Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Age-Appropriate: What does it mean?

In my last WWRW post, Colleen asked if I could throw in an age range with my book reviews.

That's easier said than done.  Once upon a time, I said something to the effect that kids should read books that have protagonists of a similar age.



My thinking behind that broad generalization is that I had read somewhere (but can't for the life of me find the source) that J.K. Rowling imagined her readers to be the same age as Harry, Hermione, and Ron.  For reference, she was writing for eleven year old kids with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and she was writing for a seventeen year old audience when she wrote Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.



That makes sense to me, as the novels become increasingly dark, and include romance, snogging, and swearing as the characters age.

This presents a problem, as now readers of all ages have access to all of the books at the same time and are not forced to wait for release dates as we were.

So, what's a parent to do?  I guess I didn't really mean what I said about ages and protagonists, because personally, I'd let an 11 year old rip through the whole series because I've read it and I think it's okay for my  11 year old.

I also know that literature means different things to different age groups.  I've read and re-read my favorite books at different points in my life absorbing different things every time.



For example, when I was younger (fifteen/sixteen?), I didn't really get it that in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the young girl is in danger from a serial child murderer/rapist.  I don't think the word "rape" is ever used in the book.  When I re-read the classic as a twenty-something, I really got it.  The novel I had thought of as a nice historical novel about an alcoholic father, hard-working mother, and their numerous children, was now a story of one mother's life and death struggle to keep her family safe, fed, and together during the early 20th century.

What is "Age Appropriate?"

I don't know and neither do the experts/professionals.



There is a giant canyon of difference between reading level and age appropriateness.  Truth:  The Grade Level Equivalent for the Twilight books puts them right around 4th grade reading level.  So we know that reading level doesn't mean squat when deciding who is ready to read what.



When I review a book, I usually pay no attention to reading level.  I have a son with dyslexia who reads at a 2nd grade level but when we listen to audio books, he comprehends at a sixth grade level or above.  I read The Hobbit to him when he was five.  He loved it.  We are going to listen to it again this summer.  Now that he is ten, I'm certain he will take away different things from the book.



Is The Hobbit "age-appropriate" for your five year old?  Does your child sleep well after tales of trolls, goblins, Gollum, and other creepy creatures that go bump in the night?  I didn't when I was five, probably because my first exposure to Gollum was from that animated 70s movie.

There was a lot of terrifying children's animation in the 70s.

My son's favorite movie is Jaws.  When I was little, the movie  The Wizard of Oz terrified me. When my parents' tried to read The Hobbit to me, they got as far as the trolls and I freaked out.  I didn't read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings trilogy until I was on bedrest, expecting my first-born, whom I seriously wanted to name "Samwise."



When I review a book, I try to point out the immoral things, if there are any, and the mature themes, if there are any, and anything else that would problematic.  But honestly, I try to post a lot of positive reviews, because the garbage gets too much publicity already.

If you need a list of what you shouldn't let your child read, there are many, many places to get that info.  If you'd like suggestions on what some other mom is reading and letting her kids read, this is the place.  I will try to more consistent with sharing what ages I feel would most enjoy the books reviewed.

Unfortunately, there is a lot out there that is problematic, not just for kids but for anyone with a soul.

Take this scenario in a suburb just minutes from my home.  Three 8th grade teachers want to use the novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower for class.  Some parents don't want their kids to read porn. The dispute has gone to the school board.

In the article, I'd like to draw your attention to Items 4 and 5 as shown here:


4.  “Age-appropriate” is a tricksy bit of rhetoric from the Left. It is an ambiguous adjective used by the Left to provide cover for whatever they want to present to children in their relentless quest to initiate children into the wacky world of deviant and early sexuality.
5.  What does “age-appropriate” mean? When a teacher uses this term, they should be compelled to provide a definition and criteria that determine “age-appropriateness.” The vast majority of parents who express opposition to a particular book being taught in school are not arguing that their children will be traumatized by obscene language and graphic sexual content. Rather, parents are arguing that such language and sexual content are not decent, not inspiring, not edifying, not beautiful, not necessary, and not healthy. They are arguing that such language and depictions of sexuality undermine modesty and decency. They are arguing that when public schools recommend texts that include egregiously obscene and profane language, it serves to legitimize and desensitize students to offensive language—language that is prohibited by schools, newspapers, in most professional contexts, and in polite company.

I disagree with #4.  "Age-appropriate" is a huge, wild beast that teachers, librarians, and parents wrestle with daily.  How can I define what is age appropriate for your children?   I'm having a hard enough time trying to decide what's age appropriate for mine. *throws hands up in air*

In regard to #5, as a parent I would be arguing that my children would be traumatized (not so much by the obscene language) but by the graphic sexual content.  I did read the excerpts linked to and I'm traumatized by the graphic sexual content.

