yours sure sounds like and I think I was) – it’s much better to not have the world artificially blinkered. I think that would give you more confidence! So, there are my 2c.

  52. My 10 year old girls are heavy graphic novel readers and have been adding full chapter books steadily as well. One fun thing is that they’ve been drawing everyday since they could hold something to draw with and reading comics has lead to them creating comics. I’ve fuelled that with copies of Scott McLoud’s “Understanding Comics” and “Making Comics”. They read way too much for me to keep up but I do get a interesting glimpse into what’s on their minds reading their comics.

  53. JS – Actually that is very interesting. So basically it sounds as if nothing is off limits when it comes to reading. Does the same transfer to the visual arts as well?

  54. I read all of their parenting books and was able to foil all of their attempts at operant conditioning.

    OMG my daughter does that to me!

  55. mnmom:”but don’t you smile inside when you check on the kids an hour later and they have the book and a flashlight under the covers?”

    Yes and no. Yes, it’s a great thing that they love reading – but to some extent they’re just avoiding going to sleep, and when I say “Cranky as Heck Tomorrow,” I mean it.

  56. My parents had a similar policy when my brother and I were children, with one proviso. We could read any book in the house – but if we read something we didn’t understand, no one was obliged to explain it to us.

    This backfired somewhat. I grabbed “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at around age… 9? 10? somewhere around there. I loved animal stories, see, and with a title like that….

    After waiting fruitlessly through some pages for the wolves to show up, and not understanding much of anything that was going on, I re-shelved the book.

    However, one bit of dialogue did stay with me; something one character screams at another, with both characters becoming very upset by said utterance. The next time I had a fight with Mom, I hauled out that bit of dialog, yelling “Screw you!”

    It didn’t go over well.

    To their credit, my parents didn’t change their read-anything policy because of it. A year or so later, I remember picking “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” off the bookshelf, because I wondered why anyone would write a book about dolls. The book turned out to not be about dolls at all; it was a lot more interesting!… and this time, I had enough sense not to try quoting my favorite lines to my parents.

  57. Hi, I want to tell you a story

    When I was a little girl and then a teenager, my father thought he had the right to censor what I read and he did it in the most heinous way: he cut with scissors or tore off the pages of sexual-related material. It was’nt even really explicit material, just the regular stuff you would find in, let’s say, a Thomas Harris novel.

    But being an avid reader as I was, I wasn’t even interested in the books we had at home. My high school was part of a College campus, and I had full access to the library where they lend me any book I would like to read,

    What the hell, I rather have her reading Sexus at fifteen as I did than the Twilight series.

    If you can reach it you can read it.: Yes, I will do the same with my daughter, and I like the way you put it, although now it may be “if you can download it you can read it” now.

    Great Site, I love it!

    I’ll keep reading

  58. A subtle parent who wishes to steer their child away from such-and-such sorts of books does not forbid or express disapproval. Rather, from an early age, they must instill in the child a sense of being utterly above inferior, overhyped/worthless things like those books, which are only consumed by vapid and possibly unclean sheeple.

    I don’t actually recommend this, by the way. It’s how my parents got me to stay away from “rock music” — a catch-all for anything that wasn’t a hymn, folksy ballad, or symphonic piece — until I was sixteen or seventeen. (My sister caught on a bit faster, at fourteen or so; I will take post facto credit for that, but decline being otherwise associated with her taste in modern music.)

  59. Any book in my book-stuffed house is fair game for my baby veloci-readers, who are now 10 & 13 and who cannot leave home without at least one book in hand lest they be stranded somewhere without something to read (the horror!). I certainly don’t filter selections for content or worthiness. I read lots of formulaic crap when I was a kid, and it didn’t blunt my appetite for more worthwhile reading. My personal experience is that exposure to reading materials that might be considered age-inappropriate leads to lots of questions, or else boredom from incomprehension, rather than the generation of Unsuitable Ideas in young persons’ heads.

    I am, however, hiding my copy of Moore/Gebbie’s Lost Girls in plain sight amongst a shelf of boring things in hopes that it won’t tweak anyone’s interest, but if they decided to dig in I’d just have to gird my loins to have some interesting conversations about what’s going on between those particular covers.

