I finished reading the Divergent series by Veronica Roth a little while ago. My preteen daughter (10 years old) reads voraciously and I am trying to keep up! She has been pushing my limits on what I think is appropriate for her to read at this age, so I have insisted on reading the books first to screen them for her. As destiny would have it, teen literature has become my guilty pleasure. From The Fault in our Stars to The Hunger Games, I’ve enjoyed them all. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy adult literature as much as the next bookworm. I’ll delve head first into complex works such as The Luminaries or the beautiful prose of Cutting for Stone, but give me a good John Greene book and I will be happy…actually, I’ll probably be bawling my eyes out, but in a really good way
When I am previewing these books for my daughter, there are a few things that I am looking for: appropriate language (I like to see little to no swearing and do I have to even say it?…no racial or gender based slurs), age appropriate themes (only ideas that I am ready to talk to my child about), and an overall sense of kindness or humanity. Another aspect that I consider is age appropriate relationships.
On the topic of the latter, I commend Veronica Roth for her characters’ abstinence from sex in the Divergent series of books which are appealing to not only older teens and adults, but also impressionable young preteens like my daughter. The protagonist, Tris, is a strong independent young woman who thoughtfully questions her future and makes decisions based on her own judgement. That is not to say that she always makes the ‘right’ decisions, however she doesn’t let peer pressure drive her choices. After reading the first book I recommended it to my daughter, who proceeded to read the whole series before I even got through a quarter of the second book. Have I mentioned she is a readaholic?!? Needless to say she loved the books and with a role model like Tris, I am with her 100%.
We are raising impressionable, young girls (and boys) who are growing up in a time of low self esteem and, most recently, where questions of consent regarding touching and intimacy are a big concern. They do not need to see their strong, intelligent role models fall into bed with the first guy that comes along. Love does not always lead to sex and sex does not always lead to love. This is a very important lesson and can be very subtle in the learning. Pop culture says sex sells, but just because something sells does that mean we have to buy it? Especially when it comes to our children.
Some of the other books (or series) that pass my values test are:
The Fault in our Stars by John Greene – yes, there is sex…I was concerned, but it was only one scene and it was extremely tastefully written by John Greene, who I can’t say enough about. His characters are so real and the wonderful emotional strength and life lessons in this book far outweigh my concerns about one short and tasteful sex scene. This book may even help to open a dialogue with your child about sex, now, that can continue into the teenage years.
The Diary of Anne Frank – great read because a preteen can directly relate to the regular everyday challenges that Anne faces at such a difficult age. Then her extraordinary struggles further help the child to empathize with Anne’s situation. I have learned not to hide the dark side of humanity from my children, but instead to talk about it openly so they have a forum for their thoughts, questions and concerns. The holocaust happened and it was horrible; Let’s help our children learn from the mistakes of the past.
Wonder by R.J Palacio – A modern day Mask (for those who remember the ’80’s movie starring Cher as a mother of a boy named Rocky who has Lionitis – a craniofacial disfigurement). Wonder is a lovely book written from the perspective of the main character, August, as well as his family and friends. August is an ordinary kid except that he has a craniofacial difference. He is a strong, self aware character that we can all relate to on some level. You will cry…a lot. A must-read for all children. The lesson: Choose Kind.
The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien– great for a child who loves fantasy, like I did (and still do)! My daughter has not moved on to the Lord of the Rings yet, but it won’t be long
The Golden Compass (part of a Trilogy; His Dark Materials) by Philip Pullmann– again a fantasy series with a dark side, but quite interesting, especially for the intellectual. A wonderfully strong-willed female protagonist, Lyra, has many adventures in many different worlds filled with interesting characters. There are gobblers who steal kids, so if your child has anxieties…maybe skip this one. My oldest daughter loved it and had no issues. One of my favorites, as well
Are you there God, It’s me Margaret by Judy Blume – An oldy but a goody! Anybody who has read it must remember the chant “We must, we must, we must increase our bust”. A classic with many lessons to be learned; It more or less holds up to the modern day teenage woes.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli – My daughter really enjoyed this one. There is some bullying that is hard to read, but I figure the kids probably hear it anyway. As a parent, I hope not, but I’m also not naive; It happens. The lesson: it’s okay to be different
Harry Potter by J.K Rowling- okay, yes, these are supposed to be children’s books anyway, but I found them a little scary. They get progressively darker especially after book 3 so I would recommend pacing your child – good luck if your child is anything like mine! My daughter read them at 9, but my second probably won’t read them until she’s a little older. I plan to read the first few books together with her until I see that she is okay with it.
These are just a few of my favorites. If you have any recommendations for books that share these values or warnings for books that don’t, I would love to hear from you!
For my girls, for girls and boys all around the world, I hope we can teach them about true love and kindness one book at a time
With much love and kindness,