Does all content need to be "decent, inspiring, edifying, beautiful, necessary and healthy?"  In a fallen world, is that even possible?  I like Captain Underpants, so does my son, and while it doesn't fit the criteria listed, I don't think he will be traumatized by it.



Should it be taught as literature?  No.  Could it be used for reading practice, boosting interest in reading as a pastime, and practicing reading mechanics?  Yes.

Read the article.  It's both frightening and thought-provoking.   And methinks that some of the English teachers in question need some more lessons on the Bill of Rights and what it really means.  They could start with some animated lessons from the 1970s.



16 comments:

  1. Wow, so true, all of it. That's why I don't trust most book reviews I read, but I also want an easy way out when my 4th grader comes home having read the first 2 Hunger Games books because they were on his classroom bookshelf. What the heck?

    I just want good reviews by a good Catholic who knows her stuff, and that's why I love your reviews so much. I don't mean to put any added pressure on you, I just feel like if you would let your kid read it, I trust you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, it was a really good think that you caused me to have. The best and easiest way to search for a specific review is to google "housewifespice and (insert title here)". Colleen, we should get together for drinks, so get on over here.

      Delete
  2. Oh my goodness! Jessica, thank you for including this communities struggle in your blog. I admit to avoiding a lot of news for the sheer depression value, but this is a challenge that too many face.
    I debated resisting a book from the school for my 5th grader this year. It was the first from the Among series by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I love them, but I was worried about her reaction to the government sanctioned slaughter. In the end, we read it together first, then she read it with the class, but we had lots of extra discussions.
    This, on the other hand, is a whole other level of crazy because it's stuff I don't ever want her reading, not just not YET. I can't fathom the audacity of the teachers, let alone their bullying of the students, or at least setting them up to be bullied by others. (Although frankly, it sounds like the teachers bullied as well.) I pray that I am never faced with this in our schools, and I pray for those who are facing it now.
    As for your blog, ages included or not, I tend to love what you love which makes my life easy. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have always found teachers and librarians to be very receptive to parental concerns. I think/hope this community is the exception and not the rule. The bullying, yes, so much for tolerance of other people's beliefs. Lord have mercy.

      Delete
  3. "I have loved you for a thousand years."

    -Thorin Oakenshield

    ReplyDelete
  4. Good stuff, Jessica. My first principal (Catholic school) told me a story. Her first year teaching kindergarten she had a very advanced reader in her class. Under pressure from the parents to challenge the child, she assigned Anne Frank. Yikes. She regretted that one big time. It was a really good lesson for all us newbie teachers, though, about the mismatch of reading level versus appropriate content.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love this. We as parents are the ones who know our kids best and what they can handle. I think the best thing to do is to read what my kids are reading so we can talk about it, when possible. And as a backup to have trained my kids to be discerning readers so they know when to come to me and ask about something. As long as my kids know how to interpret things, I feel much better about letting them read things written since the 50s.

    Mine won't be reading that wallflower book, but honestly if you were paying attention Catcher in the Rye and Gatsby and Lord of the Flies and all sorts of things they had me read in high school were inappropriate in their own ways too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Did they also make you read Shakespeare? Brideshead Revisted? The End of the Affair? I strongly believe that just because a book contains sin does not make it inappropriate. The Great Gatsby IS great literature, sad, filled with sin, but also contains the sad effects of sin. Sin does not equal inappropriate.

      Delete
    2. And I think that's where the objectives of the teacher come in to play. When I read Gatsby, Lord of the Flies, etc in high school, no one was cheering on the sin. The teacher wasn't trying to convince us that infidelity or murder or alcoholism was acceptable. But the sense I get about the teachers gunning for "Wallflowers" is that they WOULD champion the sexual immorality in the book.

      In my mind, that's the difference. I'm not going to shelter my children from literary accounts of sin. But I am going to help them understand that such things ARE sinful, and they wound us- all of us.

      Delete
    3. As a former English major married to an English PhD student, I think about this for a lot with my future children. Totally agree, Jessica, that sin doesn't automatically make a piece of literature inappropriate, but it's how it's dealt with, and perhaps if they point to the good, true and beautiful. Thanks so much for this and for a balanced view!

      Delete
    4. The sin = inappropriate argument also rings hollow with me. If I followed that rule, my kids couldn't read an examination of conscience checklist, either!

