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Dismounting the High Horse: My Child Loves a Book I Don’t

There are some books I don’t care for because I’ve read them (see: anything ending in -alicious). There are some books I loved as a kid but find hard to read to my children as an adult (Richard Scarry, do you have to name every last thing on the page? Surely you can skip the creamer pitcher. Come on, man, skip the creamer pitcher.) And then there are the books that (just being honest here) I don’t like on principle. Case in point:

Until recently, I had never read any of the books in this series. Or, I should say series of series – there are dozens of books in a multitude of spin-off series. That was part of the reason I resented them – there are so many and they never stop. I viewed them as literary junk mail.

I know – I’m terrible. Prejudgment at its finest (/worst). However: let she or he who has never done something like this cast the first stone.

“I am a force of good fighting to get my kid to only read the highest-quality books!”, I thought.

Then my daughter picked one out at the library one day. And I read it with her.

It went…just fine.

When you dismount the high horse, you can feel pretty foolish as you slowly climb down, wondering why the hell you were up on that ridiculous nag in the first place. The experience was a good reminder (which, as you can tell, I need occasionally) to ease up.

My child loves a book I don’t. Who cares?

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About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.

Comments

  1. We’re in such a strange position as “experts” on a genre that by all rights belongs to our kids. I’m not just guilty of what you’ve named here, I’ve practically perfected it as an art. A well-meaning relative will walk in with THE OTHER MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK (the one starring Elmo) and you can see the sneer just curling my lip like nothing else.

    Fortunately I let my 3-year-old choose her own books at the library, which usually just consists of her grabbing a whole pile of them. We’ve discovered some unexpectedly good stuff that way. And I’ve gained a new appreciation for books that before I was just neutral on. I mean, why oh why didn’t I notice the brilliance that is HERE COMES THE EASTER CAT before the kiddo showed me the light?

    Your dead on with that creamer pitcher, by the way. Plus a saucer AND a plate? Now you’re just tap dancing, Scarry.

  2. Ahahahahaha, I love this post. I RANTED on Goodreads about how much I loathed Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library…but my 9-year-old LOVED it beyond all measure. LOVED. It’s one of the books she always wants to give her friends for their birthdays. (The others, FWIW: School for Good & Evil and Hero’s Guide books, and I’m meh about both.) And her choices are a hit even w/the reluctant readers. Sometimes I need to shut my face. (Chris Grabenstein was also incredibly good-humored about my rant-y rabid spittle-flecked venom, which made me feel even worse.) (THAT SAID: you and Betsy are WRONG about the creamer. I obsessed and pored over that shit as a kid. LABEL ALL THE THINGS!!!!!! SO TEENSY THINGS, MUCH LABEL, WOW. But my husband was not even ALLOWED to have Scarry books growing up, his mother hated them so.]

  3. AAAGH THE HORRIBLE FAIRY BOOKS! I hate them with the heat of a thousand suns: the stupid names, the formulaic plots, the ridonkulous details. But I’ll be damned if every kindergartner and first grader in my kids’ school — girls AND boys — doesn’t check out two of them every single week. All the things I hate about these books are the things that give these kids a sense of accomplishment and shared experience: they talk about the plots, they compare who’s read what, they make up their own complementary fairies. CURSE YOU, “DAISY MEADOWS”!

  4. YES! to those horrible Fairy books. That is the very series I was describing here (http://evancedsolutions.com/reading-is-reading/). My daughter was obsessed, and I couldn’t stand them. But read them we did! Thanks for the good reminder that high horses are just obstacles to raising independent readers!

  5. Giggle. Giggle. Giggle. It is pretty funny that those books will make their way into our world somehow . . . I managed to avoid reading many things aloud that I didn’t think I could stomach in the “why are there a zillion of them and I really don’t want to!!!” genre as I have boy/girl twins and so it was always about compromise. Thankfully, one of them would veto particular books before I had to put away my fake smile. But . . . my children did go through a time period of reading stuff I would never have bought them, using beautifully gifted gift cards to do it even. Yikes. However, in wanting to grow readers, I had to accept every meandering path they wandered. Now at twelve, they read. A lot. I still read to them as well. And, much of what is read is pretty darn great. We just all passed around The Crossover, as an example. Voracious reading and excited book obsession counts no matter what it is honestly. Because, in the end, you just want lots of books in their world :-) Thanks for publishing this today!

