M. Giant's
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011  

Reading, Writing, and Wrong

Back when M .Edium used to watch the recordings of Curious George we made him off of PBS Kids (first-season narrator Bill Macy: accept no substitutes), there was a little interstitial promo advising parents to "read to your child fifteen minutes a day." Trash and I chuckled indulgently at how unrealistic that advice was. Like M. Edium would ever let us cut it down to that.

But one nice thing about those days, which we can't say about now, is that with us having to do all his reading for him, we at least knew every printed word that went into his head.

Then he started reading on his own, independently, in the last half-year, so we have no idea what's going on in his life any more.

Admittedly, we were a bit worried that he was taking longer to learn how to read than we did as kids, and also because it seemed less like he wouldn't read than that he couldn't. We suspected that his resistance came from a fear that once he could read to himself we wouldn't read to him any more. Being the clever, mind-reading parents we are, we confirmed this theory by asking him and hearing him say "yes."

But then came the advent of Captain Underpants in our house, which he enjoyed so much they put him over whatever hump was there. Do you know from Captain Underpants? There's some difference of opinion on our house over them. M. Edium loves them, but they're juvenile, inappropriate, and frequently gross. Which means I love them too, even if Trash doesn't. Anyway, if M. Edium was faking illiteracy, the day he got his hands on his first Captain Underpants and couldn't put it down? That blew his cover pretty thoroughly.

Captain Underpants also marked a sort of soft (and preshrunk and cottony) transition from us reading to him to him reading to himself, so I've read most of all of them by now. I can't say the same of all of his books. Books for kids that age are all about series, as you probably know. He's into another series about this first-grader with an obnoxious bowl haircut and a shark fetish who spends 60% of every book bickering with his sister and classmates. There are words in there he's not allowed to say. Sure, George Carlin's Seven Words in his world are Stupid, Dumb, Butt, Shut Up, and Gimme (yes, there are only five), but we're not thrilled about him seeing that language modeled by his literary heroes. Seriously, some of these children's writers are fucking assholes.

There's another series authored by someone more famous for his portrayal of an iconic sitcom character (Barry Zuckercorn, if you're curious) than for his writing. It's about a hapless fourth-grader who struggles with various learning challenges. I think it's great and relatable for kids who share those challenges, but should I be worried that a kid who doesn't have them might get it in his head to try to imitate them?

I think the issue is that we assumed that for a long time, anything he could read must be age-appropriate. Which was fine when he was slogging through board books by Sandra Boynton and the Very Formulaic Children's Author, but then a few months ago I read him a few chapters from Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing at bedtime, carefully editing out anything borderline, and then the next morning I went into his bedroom to be greeted with the top-of-the-morning-to-you announcement of "FUDGE [SPOILER] PETER'S [SPOILER]!" He'd finished it after I left the room the night before.

So, yeah, in case you were reading this whole entry thinking that he's just faking and doesn't actually have any comprehension, so much for that.

And now Trash and I find ourselves in the unexpected, unwelcome position of being our child's literary censor. I knew we'd have to do it eventually, to a certain extent, but the fact that it's started this early means that it's going to be a longer-term job than we hoped. The good news is that we suck at it.

posted by M. Giant 3:51 PM 7 comments

7 Comments:

Note to self: teach M.Edium to come downstairs and matter-of-factly declare, "Humbert Humbert isn't nearly as sympathetic as Nabokov intended him to be."

By Blogger Febrifuge, at February 16, 2011 at 5:50 PM  

I look forward to your childrens writer's series, 'All These Fecking Arseholes' soon.

By Blogger stacey, at February 16, 2011 at 8:16 PM  

I was one of those early reading-type children. In first grade I had to get a note from my mother to let me check out the (very old-school) Nancy Drew books from the school library (Which I had been reading since Kindergarten). I was utterly enraged that I had to read the "little kid books". Also at a Montessori school, un-interestingly.
Fast forward to age 10, when I decided to read The Stand. Still don't know how I managed to get that past the librarian at the public library, as she would often guide me to something else when she thought I'd picked up something a little too advanced.
Fortunately, I don't think I understood as much of it as I thought I would. I don't know, I'm still terrified to re-read it. Actually, I'm kind of terrified of the K fiction shelf at the library...
I'm looking forward to this kind of problem with my own kids.
Liz

By Anonymous Anonymous, at February 17, 2011 at 8:25 AM  

Full disclosure: don't have any progeny myself. But might I encourage you to continue really poor literary censorship? I recieved rather lackadaisical 70s parenting, but I give my mom major, major credit for letting me read absolutely whatever I wanted, and then talking about it with me. If it was too gross/scary/completely over my head...I usually gave up on my own. Given M. Edium's eagerness to blurt plot points, it sounds like you've got lots of conversations to look forward to, and no "censorship" necessary. :)

By Blogger Kim, at February 17, 2011 at 11:16 AM  

Speaking of series books, might I recommend Ursula Vernon's Dragonbreath series? I'm fairly certain that there's not much you'll need to censor there. Books 1-3 are currently out, with books 4 and 5 on their way this year. Great artwork and fun stories. They're classified as ages 9-12, but I'm a fan of getting kids reading more "advanced" books earlier.

By Anonymous Lily, at February 17, 2011 at 2:04 PM  

I took to reading at a young age and was raiding my mother's bookshelf at age seven. When she realized I was always finding a way to get my hands on adult novels we finally struck a deal that I could read whatever I wanted on the condition that if there was anything I didn't understand I would ask her and she would explain honestly what it was.
I've turned out just fine.

By Anonymous Kalamac, at February 17, 2011 at 7:49 PM  

I read at a high school level by third grade and my mom assumed if I got it at the library, it must be appropriate (this is not in fact true). I turned out fine (imho) and I love to read, to the point that I'm currently on my 37th book of the year, mostly good qualiy choices. Also, I'm a teacher, I promise you he hears those words at school.

By Blogger Tina :), at February 19, 2011 at 2:31 PM  

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