      Those of us (Jessica, included!) who have teens and even young adults know that you can "train" them to do lots of things, but the pudding is still being set, so to speak. How my now-18 year old son viewed things at 12 and 13 is vastly different than it is today (which is another great point Jessica makes!). A theme that seemed morally harmless -- or, even a cautionary tale -- to him at 12, may look like a good defensive argument for some less-than-ideal behavior today. He was "trained" (oh, how I hate using a word meant for dogs when referring to children!) to think things through and discern different ideas throughout his upbringing, but that doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot of other stuff can't crowd that out at times. As our children grow and mature away from us (which is good and right), they listen less to us in a bid to establish their own identities. No amount of training will stop that.

      Also, books before 1950 weren't morally objectionable? Gone With The Wind? The Great Gatsby? The Bible? Yikes! Checking a copyright date is probably not the best litmus test for morality.

      Delete
    5. Oops, look what happens when you don't check back on your comments. I have clearly not expressed myself correctly. I didn't mean to suggest that all books written before a certain time period are acceptable (although I have never personally come across a book intended for *children* that I have found problematic that was written before the 50s or even the 60s).

      The point I intended to make was that those classics I mentioned all have issues in them that must be interpreted properly by the teenagers who are reading them. It is my intention that my own kids will be able to do that by the time they are old enough to read them. I also plan to read books along with them so that we can discuss them.

      But I agree with you that books with graphic sexual content would never be appropriate children. I don't read them myself.

      Delete
    6. Ahh! Thanks, Kendra. Yes, that clears things up immensely. I totally agree with your idea of interpretating issues, and I also read my kids' books before they do, or with them.

      Delete
  6. This is really great. It is a struggle sometimes (often) when you have a child whose reading ability exceeds her maturity. And vice versa. Which leaves us with very few children who fall right into the same categories for both, doesn't it?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Now, you've totally made me want to read "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." I've never read it.

    What happened in that school was appalling and the excerpts from the book are appalling... that stuff is not appropriate for anyone.

    I do think that determining what is age-appropriate really is up to the parents and their child. It is a struggle, because I really can't read every book my child reads. My 11-yo is a pretty voracious reader, so it would be really hard to keep up, but I do try to glance over everything she picks from the library and skim through things.

    I also really appreciate reviews from other moms that I trust..and I know there are places that review movies, but I'm not sure if there are too many review books.

    ReplyDelete

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Age-Appropriate: What does it mean?

In my last WWRW post, Colleen asked if I could throw in an age range with my book reviews.

That's easier said than done.  Once upon a time, I said something to the effect that kids should read books that have protagonists of a similar age.



My thinking behind that broad generalization is that I had read somewhere (but can't for the life of me find the source) that J.K. Rowling imagined her readers to be the same age as Harry, Hermione, and Ron.  For reference, she was writing for eleven year old kids with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and she was writing for a seventeen year old audience when she wrote Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.



That makes sense to me, as the novels become increasingly dark, and include romance, snogging, and swearing as the characters age.

This presents a problem, as now readers of all ages have access to all of the books at the same time and are not forced to wait for release dates as we were.

So, what's a parent to do?  I guess I didn't really mean what I said about ages and protagonists, because personally, I'd let an 11 year old rip through the whole series because I've read it and I think it's okay for my  11 year old.

I also know that literature means different things to different age groups.  I've read and re-read my favorite books at different points in my life absorbing different things every time.



For example, when I was younger (fifteen/sixteen?), I didn't really get it that in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the young girl is in danger from a serial child murderer/rapist.  I don't think the word "rape" is ever used in the book.  When I re-read the classic as a twenty-something, I really got it.  The novel I had thought of as a nice historical novel about an alcoholic father, hard-working mother, and their numerous children, was now a story of one mother's life and death struggle to keep her family safe, fed, and together during the early 20th century.

What is "Age Appropriate?"

I don't know and neither do the experts/professionals.



There is a giant canyon of difference between reading level and age appropriateness.  Truth:  The Grade Level Equivalent for the Twilight books puts them right around 4th grade reading level.  So we know that reading level doesn't mean squat when deciding who is ready to read what.



When I review a book, I usually pay no attention to reading level.  I have a son with dyslexia who reads at a 2nd grade level but when we listen to audio books, he comprehends at a sixth grade level or above.  I read The Hobbit to him when he was five.  He loved it.  We are going to listen to it again this summer.  Now that he is ten, I'm certain he will take away different things from the book.



Is The Hobbit "age-appropriate" for your five year old?  Does your child sleep well after tales of trolls, goblins, Gollum, and other creepy creatures that go bump in the night?  I didn't when I was five, probably because my first exposure to Gollum was from that animated 70s movie.

