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Books have ratings too: Parenting at the library 2

August 25, 2011

I’m out for the rest of the week due to removal of wisdom teeth.  Vicodin may be involved in this posting.  That’s (hopefully) why it took me three attempts to spell “removal” correctly.

In my last post, I spoke a little about the consistency of children and the inconsistency of adults in the library.  Most of my kids, let’s face it, aren’t big readers.  They like using our computers and taking out movies.  Some do all three, but they’d have more stacks of DVDs than books if allowed.  It’s so rare–rarer than I ever thought–when a child takes out a huge pile of books by his- or herself.  I was that kid, as was/is my daughter, and I guess I figured I’d see it a lot in the library: this is where the book nerds go.  But either book nerds are fewer and farther between than I expected, or we just don’t have that population.  Or they’re going to the main branch.  Actually, that’s probably the most likely.  My daughter and I always chose the bigger branch over the closer branch, ourselves, when we had the choice.

Readers may read within a comfort zone, but within that zone they’ll read everything.  This is why parenting becomes an important part of any library experience.  Your child love comics?  That’s awesome!  But do you, as a parent, realize that comics run from Mickey Mouse to decapitation?  Your child reads “those Japanese books”?  Do you, as a parent, realize that “those Japanese books” go from cuddly talking cat to tentacle rape?

You might say, “Don’t you think you’re being alarmist?”  Well, the wording’s a bit harsh, I admit, but in truth, I’ve been appalled by the number of times parents have been utterly ignorant of what their children are reading.  This is especially true with comics and manga, and somewhat true with teen lit.

I’m not the Book Police, and have no desire to BE the book police.  I’m just starting where there seems to be this gap for many parents.  They’re proud of their kids reading anything and everything, but they’re not reading with them, and because of that they’re not sure what they’re reading.  Would they be happy to know?

Case in point: A father comes in and tells everyone who’ll listen (and some who obviously would prefer not to) that his daughter is reading “trash” from the YA section.  That she hides her books under her pillow so he doesn’t read the content.  Now, he’s not saying we should ban or burn books, but he IS saying there should be red dots on the books with sexual content (AND that women who read romances should be ashamed of what they’re reading).  This man brings his daughter to the library all the time.  He’s with her when she takes out her books.  From what I can tell, he’s not reading the backs of them when she takes them out.  He’s certainly not reading the content of them.  She’s sixteen now.

So…wait, are you sure the fault is with the library?

I explained to him that the library is about access, and that’s where our responsibility lies.  I explained that there were websites that review for adult content.  I explained that my daughter and I read a LOT together as she was moving from the Js to the YAs and, as a result, I’m comfortable with her making her own choices, because she’s been willing to discuss adult content with me and, as a result of those discussions and her book choices, I’ve found where her interests lie and have greater understanding into the person she’s becoming.  I wasn’t trying to say “LOOKIT WHAT A GREAT PARENT I AM.”  I just wanted him to understand that by reading what your child reads you learn who your child is, to a point.  People in general use external sources to transmit information about themselves.  For some people, it’s a Coach bag.  For others, it’s a crucifix.  For others, it’s the books they read.  For some, it’s all that and more.

This father was uninterested in reading what she read, although he gave some lip service to having done it in the past.  He said he didn’t think we could change anything on our level (and, indeed, we can’t; we’re not even the main branch) and that he’d go to the state about his red dot idea.

Of course, if his daughter read a lot of manga, he could just look at the rating located on the back of most of the books (which, stupidly, we used to cover up accidentally with our due-back sticker).  So many parents don’t realize that manga is not a genre so much as an entire medium, and within that medium, you have lots and lots of levels and options.

I don’t know why I’m surprised that parents don’t know this, because many don’t even realize that one comic is not exactly the same as the next.  I watch little guys leave with comics from the YA section and I think, “Oh, PARENTS.”  For many parents of this generation, YA was a fairly safe haven, but any parent who keeps his or her eyes on the news AND is raising a reader should have noticed the big brouhaha over the content of recent YA literature.  But parents often don’t keep up with reading blogs because we don’t think of reading as somewhere we need to parent, not like video games and TV and movies–you know, things with ratings.

The library DOES rate things, in a way: books are rated by which section they’re in.  While I have some issues with the things that end up in the teen section, the fact that there IS a teen section, and a children’s section, and a juvenile section, and an adult section, says a lot about what’s going on where.  This isn’t just for simplicity’s sake; this isn’t just so the patron knows which shelves to go to when they walk in.  Children can walk between areas at any time, because the library offers access to everything (except, in my system, R-rated movies and unfiltered computers to kids).  When my daughter started drifting to the YA section, I knew it was time to kick into gear.  i read almost every YA book she did.  I discussed with her the content, especially any “adult” content.  I suggested books for her, which we also discussed.

Now that she has free access to almost everything in the library (I still look at everything she takes out), I find that she is the reader I never was: a savvy one.  She didn’t read Sidney Sheldon and Judith Krantz and think they were an accurate portrayal of adult life.  She HAS read books like Speak and Just Listen, and we’ve discussed sexual assault and rape and ways to try to keep safe.  And I know that, unlike me growing up in the ’80s, she isn’t surrounding herself with books about dominating assholes who become “loving” (but dominating, asshole-ish) husbands.  She IS reading books about dominating assholes in high school, who often end up being NOT the love interest at the end.  Thank goodness.  But she can spot a jerk from 50 pages away.  I, on the other hand, went back and realized in horror how dysfunctional my “favorite” romance was when I was only a few years older than her.

My suggestion to parents is to get involved with reading, books, authors, and blogs just like with any other involvement you have in your children’s lives.  Note that books ARE rated, even when they don’t have a big R on them.  Know what comics are which, and what manga is and the diversity of it.  Know that the books in the teen section go from first kiss to sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll.  Know your librarians; they’re your guides.  They know their stuff.  Have faith in them, and in your children.  If your kid’s reading content that you think is too adult, it’s time to talk, not punish (well, maybe both–but talk FIRST).  Maybe your child’s trying to find information about something important to him or her.  Maybe your child’s trying to tell you something vital.  Be ready and willing to listen.

And, of course, be willing to read.

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