Why we should avoid controlling what children read

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but a lot of things have been going on behind the scenes.  I’ve been working on a new middle-grade fiction novel – this will be my longest one by far and I’m so excited by it.  I’ve also been working on various picture books – getting one ready for publication in an anthology later this year, entering a couple into competitions and sending a few more off to publishers. I’ve also been doing lots of reading, reading far and wide: picture books, middle-grade novels, adult novels, and a non-fiction book called The Opposite of Worry (I highly recommend this to parents of anxious kids!)

In the world of my children, Mr Six participated in his first school concert last week.  He was very nervous beforehand but the school really made it easy on the children (and the parents) and he had an absolute ball. I was super impressed with the standard of the production.

And now it’s that time of year again, mid-winter and the launch of the Victorian Premier’s Reading Challenge.  Mr Six is enrolled through his school and because Mr Four wants to do everything his brother does (naturally), I’ve enrolled him too.  Mr Six started out with some binge-reading of Boy vs. Beast but we were a little dismayed to find that these were “choice” books and didn’t count towards “challenge” books, of which children in Grade 1 need to read (or have read to them) 30 books.  Because Mr Six reads well above his expected grade level and doesn’t need me to read them to him (I read longer novels to him), that’s actually quite a lot of reading and I’m disappointed that his choice of books don’t count towards his main challenge total.

I’ve been thinking about what has helped me the most as an author and what advice is regularly given to authors (and you know, dreaming of being interviewed as an established author and being asked for my advice.. erhum) and the one thing I’d say that has taught me the most about writing – and about life in general – is reading.  And reading widely.  I have read historical fiction, crime, romance, memoirs, non-fiction (psychology, parenting, cooking, meditation, the list goes on), children’s books, YA (Young Adult, that is), Chick Lit, classics, and so on.  I know what I like and what I lean toward but this changes over time as my interests change, different genres gain popularity and I (ho hum) mature.  But the fact is, no one is censoring me, I read whatever I feel drawn to and whatever it is, I get *something* out of it.  I might learn something, I might not.  I might be challenged to think about something differently, I might not.  If I really think a book stinks, I just won’t finish it, but that’s rare and as an author-in-the-making, even that teaches me something.

I really don’t care if Mr Six prefers right now to read Marvel comics, Pokémon chapter books, books about rocks, Boy vs. Beast or The Cat in The Hat for the 400th time.  What matters is that he’s reading what he feels compelled to read right now and he wouldn’t be at the level he is if I had restricted him in any way and probably wouldn’t be as enthusiastic about reading (after all, kids are designed to resist).  And so I’m a little disappointed that his choice of books don’t count towards his total, even though I know he’ll reach the target.  I just hope that educators and parents encourage all children to read whatever they want and resist the urge to label books as bad or a waste of time*.  It’s hard enough get them to settle down to read with the distractions of toys, screens and Pokémon cards to compete with. Let them read whatever gets them excited about books.

*Though, of course, keeping those older-themed books for later.  Thirteen is probably a bit too young to be reading The Clan of the Cave Bear.  Don’t ask me how I know that…

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