  60. I think the ‘read anything you like’ strategy was great for me growing up. The awful (in taste or in composition) books I was allowed to read along with the subsequent discussions I had with my parents about the books I read developed within me a deep trust of their opinions on which books I would enjoy reading and which I wouldn’t. I could still read the books they thought I wouldn’t like, but more often than not they got put back unfinished. So later when my mother took Firefly by Piers Anthony out of the stack of books I was going to read next and told me it was because “I really wouldn’t like it, it’s too gross and scary,” I trusted her judgement. I beleive I was 9 at the time and fully engrossed in Xanth and the Immortals series. It’s the only thing she’s ever suggested I avoid reading (or watching). Considering her extensive King collection and the fact that our tastes haven’t deviated much since then and now we’re both Game of Throne addicts, she has a high tolerance for gross and scary. To this day I have no desire to read Firefly (not to be confused with the TV Show).

    My point is, letting your kids try to read anything is a great. Talking to them about what they read is even better. Making sure they don’t accidentally stumble on something truly awful is a nice thing to do for them as well. Akin to not letting your friends drive drunk.

  61. MNmom: “I have advocated for comic books for so many poor readers because the pictures help with the comprehension and across the board, other parents refuse to consider it. WTF?”

    Yes, this. I have an online journal that popular among students of French, and I review lots of French graphic novels. You would not believe how much people love that stuff—everybody’s a weak reader in their second language, and the pictures provide a huge comprehension boost. And sheer exposure will turn that temporary comprehension boost into utterly familiar vocabulary.

    Professional authors spend their entire working lives trying to turn people into obsessive readers, because their livelihoods depend on it. It doesn’t matter if the kid likes sports, or cars, or junior high social life—there’s an author out there somewhere with stories to tell and a mortgage to pay, and they’ve got every incentive to write compelling books that capture that kid’s interest. Look at the the whole history of cliffhanger serials, pulp magazines and penny dreadfuls, and then tell me that authors don’t know how to keep people reading.

    Sure, some of those books might be dreadful, or sensationalist, or badly written. But the kid will read them all, then start working down the library shelf, and in 5 or 10 years of constant reading, they’ll have read plenty of fine and interesting books.

    “Reading” is not something that happens when a teacher assigns one classic book. It’s a seed that you plant today for a lifetime of harvests.

  62. My parents pretty much encouraged me to read anything I could get my hands on, although my mom tried to steer me away from the steamier romance novels when I was a young teen. (My grandmothers loved romance novels & would buy them used, trade them back & forth, and resell them. They’d save ones they thought were cute and not too explicit for me. I managed to get my hands on the steamier ones anyway.) I remember reading the pocket Tom Sawyer every day one summer when I was six, and nary a word was said.

    There was a brief time when my Dad wanted to take away my books as a form of punishment (because taking away TV/Nintendo/etc. didn’t faze me, since I could go to my room & read). He gave that up pretty quickly, though. For one, Mom didn’t want to discourage me reading, even for punishment, and two, they could never get rid of all the books in my room – I had lots, and plenty of hiding places for them too.

  63. You know you are screwing that poor kid up completely!?

    With an upbringing like that she is going to be under the mistaken impression that the world is a rational, reasoned, place full of mature adults who are informed and open-minded. Hopefully her education about the ugly reality won’t be painful.

    She is a damn lucky kid and I don’t think you know how lucky because this just seems natural to you

  64. I am, however, hiding my copy of Moore/Gebbie’s Lost Girls in plain sight amongst a shelf of boring things in hopes that it won’t tweak anyone’s interest, but if they decided to dig in I’d just have to gird my loins to have some interesting conversations about what’s going on between those particular covers.

    The only loins that WOULD be girded with regard that particular book.

    I remember one punishment I got where my (step)father REQUIRED me to read three of his books before I could touch anything else in his collection, cleverly choosing some good sf with real merit instead of the trash I was devouring (I’m looking at you, Edmund Cooper).

  65. Our family would go to the local library once a month. Parents would drop us off while shopping, then come back to select their own books, and we’d all troop up to the loans desk together. I remember being about five, and while waiting for parents to come back, reading probably a junior high level book on atomic fusion – I was fascinated by all the brightly coloured balls doing things! Thus began an avid love of science.

    This went on right through my teenage years. Parents would tell us to keep out of the Adult sections of the library until we were teenagers. But our school library had no such rule; the librarian (even in a Catholic school) was a true freedom of information warrior.

    Comics are similar to immersion learning as far as languages go: both in real life and reading comics, there’s always a visual context to go with the words.

  66. I don’t have any memory of my parents refusing to let me read anything. Watch, yes, there were a few TV shows & movies, at least up until my mid-teens, but I can’t think of any book they forbid or even suggested I not read (save for a few things they said were boring and/or depressing & I believed them).

