Monday, February 2, 2009

Reading Without Shame

I have a confession to make - and I hope the literary purists of the world forgive me.

My daughter Hope, age 5, loves the Disney Princesses, My Little Pony, and Barbie stories. Now, she also loves Ramona Quimby - and elected to read through the entire series twice, back to back, this summer - as well as both Winnie the Pooh's, and a score of wonderful picture books, from Olivia to Miss Rumphius.

That's not the confession. This is: I have judgment about which of these reading choices are "better."

But the thing is, she LOVES to read - or, more precisely, to be read to. She loves it with a passion. She would rather listen to a story than watch a video, or play a game, or paint, or draw, or run around, or just about anything else. And I've realized I have to be very careful. Because if she sees me wince - even just a tad - when she asks for another My Little Pony story, or if she feels me 'suggesting' Miss Rumphius over Ariel again just a little too forcefully, she'll begin to pull away. Instead of being a way for her to revel, unbridled and unjudged, in all her dreams and delights, reading may become associated with right and wrong, with correctness, or - worst of all - with shame.

That's not to say I shouldn't keep providing her with all the best books I can. I do understand that one can't appreciate the good stuff unless one is exposed to it. But I have to lead her gently, lightly, without pressure. In the end, her appreciation for Beverly Cleary and A.A. Milne tell me that she'll get to it all - and evolve into a well-rounded, discerning and intelligent young woman in the process. After all, I've been known to enjoy junk food from time to time, and it never turned me off of a great gourmet meal.

Aaarggh! There's that judgment again! Breathe, release, count to three....

9 comments:

rebecca said...

I can soooooo relate! As a teacher and parent I have struggled with this demon myself for years :). My daughter was give a hiddeous sesame street book set that she absolutely loves and I cringe every time she asks me to read it. Thanks for confessing, now I know I'm not alone!

Anonymous said...

Thanks! What a great reminder. I was raised by a pushy mother (hated it!) and sometimes find myself pushing my tastes on my kids too (we imitate our parents' behaviour!). I really have to start breathing and counting, or at least catching myself when I become pushy mum!

Jon Berry said...

Reading is so much about the process. See Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf on the science of reading and on the importance of the process to intellectual development.

I read 'Raising Bookworms" and liked it. I especially liked the point about the importance of reading for pleasure with respect to teenagers. As a high school teacher, I am convinced that we need to work harder at getting teenagers to read for pleasure, and I am always looking for new ways to motivate them.
By the way, I just came across a reference to "Reading Bookworms" on the website of the International Reading Association. See this link, in case you haven't seen it. http://www.reading.org/General/Publications/ReadingToday/RTY-0812-boys.aspx

Emma Walton Hamilton said...

Thanks to all for your comments!
Jon - have you read Daniel Pennac's "Better Than Life"? As far as I'm concerned it's a must-read, for high school teachers especially. Great stuff with respect to motivating teens to read...

scb said...

This is wonderful! When I was a child (I'm 52 now) I read whatever I could get my hands on, unhindered, including the predictable Bobbsey Twins and their ilk... In 6th Grade, when we were learning about the U.S. (I'm Canadian), I could answer all the teacher's questions about Washington, D.C., because of the many times I'd read "The Bobbsey Twins in Washington". So yes, breathe, relax, count to three... and keep letting her revel in *all* the wonders that are available in the written word.

P.S. I've just discovered your blog (got here by way of your website, by way of the Julie Andrews Collection website) and I am delighted with what I've read thus far. Thank you for sharing your insights with us!

scb said...

Further to my previous comment -- I hope you don't mind, I put a link to your blog on my blog, and urged my blog-friends to check out "Raising Bookworms". Hope this is okay...?

christine tripp said...

Ah motherhood/guilty/uncertainty they go hand in hand... in hand!

Of course parents squirm when their child picks up a copy of Captin Underpants and screams, this is the one I want! When a parent brings home one of the lovely, adult awarded, winning picture books and the child disapointedly mutters, oh, I was hoping it would be Walter the Farting Dog.
I Illustrated a pic book called Penelope and the Humongous Burp. Well, you guessed it, kids loved it.
My grandchild love anything with cartoon illustrations and/or bodily functions.
I have to say, I was the same, Mad magazine was my favorite reading material but, eventually, my taste in books did improve (or maybe I should just say changed)
I have to admit, I will still buy every new release of the Junie B Jones series... and still laugh.
There is something wonderful about just plain fun, that you don't have to think about too hard or too long.

Cynthia said...

Well said. My son's were into the Cap't Underpants, etc. And with my older son, I was just thankful he was reading something! The younger one is a reader. We read to them every night in hopes that they would become readers. The older one will read occasionally but not as much as I'd hoped. Emma, I'm going out today to buy "Better than Life." My older son's a senior and life is rather stressful now with college choices looming, and school activites and I think sometimes they do just need to do something mindless. It also develops humor. Thank you for doing everything you have to encourage reading and the arts. We started taking our boys to plays when they were about 3. I hope they carry it on with their children!

Cynthia said...

Well said. My son's were into the Cap't Underpants, etc. And with my older son, I was just thankful he was reading something! The younger one is a reader. We read to them every night in hopes that they would become readers. The older one will read occasionally but not as much as I'd hoped. Emma, I'm going out today to buy "Better than Life." My older son's a senior and life is rather stressful now with college choices looming, and school activites and I think sometimes they do just need to do something mindless. It also develops humor. Thank you for doing everything you have to encourage reading and the arts. We started taking our boys to plays when they were about 3. I hope they carry it on with their children!