My brain is scattered of late, which has a lot to do with how little I’m blogging. This topic has been on my mind for weeks, but I just can’t pare it down, so I keep starting and stopping. Tonight, I’ll give myself a few minutes to get what I can down, because I really want to hear what you all think about choosing books for the young child. I’ll do my best to keep from following too many bunny trails here.
My oldest, Annabelle, is now three. She has what Maria Montessori referred to as an “absorbent mind,” and my goodness does that girl absorb things! In my early years of teaching, before Annabelle came around, I saw the tremendous capacity that children have for absorbing and recalling information and experiences, but it wasn’t until I spent all of my time with the same child that I truly got a sense of what this means. Annabelle absolutely takes everything in, not just experiencing and processing it, but actually making it a part of herself. I see the way experiences shape her, the way they come out in her play, in her interactions with others, in her overall behavior. I’ve really been shocked by the extent of this reality.
Among the things that Annabelle loves is books. She cannot get enough of them, and enjoys all kinds. I have a pretty respectable collection that I would expect to be age-appropriate already, since I taught three year olds long before I dreamed I’d have an Annabelle. The more books I pull out of my office to share with her, however, the more I find that what is presented as fabulous literature for the 3-6 year old child is not something I want to introduce at all.
A few examples: The teacher I worked as assistant to when I first discovered Montessori loved Robert Munsch and I loved watching and learning from her as she read some of his more popular stories to our class. They were so funny, so engaging, and they just seemed like perfect selections for the age group. When I became a lead teacher myself, one of the first things I did was go out and buy my very own copy of Munschworks, and I have since shared the Munsch love with many a young child. I pulled the book out recently, for the first time in a long time, and took it to group time with this year’s Montessori class. Of course the children loved it, but as I was reading, a few passages gave my mama brain pause. I hesitated, but the smiles on the children’s faces and the knowledge that I had read this book more times than I can count with nothing but a positive response, caused me to shrug my shoulders and carry on.
It wasn’t until I asked Annabelle to help with something or another at home one day and she replied, channeling one of Munsch’s characters, “No, no, no, no, no!” that I decided it was time to put that one back on the shelf. I don’t value unquestioning obedience, but I do value kindness and respect toward all people, and the way that character, and later Annabelle, shouted no was neither kind nor respectful. Then there was The Very Grouchy Ladybug, which I opened up for the first time in years with high hopes, and after which Annabelle walked around for several days repeating the phrase, “Wanna fight?” After reading Curious George, she started climbing unsafe structures and I scratched my head and redirected for awhile before finally asking why she was suddenly such a risk-taker and getting the answer, “I’m being curious!”
Sure, these books are fun. Children enjoy them, so what’s the harm? Robert Munsch and Eric Carle are wonderful authors who have inspired a love of reading in many children, to be sure. The Curious George books are classics. I had to ask myself, though, is this the best we’ve got? There are so many wonderful books on my wishlist for Annabelle, and we have so many here at home already that introduce characters and concepts that inspire peace, love, kindness, compassion, respect for nature and for others, and so much more. Every time we visit the library, I find new books to love. The more I think about it, the more I see no reason at all to read the books mentioned above, or many others that are so popular for children of this age. We can laugh at Robert Munsch’s clever tales and enjoy his brilliant storytelling in a few years, but for now, I want to present only that which inspires the kind, caring, brilliant and wonderful child Annabelle is. She truly does absorb everything, so I’m finding myself being much more careful about what I offer her.
I’m sure that many would consider this stance to be uptight. What’s the harm, right? I think it’s more appropriate, though, to ask, “What’s the benefit?” particularly when there are so many other options out there. Others might argue that these books provide great opportunities to talk about the behavior some of the characters are exhibiting that might be ill-advised for one reason or another. That’s a topic for a whole separate post, but for this age group, I strongly believe it’s best to model the sorts of things we do value rather than drawing attention to the negative. I think there’s a connection between what we model for our children and the things on the news that have us shaking our heads day in and day out. We need to model something better for our children if we truly want them to inherit a better world. What we ourselves model in everyday life is, of course, far more important than what we read in books, but I think a lot more care can be given to the type of literature we choose to present as well.
What do you think? Are you particular about the books you read to your children, or do you consider all children’s literature worthwhile? Any favorite books to recommend? Books you’ve chosen never to read with your child again?