    One thing I’m very grateful to them for is never insisting that I read books “appropriate” for either my reading age or actual age. I read books written for much younger kids, I read books written for adults. As an adult I still read books written for a diverse range of ages (I even have a baby book on my shelf and not solely for when my nephews visit!) and I love it. I feel sorry for kids who can’t read what they want because it’s judged “too old” or “too young” for them by their parents/teachers.

  67. Arguably the best thing my folks ever did for me (I can`t speak as a parent, but I can as someone who had excellent parents!), among not teaching me about any particular religion as a kid so that I could make the choice myself and not telling me what their politics were, was to sign a form at the local library so that I could have unlimited access to every book in there at the age of 13. They’d probably have done it sooner, but the library rules had that as the minumum. If I remember rightly, the best parts of that at the time were the Anne McCaffrey books and the Ian Fleming books.

    Did I check out books with explicit sex scenes? Yes, I did. The result was that I skimmed several pages of book until I got back to the Real Story. My folks were quite right in thinking that anything that wasn’t appropriate would be boring, and that if I was interested in sex, reading about it in the context of a novel was a good way to learn stuff, just like I learned about classical music, the Holocaust, psychology, and various religious mythologies. The one kind of book I wasn’t allowed to buy (I could check out the ones in the library, which is great because they had all the Belgian ones) was American comic books, because they were really expensive for the time they took to read.

    As a teacher (I teach ESL and math), I don’t worry too much about age-appropriateness. I want kids to read, so I find them stuff they’re interested in. Actually, that’s not entirely true – I have a really hard time finding books that are aimed at people learning the language but aren’t aimed at small children. It’s not so much of an issue with my adult students, because they’re past caring, but for 9-12-year-olds, if you hand them something that is clearly a “baby book”, they’re insulted. I’d love to have stuff that was simple but still aimed at older readers. I tend to default to comics (Spiderman Loves Mary Jane is great, as is The Cosmic Adventures of Supergirl in the Eighth Grade) because the pictures prop up the words, but there’s a cachet and sense of accomplishment my kids get when they finish what they consider to be a Real Book that they don’t get from comics, even if Miss Emily reads comics all the time.

  68. (Sorry about the double-post! For what it’s worth, I don’t let any of the students who call me Miss Emily read Faulkner, because ew.)

  69. I know that my parents did not let me read some books, such as the alternate Oz stories (I don’t think that is what they are called but I can’t remember any titles) They were apparently “inappropriate” and I didn’t read most of them, but I was once told not to read a book that was on the suggested reading list for my school. That ticked me off, so I borrowed it from my friend and read it cover to cover. Nothing bad, nothing raunchy. Just a book. My parents had no reason to not let me read the book. I wish they had given me free rein over the books I read, because I am responsible, and I haven’t read/donr very many things that I regret. LET YOUR CHILDREN READ!

  70. Next time someone tells me, “Oh, you’ll think differently once you have kids of your own” (or, as is more likely the case all the time, “You’d have thought differently if you’d had kids of your own”), I’m linking them to this post. “See? Here is someone who actually has kids who feels the same way!” Which is to say: if I’d had kids, no books in the house would be off limits to them, also and because no conversation would be off-limits to them.

    I learned to read and love reading very early, and I think my Mom loved that so much that she came to the idea of “limits! OMG, what if she reads the WRONG THING?! Then I will have been a bad parent” fairly late. So at some point in my teens she began forbidding a book here and a book there with a sort of random desperation. She bought me a book from the Llewellyn “Pyramid” catalog (I think that’s what it was called), since I couldn’t buy it myself, having neither checking account nor credit card; but then sometime in the next year she grabbed the current issue of the catalog out of the mail and threw it away before I could get my hands on it. She didn’t want me reading my friends’ Christopher Pike books because I think she had some vague notion they were related to Flowers in the Attic. She also forbade my reading her Harlequin romances. (Both taboos ensured I would sneak representative samples of both in short order. I found the romance books briefly exciting, as I’d never read a sex scene before, but not entertaining in the long term. I rather enjoyed the Pike.) One one visit to the used book store, she vetoed my selection of The Warlock Unlocked and couldn’t tell me why. Just “Well, I don’t know that it’s appropriate. I haven’t read it myself yet.” Which I found weird and unfair – if this was a rule, it was a new one and not a uniformly enforced one. I suspect that on the day we went to the bookstore, she was resolving to Exercise More Authority Over The Child’s Reading Habits, and she took the opportunity where she found it. In any case, none of the limits my parents tried to put on my reading had any good effect, and I grew up unimpressed at the attempt. But I do empathize with the “I must be a Good Parent!” panic that probably drove the attempts.

