April 16, 2005

Encouraging Kids to Read

Jaquandor makes the following generous observation:

Of course, for ongoing recommendations on children's books, Will Duquette is the place to go. It's pretty funny when Will encounters a book he doesn't like; his verdict is always some variant of "They can read it when they grow up if they want to, but I am sure not reading that book ever again!" That kind of says it all, doesn't it?

There's a reason why I always put it that way. I firmly believe that the only way to really appreciate good writing and good storytelling is to have read a lot of bad writing and bad storytelling alongside the good stuff. If I only allow my kids to read stuff I personally think is excellent, they'll never gain that appreciation.

But there's more to it than that--I want to be respectful of their taste in books. Sure, they might like a book I don't, and maybe as they read more widely and gain experience they'll see the same defects in it that I do. But right now it's what they like and read with joy, and that's to be encouraged.

This is a lesson I learned from my mom, who passed away several years ago. Mom had no taste or appreciation for speculative fiction at all; she regarded it all as being of low quality and she'd often ask me why I couldn't read something better. Historical fiction, say, her particular pleasure. But the Tolkien hardcovers I've got on my shelf to this day, she gave me, because she knew I loved Tolkien. She also got me my first set of Narnia books, a boxed set of paperbacks. I've still got it, including the box; one book is missing, and the whole thing is in horrible shape having gone through several sets of readers, including my nephews, before it came back to me, and somehow I can't see getting rid of it. In short, my mom loved me more than her own taste.

And let's not miss the main point--there might be something to the books my kids love that I'm not seeing.

So here's to my kids; may they form their taste in books as I did.

(All this said, I don't want to imply that I'd let them read absolutely anything. I'm speaking only of literary quality, here; there are plenty of books I wouldn't let them read for other reasons. Fanny Hill, say, or Lady Chatterly's Lover--though to be honest I have no particular interest in either one myself.)

Posted by Will Duquette at April 16, 2005 09:10 AM