  6. Those are probably the top circulators at my library. Literary junk mail! But truly, if a kid reads one, and then another, and then a thousand more, they are learning to love reading, and so kudos to those dumb magic fairies.

  7. Mindi Rench says

    OMG with the fairy books. My older daughter DEVOURED them. It wasn’t enough to check out ALL THE BOOKS the library had each and every time, we also had to own them. She’s in 8th grade now, and more into Andrew Smith than Daisy Meadows, but she wouldn’t let us get rid of these. FINALLY last summer they went to a book drive.

  8. Alright, I am on board with the fact that these books are dull and predictable, but I think that is exactly what makes reading them valuable for young readers. I read, well let’s not count how many, of this series to my daughter and after a while she caught on and could say, “oh, that’s the bad guy, they’re going to use that magical object to solve this”. And she was then able to take those skills to more difficult books and decode more complex plots. I remember doing something similar reading Baby-Sisters Club as a kid.

  9. The Berenstein Bears. Especially the ones that rhyme. My kids couldn’t get enough of them. (Am I really dating myself here? Are they even still available?)

  10. So true! I feel like such a book snob when my daughter picks up a book that I find to be literary junk food. She loves the fairy books and I just can’t stand them. Although, she did recognize the other day that the plot lines for every book in the fairy series are the same. I will take that as a win!

  11. Niki Barnes says

    I agree with you! :) But I still hate those Thomas the Train engine books….so long and boring! ;)

  12. Just make sure you stay off that horse. I can’t tell you how many times my dad tried to get me to read Dune when I was a teenager. I just wanted Stephen King and Guy Gavriel Kay!

  13. A favorite book of my son’s was a cheap truck book from the grocery store! I loathed it. But time flew and one day he was picking Jack London off shelves with no prompting! And I have to admit to coveting a Lowly Worm apple car toy from McDonalds.

  14. Kristine A says

    darn you, daisy meadows, is right. I’m always book talking my “children’s literature” collection and swallowed my pride to buy wimpy kid and dork diaries.

    It’s like the appeal of the Bachelor, I just don’t get it, but everyone seems to love it. The trials of a book snob committed to child-directed reading…..,

  15. When parents come to me complaining about the Magic Rainbow Fairy, Bionicles, or some other series that make you want to poke your eyes with knitting needles (for my own kids it was The Secrets of Droon), I can tell them with the voice of experience, “This too will pass”. It seems to be a necessary stage for many children to go through on their way to becoming voracious readers.

  16. Peter Dickinson has a wonderful essay about this! I always send this around to folks bemoaning the prevalence of fairies and wimpy kids and the like: http://peterdickinson.com/a-defence-of-rubbish/

    My parents didn’t censor a thing I read, and I turned out just fine :)

  17. So happy to hear someone else doesn’t love everything-alicious! I survived a year or two of my own kids reading the same fairy books and quite a few Pokemon books. Having lived through it all, I now remind parents in my library that it’s not about what we like, it’s about our kids finding what they love to read — and becoming a reader sometimes involves a lot of repetition (Hmmmm, I wonder if Jack Frost will win this time?). When my kids (and families) get tired of Daisy Meadows, I encourage them to try Emily Rodda’s Fairy Realm (which ends after 10 books).

    Having said that, I’m not a believer that any reading is good reading. In my library, I try to avoid books with commercial tie-ins — Disney princess, Pokemon, Star Wars — these are the books/advertisements that I see kids argue over and struggle to read. I try to keep an open mind, though. I recently read a couple of Minecraft books — not the handbooks, but Minecraft fiction. (Seriously bad!) I’ll share them with a few kids to find out what they think, but I doubt I’ll add them to my library. I keep looking though, because it’s not about me or my high horse.

  18. Love this post! Amen to the fairy series, too! I figure whatever gets them reading can’t be all bad. Plus, I know that kids eventually grow out of the bad stuff and move on to better books. Where I’m most affected by this is in storytime. It never fails that a book I put off using because I don’t like it turns out to be a book that the storytime crowd loves when I finally break down and read it. Irks me everytime!