    She did opt to buy me a book on sexual topics rather than talk to me about it. It wasn’t Our Bodies, Ourselves, but it was very much in that genre. Nobody said “Here, read that. Please. And don’t ask questions,” but it was kinda implied.

    As for being up inappropriately late – yeah, that was a frustration for her. I’d always sneak a book way past my bedtime. I’ll always remember that one night when, as she had countless times before, she’d stormed into my room and caught me trying to stuff the book under my pillow and pretend she’d woken me up, but this time she simply huffed “I HAVE ONE KID THAT WON’T READ AND ANOTHER THAT WON’T STOP!” and stormed away down the stairs again.

    Whee! Books.

  71. I have, according to my parents, been reading(in a limited way when I was very young) since I was 6 years old. My parents watched what I read up until my teen years. However, at age 77, I not only have a large personal library, I read a little of everything. Science-ficton, fantasy,history,etc. My age does not dictate what I read, it is the writing. I raised my daughter the same way as Mr. Scalzi, read what you want, and ask me questions. I will never stop reading, and rereading!

  72. Maybe this should go in the “reader request” bin, but I wonder if you’ve ever been introduced to a neat book because your daughter suggested it to you.

  73. Our bookshelves are always open to whatever the kids want to read. I’ve found that they tend to opt themselves out of things they aren’t ready for (such as my middle child’s first attempt at Stephen King at age 9). I’ll even put erotica out on the shelves because I don’t find it harmful – they have yet to read any of it, even my oldest who is 18. My parents were the same way, and I’ve been an avid reader since I was 5. I don’t remember them talking to the librarians, but I do know when I was 10 they were letting me check out things from the adult section. In fact, I still remember my first adult book was “V” – I was obsessed with that miniseries/series as a child, and it probably started my love of SF/F.

    We recommend things for the girls to read often. My husband is sometimes disappointed when they aren’t interested (especially when it’s Pratchett they rebuff), but it doesn’t really bother me. They have their own tastes. My oldest is a fan of both GRRM and a mediocre teen series (not Twilight), and my youngest is obsessed with Goosebumps, but I’m just happy that they both read a lot. My middle child is more interested in reading and mocking horrible fanfiction than reading actual books. She does occasionally get really into something, like Battle Royale (not recommended for every 13-yr old, but we talked about it a lot and she is pretty mature for her age).

  74. One one visit to the used book store, she vetoed my selection of The Warlock Unlocked and couldn’t tell me why.

    Heh. She managed to pick the one decent fantasy series which is really pro-Christian. Come to think of it, I think the lead pair insist on marriage before sex too.

  75. I was allowed to read anything I could read. Luckily for me, my grandmother was a science fiction fan, so I got to read lots of good stuff. I still feel a chill when I remember first reading Zenna Henderson’s ‘The Anything Box’ and ‘Holding Wonder’ when I was 7 or 8.

  76. I agree with all of the above :) And the comic books – my middle daughter’s 4th grade teacher introduced her to graphic novels, and she’s been hooked ever since. My husband collects comic books, and was excited to share his love of them with her when she learned how to handle them without bending the pages. Great topic!!

  77. My mother had her faults, but there were some things she got right. When my oldest sister was a little kid and got her first public library card (around 1950 or so), she marched up the librarians who had given my sister a “childrens” library card and told them that they’d made a mistake. The librarians looked over the card, and it looked ok to them, so they asked what was wrong. “My child is allowed to read any book in this library. Give her an adult card.” Which isn’t to say that almost all the books my sister checked out weren’t from the children’s section, but she always knew that she could check out ANY book she wanted to.

    By the time we younger kids came along, the librarians knew the drill, and just handed us grown-up cards right off the bat.

  78. No book in the house was ever off-limits to me, and they took me to both town and base libraries every weekend. My folks got a lot of crap from their parents and other relatives over this policy, but it created someone who reads compulsively. Yes, sometimes I read things that I didn’t quite understand, but it didn’t kill me, obviously, because books don’t.

    This contributed directly to my being a full scholarship student at an Ivy, to point to another thread. Just sayin’.

  79. @ Em:
    The language in Hemingway is really simple, but the themes are adult enough for an ESL audience, I’ve found. I learned to read French via Madam Bovary, the same way. Hemingway is not too mature for tweens, imo. And then there is always poetry, especially the fireside poets.