There was a lot of terrifying children's animation in the 70s.

My son's favorite movie is Jaws.  When I was little, the movie  The Wizard of Oz terrified me. When my parents' tried to read The Hobbit to me, they got as far as the trolls and I freaked out.  I didn't read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings trilogy until I was on bedrest, expecting my first-born, whom I seriously wanted to name "Samwise."



When I review a book, I try to point out the immoral things, if there are any, and the mature themes, if there are any, and anything else that would problematic.  But honestly, I try to post a lot of positive reviews, because the garbage gets too much publicity already.

If you need a list of what you shouldn't let your child read, there are many, many places to get that info.  If you'd like suggestions on what some other mom is reading and letting her kids read, this is the place.  I will try to more consistent with sharing what ages I feel would most enjoy the books reviewed.

Unfortunately, there is a lot out there that is problematic, not just for kids but for anyone with a soul.

Take this scenario in a suburb just minutes from my home.  Three 8th grade teachers want to use the novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower for class.  Some parents don't want their kids to read porn. The dispute has gone to the school board.

In the article, I'd like to draw your attention to Items 4 and 5 as shown here:


4.  “Age-appropriate” is a tricksy bit of rhetoric from the Left. It is an ambiguous adjective used by the Left to provide cover for whatever they want to present to children in their relentless quest to initiate children into the wacky world of deviant and early sexuality.
5.  What does “age-appropriate” mean? When a teacher uses this term, they should be compelled to provide a definition and criteria that determine “age-appropriateness.” The vast majority of parents who express opposition to a particular book being taught in school are not arguing that their children will be traumatized by obscene language and graphic sexual content. Rather, parents are arguing that such language and sexual content are not decent, not inspiring, not edifying, not beautiful, not necessary, and not healthy. They are arguing that such language and depictions of sexuality undermine modesty and decency. They are arguing that when public schools recommend texts that include egregiously obscene and profane language, it serves to legitimize and desensitize students to offensive language—language that is prohibited by schools, newspapers, in most professional contexts, and in polite company.

I disagree with #4.  "Age-appropriate" is a huge, wild beast that teachers, librarians, and parents wrestle with daily.  How can I define what is age appropriate for your children?   I'm having a hard enough time trying to decide what's age appropriate for mine. *throws hands up in air*

In regard to #5, as a parent I would be arguing that my children would be traumatized (not so much by the obscene language) but by the graphic sexual content.  I did read the excerpts linked to and I'm traumatized by the graphic sexual content.

Does all content need to be "decent, inspiring, edifying, beautiful, necessary and healthy?"  In a fallen world, is that even possible?  I like Captain Underpants, so does my son, and while it doesn't fit the criteria listed, I don't think he will be traumatized by it.



Should it be taught as literature?  No.  Could it be used for reading practice, boosting interest in reading as a pastime, and practicing reading mechanics?  Yes.

Read the article.  It's both frightening and thought-provoking.   And methinks that some of the English teachers in question need some more lessons on the Bill of Rights and what it really means.  They could start with some animated lessons from the 1970s.



16 comments:

  1. Wow, so true, all of it. That's why I don't trust most book reviews I read, but I also want an easy way out when my 4th grader comes home having read the first 2 Hunger Games books because they were on his classroom bookshelf. What the heck?

    I just want good reviews by a good Catholic who knows her stuff, and that's why I love your reviews so much. I don't mean to put any added pressure on you, I just feel like if you would let your kid read it, I trust you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, it was a really good think that you caused me to have. The best and easiest way to search for a specific review is to google "housewifespice and (insert title here)". Colleen, we should get together for drinks, so get on over here.

      Delete
  2. Oh my goodness! Jessica, thank you for including this communities struggle in your blog. I admit to avoiding a lot of news for the sheer depression value, but this is a challenge that too many face.
    I debated resisting a book from the school for my 5th grader this year. It was the first from the Among series by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I love them, but I was worried about her reaction to the government sanctioned slaughter. In the end, we read it together first, then she read it with the class, but we had lots of extra discussions.
    This, on the other hand, is a whole other level of crazy because it's stuff I don't ever want her reading, not just not YET. I can't fathom the audacity of the teachers, let alone their bullying of the students, or at least setting them up to be bullied by others. (Although frankly, it sounds like the teachers bullied as well.) I pray that I am never faced with this in our schools, and I pray for those who are facing it now.
    As for your blog, ages included or not, I tend to love what you love which makes my life easy. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have always found teachers and librarians to be very receptive to parental concerns. I think/hope this community is the exception and not the rule. The bullying, yes, so much for tolerance of other people's beliefs. Lord have mercy.