  80. Why does everyone assume “the classics” are boring or bad?

    When I was younger, I read just about anything in the genres that interested me: science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, and supernatural/horror, and I was most interested in plot-driven stories with a lot of action. Now that I’m older, I find my tastes have changed and become more specific–I like character-driven stories with believable, vivid characters or settings. I have found that quite a few of “the classics” are really good stories in that respect–they are classics for a reason. Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Bram Stoker, etc. all wrote stories I have truly enjoyed.

    Not all classics are to my taste–the Depression-era authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, and to some extent Hemingway just don’t “do it” for me. (Though John Steinbeck is one of the best authors at setting a scene I have ever read–I may revisit him just for that) I prefer the genre Depression-era authors like Dashiell Hammet, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, etc. However…

    I have re-read things I liked as a child, and been disappointed in how badly written they were. I have re-read things that bored me as a child (many aforementioned classics), and found that I really like them now, as they are full of fascinating characters that are a joy to read about. I suspect my “dislike” of many of those early 20th century classics is because they were required reading in high school, a period of my life when that kind of story had no appeal to me. Now, perhaps, I might like them. Sadly, being forced to read them for grades poisoned them for me for literally decades..

  81. @Em You should check out the awesome Canadian publisher Orca, which has several imprints of books for reluctant readers and/or those whose reading skills are below grade level. They’ve published books by some of my favourite non-superstar-level YA authors (Beth Goobie, Sylvia Olsen) and all the books I’ve read by them have been of high quality. Here’s a page with summaries of some of their imprints/series: (They also have a website for ordering from the US; the link to which can be found in the upper right hand corner.)

    Back on topic: my mom made an effort to read about 1/3 of the books I was reading (which also saved her the trouble of having to pick out some light bathtub reading), but the closest she got to controlling it was discouraging me from reading romance novels, as they’d sent her into a significant depression when she owned a bookstore and began reading them voraciously apparently. Also, there was a local independent newspaper (which came out on Thursdays), called Monday Magazine, and they had a sex column and a personals section which was filled with ads for escorts and whatnot. She made her disapproval of reading those parts clear (I was 11 or 12 at the time).

  82. Thanks for the recommendations! I’m in Québec, so no need to worry about ordering Orca stuff from the USA, but I will definitely check them out. (As for Hemingway, Hemingway drives me bananas – I try to give my students something I can discuss with them without going on a twenty-minute rant inspired by having studied “Hills Like White Elephants” more times than anyone really should. ;) ) He did use fairly simple language, though, you’re right – I’ll keep him in mind.)

  83. Would you be okay with Atlas Shrugged being a fixture for the month it would take to read it?

  84. This is similar to the policy my parents had, though I was allowed to read anything in the house. I remember my parents had a book of playboy cartoons sitting in their bathroom when I was a really small, and I was allowed to read it. Joy of Sex was on a really low shelf too, though I’m fairly sure I never actually read it – I picked it up, realized it wasn’t fiction, and put it right back down again. I did read an awful lot of my mother’s fairly explicit romance novels when I was a preteen, though.

    A lot of the things I read went over my head – I know I went back and reread one of Anne McCaffrey’s earlier books a few years ago, and wow, I had completely missed all that rape when I was a kid – but nothing was forbidden and questions were encouraged. Sometimes I got more of an answer than I wanted (I still remember my father’s very graphic explanation of what cholera was), but I always got an answer. If I remember correctly, I even had a t-shirt from the local library that said “I’m free to read banned books” that I wore all the time when I was about 10.

    And so I picked up my father’s love of science fiction, my mother’s love of mysteries, a general love reading, and so much ridiculous trivia from random books that I’m excellent at living room Jeopardy.

  85. When I was small, my father realized the only punishment that would actually have an effect on me was taking my books away. Apparently, however, when he tried this (I seem to recall him taking my Animorphs books and putting them on top of the highest bookshelf in the house), I stamped my foot and yelled, “Reading isn’t a privilege, IT’S A RIGHT!”

    I remind my mom of how much she loves that story when she’s giving me That Look in the line at the bookstore.

  86. Atlas Shrugged may be a feature in our house for the next little bit, as my younger son’s sixth grade reading teacher recommended it to him. Fortunately he’s a highly empathetic kid, so the odds of objectivism getting its claws into him are low.

    I often think that part of the reason that the children of readers are so likely to become readers themselves has less to do with watching Mommy and Daddy reading, and more to do with having a preselected set of good books hanging around. My sons certainly find and read tons of books on their own, but both my husband and I have also retained (or gotten again) copies of the books we really loved as kids and teens – so when it comes time to find reading material, they hit a much higher percentage of good stuff than my niece and nephew whose parents aren’t readers.

    My parents are both voracious readers (the last time they moved there were 90 book boxes full – after they gave away more than half their collection to the local hospital library. They had John’s view on their kids’ reading. Anything we could find, we could read. To the point that I felt perfectly fine sitting down with my Dad’s Playboy collection when I found it. (I really was reading for the articles, as I’m female and straight.) They held the same view on movies, taking us along with them to whatever they wanted to see, regardless of rating. All-in-all it was one of their better parenting policies. The only book I remember being traumatized by was It (a Christmas gift from my uncle), which caused me to walk around sewer gratings for an embarrassingly long time. Likewise with movies, I only remember one movie that scared me more than was probably good for me. Otherwise things that were too mature for me simply bored me.

    Children need a lot less protection from knowledge than a lot of parents seem to think.

  87. I kind of wonder: does “keeping” your kids from reading a particular book actually WORK? I have trouble imagining it. Books are small, and quiet, and you can swap ’em for “Wizard of Oz” quickly if you hear somebody coming up the stairs, and I managed to read my oldest sister’s “secret” copy of “The Happy Hooker” that way when I was I think eight or nine years old. If you can’t keep something away from your little brother, there’s no way you’re going to manage with kids.

  88. I grew up in a household with the same policy.

    My parents figured out pretty early that I read quickly and hungrily, and I think their decision to let me read whatever they had on the shelf was at least partly financial. Keeping me in “age appropriate” books was going to be insanely expensive, and since I could blow through a hundred pages an hour by the time I was in fifth grade, the short novels targeted at my age group weren’t going to keep me busy for long. My dad had boxes and boxes of books up in the attic, so they didn’t have to spend a dime on my reading habit as long as that supply held out. Going up to the attic to look for something new to read was a bit like a treasure-hunting expedition.

    I do remember my maternal grandfather being quite upset that I found his copy of The Anatomy of Swearing, which didn’t make much sense to me at the time because I just wanted to learn about word origins. He also took away Heinlein’s Friday when he found me reading it at about age 12, so I just went home and asked my dad for his copy (and was granted it). I guess my parents hadn’t really explained their policy to my grandfather, or maybe he just didn’t agree with it.

    The only time I ever took a book away from my own kid was when I learned that he had been re-reading Ender’s Game over and over (and was getting in trouble for reading it in class). It seemed like he was developing an unhealthy obsession with that particular book. I traded it for a big stack of my own science fiction paperbacks, explained my reasoning, and put his copy of Ender’s Game somewhere he could easily retrieve it – with the request that he not pick it up again until he had read through the stack. He didn’t take it back until he left for the military, three years later, when he put it in a box so we could ship it to him once he got to his first apartment.

  89. When I was very young, my mother used to read to me every night before bed. However – unlike the usual reading of the same books a child reads themselves – she read books that were slightly beyond my reading ability, so I grew up with books that stretched me both linguistically and intellectually. There was no sugar coating either: I still remember hearing, age five, the description of a shrike’s larder in The Animals of Farthing Wood.

  90. For context – “I’ve never discouraged the boys from reading anything, but I do think there are a couple series like A Song of Fire and Ice that I would make them wait to read. Only because I don’t know if they would be able to fully understand all that is going on. Also it one of those things that I struggle with as a parent to not stifle their curiosity but keep the themes age appropriate.”

    tariqata and theophylact –

    After reading all the comments here I think the biggest difference in my point of view holding books back from my two sons is the track of discussions with my boys. The 7 yr old is just getting into chapter books which makes the conversation aspect of things more of a moot point. We are reading together and there isn’t much out of his understanding yet. We are currently reading Charlotte’s Web for his school book club which is the first one that has some more mature subjects.

    The 11 yr old on the other hand is reading on his own which is great, but is also entering into the one word response conversations. Ask an open ended question and he has the one word answer. That is what concerns me more. From time to time he’ll expand into 3 or 4 words, but it is that phase.

  91. Dave Higgins — I think you’re the first person I’ve come across to know what a shrike is. (That is, incidentally, the title of my hopefully-forthcoming novel, which means I have to explain it all the time.) Now I feel like I need to go read that book.

    I was also allowed free range of books. I devoured The Baby-Sitters Club and R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books in equal measures (which probably explains why I write really gritty books with some lighthearted elements and romance, heh), and then I moved on to stuff like Roots by Alex Haley and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time when I was still pretty young to do so. My moms never really stopped me from reading anything, though I’m probably one of the only kids who got yelled at for reading too much when I’d have my nose sandwiched between pages instead of doing chores. Cough.