      Delete
  3. "I have loved you for a thousand years."

    -Thorin Oakenshield

    ReplyDelete
  4. Good stuff, Jessica. My first principal (Catholic school) told me a story. Her first year teaching kindergarten she had a very advanced reader in her class. Under pressure from the parents to challenge the child, she assigned Anne Frank. Yikes. She regretted that one big time. It was a really good lesson for all us newbie teachers, though, about the mismatch of reading level versus appropriate content.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love this. We as parents are the ones who know our kids best and what they can handle. I think the best thing to do is to read what my kids are reading so we can talk about it, when possible. And as a backup to have trained my kids to be discerning readers so they know when to come to me and ask about something. As long as my kids know how to interpret things, I feel much better about letting them read things written since the 50s.

    Mine won't be reading that wallflower book, but honestly if you were paying attention Catcher in the Rye and Gatsby and Lord of the Flies and all sorts of things they had me read in high school were inappropriate in their own ways too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Did they also make you read Shakespeare? Brideshead Revisted? The End of the Affair? I strongly believe that just because a book contains sin does not make it inappropriate. The Great Gatsby IS great literature, sad, filled with sin, but also contains the sad effects of sin. Sin does not equal inappropriate.

      Delete
    2. And I think that's where the objectives of the teacher come in to play. When I read Gatsby, Lord of the Flies, etc in high school, no one was cheering on the sin. The teacher wasn't trying to convince us that infidelity or murder or alcoholism was acceptable. But the sense I get about the teachers gunning for "Wallflowers" is that they WOULD champion the sexual immorality in the book.

      In my mind, that's the difference. I'm not going to shelter my children from literary accounts of sin. But I am going to help them understand that such things ARE sinful, and they wound us- all of us.

      Delete
    3. As a former English major married to an English PhD student, I think about this for a lot with my future children. Totally agree, Jessica, that sin doesn't automatically make a piece of literature inappropriate, but it's how it's dealt with, and perhaps if they point to the good, true and beautiful. Thanks so much for this and for a balanced view!

      Delete
    4. The sin = inappropriate argument also rings hollow with me. If I followed that rule, my kids couldn't read an examination of conscience checklist, either!

      Those of us (Jessica, included!) who have teens and even young adults know that you can "train" them to do lots of things, but the pudding is still being set, so to speak. How my now-18 year old son viewed things at 12 and 13 is vastly different than it is today (which is another great point Jessica makes!). A theme that seemed morally harmless -- or, even a cautionary tale -- to him at 12, may look like a good defensive argument for some less-than-ideal behavior today. He was "trained" (oh, how I hate using a word meant for dogs when referring to children!) to think things through and discern different ideas throughout his upbringing, but that doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot of other stuff can't crowd that out at times. As our children grow and mature away from us (which is good and right), they listen less to us in a bid to establish their own identities. No amount of training will stop that.

      Also, books before 1950 weren't morally objectionable? Gone With The Wind? The Great Gatsby? The Bible? Yikes! Checking a copyright date is probably not the best litmus test for morality.

      Delete
    5. Oops, look what happens when you don't check back on your comments. I have clearly not expressed myself correctly. I didn't mean to suggest that all books written before a certain time period are acceptable (although I have never personally come across a book intended for *children* that I have found problematic that was written before the 50s or even the 60s).

      The point I intended to make was that those classics I mentioned all have issues in them that must be interpreted properly by the teenagers who are reading them. It is my intention that my own kids will be able to do that by the time they are old enough to read them. I also plan to read books along with them so that we can discuss them.

      But I agree with you that books with graphic sexual content would never be appropriate children. I don't read them myself.

      Delete
    6. Ahh! Thanks, Kendra. Yes, that clears things up immensely. I totally agree with your idea of interpretating issues, and I also read my kids' books before they do, or with them.

      Delete
  6. This is really great. It is a struggle sometimes (often) when you have a child whose reading ability exceeds her maturity. And vice versa. Which leaves us with very few children who fall right into the same categories for both, doesn't it?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Now, you've totally made me want to read "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." I've never read it.

    What happened in that school was appalling and the excerpts from the book are appalling... that stuff is not appropriate for anyone.

    I do think that determining what is age-appropriate really is up to the parents and their child. It is a struggle, because I really can't read every book my child reads. My 11-yo is a pretty voracious reader, so it would be really hard to keep up, but I do try to glance over everything she picks from the library and skim through things.

    I also really appreciate reviews from other moms that I trust..and I know there are places that review movies, but I'm not sure if there are too many review books.

    ReplyDelete