  92. My parents had a similar policy. They might have said “Maybe you should wait until you are older” when I got “Sybil” down off the shelf but they let me read it, decide that I didn’t like it, and go find something else.

    Judy Blume tells a similar story about her daughter who wanted to read “Portnoy’s Complaint” at around 11 or 12 – she says her daughter put it back after about 10 pages.

  93. I wonder if John is referring to the twilight books when he says she reads books he thinks are crap…

  94. My parents never put restrictions on what I read. My mom was uncomfortable with my reading romance novels fairly early on, which I found ironic given all of the Heinlien on my shelves, but they never told me I couldn’t read anything.

    I don’t have children yet but do have thousands of books. My plan is going to be on the lines of ‘you can read anything you can reach’ with an addendum of ‘I’d like us to talk about this book before/during/after you read it’ with books I think have difficult concepts. What shelves books are placed on will be according to my guesstimate of appropriate maturity level and/or difficult concepts. Difficult in this context could be: complex, problematic, scary, or other things I haven’t thought of. For example, while I wouldn’t stop my child from reading Twilight, we would have a talk about how it portrays abuse masquerading as romance (also bad writing). Huck Finn would be an opportunity to talk about racism. The Stepford Wives or The Handmaid’s Tale would be times to talk about sexism/patriarchy. And so on.

  95. “if you can reach it, you can read it” – my parents used the same basic principle, and while we didn’t necessarily discuss what my sister and I were reading on a regular basis, they set such a good example of reading for entertainment that we were often all reading together in the living room. One of many good memories.

  96. Re: Shrike. Now that they’re searching for the Minnesota Shrike again, maybe people will look up the word.

    I think it’s cruel for parents not to forbid their children certain books. One of the great joy in growing up is reading in secret the books are you’re not allowed to read.

  97. In my best Peter Graves as Captain Over voice.

    Does she read books with Fabio on the cover?

  98. I think it’s cruel for parents not to forbid their children certain books. One of the great joy in growing up is reading in secret the books are you’re not allowed to read.

    I think that’s what the Internet is for now.

  99. I had an adult library card when I was 10 – my mother “bucked the system” with several phone calls and a written letter. I think in some ways it was self-preservation. I had already read everything of any interest at my small-town library’s children’s section and everything SF&F in the same section at the regional library, so I think she just got tired of having to take me to the library twice a week when I ran out of books.

  100. My mother also let me read any book she had, although in the 3rd grade I got in trouble for bringing Jaws to school. After that the only rule was certain books didn’t get brought to school. I remember also going through a phase between 7-8 of checking everything by Poe out of the library after my mother told the librarian I was to allowed anything I wanted to check out. Except Haerlequins, my mother hated them. Of course I snuck some asap but found them boring. The only thing was if I didn’t understand a word I had to look it up. I had the same policy for my daughter if she wanted to read it she could. Sometimes she would pick books with more mature themes but at least she was reading. Unfortunately she takes after her father she’s not a big reader,but hey not for my lack of trying. I actually blame it more on school because even I find the books she has to read so boring. That is when she stopped liking to read and to this day (she’s 17) she never likes the limited choices offered. Hopefully as she gets older maybe she’ll find books more to her liking.

  101. My parents not only didn’t restrict my reading, my first exposure to adult fiction was my mom reading me Lord of the Rings at bedtime.

    I stumbled across Poe when I was about seven (Ooooh, a story about a black kiity!), Dune at nine, King at eleven, and ended up reading Lovecraft at the same time I was reading SVH.

    The only long term damage, is spending way too much on books thirty years later.

  102. My own story: I had recently listen to the audiobook of Ready Player One. I was fascinated with the early parts of the story (I am also a child of the 80’s) and was telling my wife about the book when my nine year old said he wanted to listen to it. I told him no, because I thought he was too young for some of the nihilism, especially early on in the book (we are fairly religious). A week later, we get a call from the library; apparently my son had contacted the local library and had them requisition the book through the ILL. I was highly amused and impressed with his ingenuity, and decided to just talk to him about it as he went along.
    Turns out, I was underestimating him, and from now on, my willingness to allow him and the other rugrats to read what they choose has been significantly altered. Open the floodgates and be prepared to answer questions, but otherwise, let them think (and read) for themselves.

  103. My parents were generally of the “if you can reach it, you can read it” philosophy (which was literally true in my case – at age 4 I figured out that standing on my bed would get me up high enough to reach the shelf with the Pogo books.) The one exception that I can recall was someone giving my older sister the very early Star Trek novel Spock, Messiah! at about age 10 – knowing that she already had a shelf full of the Blish and Foster adaptations, but apparently not realizing that this was considerably more “adult” than those. Mom flipped through it and it promptly vanished for the next several years.

    (On the other hand, they bought me the “photostory” book of Alien – with all the gore and bad language intact – at about the same age four years later.)

  104. @Em
    Try A Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter for ESL students. Simple prose and a story about fitting into a foreign culture, in this book how a child captured by Indians reacts to being returned to his original (settler) family. Lots to discuss afterward.

  105. @ MNmom

    However, so many other parents I know make statements about how hard they have to work to get their kids to read. But then they shoot down my suggestions as “not appropriate”. See, (I discovered) reading only counts if it is educational, age appropriate, nonfiction, and usually what some magazine article says kids should be reading.

    Judging by the many second-hand accounts in this thread of that sort of mediocre parenting – or passenger parenting in the case of relatives or teachers who seriously ought to know better (I’m reminded of that scene in Donnie Darko where the feeble-minded gym teacher mistakes writer Graham Greene for actor Lorne Greene) – it’s a wonder some kids learn to love reading in spite of their “educators” and parents. And reality TV ratings are no wonder at all.

    When we have children of our own, as I increasingly hope to since I’m not getting younger, I believe the only books we’ll keep out of reach will be some of our grad-level text books. That said, if my kid is expressing an interest in Modern Theory of Dynamical Systems or Misner, Throne and Wheeler’s Gravitation, you can bet I will be encouraging that interest, though I will probably steer her or him towards something like one of the excellent popular physics books by Hawking or Penrose or Neil deGrasse Tyson just so it’s not all gibberish.

    My partner and I do have a few sex-romance novels lying around (actually, mine are well organized, but hers migrate). Many of those are technically pornographic, so I’m not sure I want my kids introduced to that while they’re still in the single-digit ages. That’s a tough call. My main concern would be that, like Avilyn and Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little, my kid would simply treat the taboo as a challenge and find some way to gain access in spite of any injunction we put in the way, just as I got my mitts on the horror films my mom would have preferred I not see. I’ll note that, having processed my horror phase at a young age, I was completely over the whole genre by the time I was a 15.

    I will always err on the side of informing over censoring. Censorship usually just passes the buck to influences over which I’ll have far less control.

  106. Really enjoyed reading all the posts. I’m sorry I will miss you Mr Scalzi at the LA Times Festival of Books. I love your “Old Man” series. Needless to say my stash of adult books in the summer included a cache the “Best of SF” paperbacks. My son was not an early reader but finally was enticed to read baseball cards. The writing savior for me was Douglas Adams whose Hitchhiker series finally broke the reading barrier for John.

  107. One of the things I am, as an adult, most grateful to my parents for (namely, my mother, as Dad didn’t take much interest in what I read except to scoff at reading science fiction, fantasy, and romance — joke’s on him now, Mom got him hooked on JD Robb’s futuristic murder mystery romances, LOL). If I was old enough to want to read it, I was old enough to read it, and once I got into SFF, Mom started giving me lots of recommendations.

    See, my mother and I had a strained relationship when I was a teenager because, basically, my dad used me as his personal therapist to vent every last little piece of vitriol he held against her. Nasty stuff. Unfortunately, this started when I was about 11, and it really affected my relationship with my Mom until I was an adult. Anyway, Mom didn’t feel she could talk to me, or that I would listen to her (and it was true), so she would give me books.

    When I was depressed and suicidal, she gave me Piers Anthony’s Virtual Mode books, which in retrospect have some major issues — but it helped me see there was more to live for. That I, too, could get out and have a life. (Even if it wouldn’t involve transversing universes, or whatever the language was.)

    My mom also had my library account unfiltered, so this sometimes led to me reading things like Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels and Laurell K. Hamilton’s novels as a 14yo, coming to her, and saying, “THIS IS AMAZING, YOU HAVE TO READ THIS.” (My mom’s response when I asked her about this as an adult basically boiled down to, “Well, if you were squeeing about it, you obviously weren’t traumatized.”)

    It’s honestly, with my fucked up childhood, one of the things that led to me being as well-adjusted as I am, IMO. I don’t even want to think about what my life would have been like if I hadn’t had free access to books that addressed topics important to me but some people considered questionable for my age.