October 2nd, 2009


In Which I Climb On My Soapbox...

'Scuse me while I do. Srsly.

This is a post as a writer and a parent.

For school, Miss E has to read a novel a month from the school library, from a provided selection of books, I believe. I don't think she's allowed to pull a book from the shelf by herself. Miss E is in 4th grade this year and reads at 4th grade or above because she's 10, not 9. She's by no means a sophisticated reader, though she's been tackling books that are complex (and some that aren't, and ignoring some that I'd love her to read). The novel was 'realistic fiction.' I don't know if they all will be or if it was just this month.

She selected a chapter book (novel) about horses, set in modern-day eastern midwest US. (Oh, how I know it well.) It had all the charm of the eastern midwest, because, well, the author happens to live there herself. We let her read it on her own. She asked us no questions about the content or any words. We assumed (stupidly) that the school had vetted the book as appropriate. When I read over her workpapers on the book, I realized that she had no clue what the book was about beyond a superficial understanding that the protagonist was someone who worked with horses, the horse had a problem, she solved the problem by having someone ride the horse. The Dude skimmed the book (being a fast reader) in half an hour and all became clear. The protagonist's best friend's parents are getting a divorce and the best friend is ashamed. Miss E doesn't know what divorce is, though she has friends whose parents are divorced. She's never known anyone going through one and has a weak concept of shame, too. The book deals with the girl's father dating again (and the girl's jealousy) a few years after her mother died. Miss E understood that the mother was dead, but the rest of it went over her head. I don't think she has ever considered that a parent might date someone else. It deals with depression and talks about drugs and antidepressants, in the guise of horses. Miss E knows nada about what depression is. Hence, her inability to articulate the horse's problem, even. No concept, no referent. The book labels someone as 'comic' because he dresses like a hippy and 'should have been born in the 60's.' He's a recurring character and apparently the author hasn't worked out that he really should have been born in the 40's or 50's to be a hippy. The book also talks about 'pairing off' and couches a lot of it as 'best friends' but it's a prelude to romance because the 'pairing off' includes the father dating. Waaaaay beyond Miss E and there's no way I'm going to discuss that aspect with her. I explained 'divorce' and 'depression' to a degree so she could grasp the point of the book.

And I've never mentioned that the book is 'spiritual.' Which means the protag talks to God constantly. This was the part of the book Miss E found totally unrealistic. Duh. She wrote 'gods are unreal' in her workpapers and I helped her adapt that to 'talking and praying to God all the time seemed unrealistic.' And when we say 'spiritual' apparently we mean Christian spirituality.

According to the author's own website, the series this book is from is listed as "teen." Not even middle school. Granted, I think she means 7th-8th grade, based on the protag's age, the very early teen years. But it most emphatically is not shown as a book appropriate for either 4th grade or 10 year olds.

In most of the above, I'm a concerned parent. But as a writer, I was put off by the author's personal prejudices that were blatantly on display. And by the mediocre writing. Serviceable. The Dude picked up several subplots, so that's something.

For comparison, I offer up three books Miss E slogged through this summer. They're by Lauren St. John. The writing is excellent. They're set in South Africa and Zambia and immediately sent Miss E to the globe and internet to learn more about these places, see photos. They feature animals. There is a bit of characterization of the animals, a bit of magic realism, but in general, they're realistic fiction. And deal with tough subjects, such as the death of both parents at the start of the first book, by fire no less. Miss E, naturally, preferred the two later books over the first one where the protag is grieving and learning to live with her grandmother. Like the protag above, she has special skills when it comes to animals. But the spirituality is broader-based, not restricted to Christianity. Miss E understood much more of the plot and subtext. The Dude and I read parts of these books aloud to her and she hung on every word. But she read one of them completely by herself and asked me questions about whether something was real or what it meant. A dialog with my child.

I do not want the school to ruin my child's love of reading, that they worked so hard to develop, by handing her mediocre works as examples of what you read for school reports. Especially when the work contains content that is way beyond her comprehension.

End of rant. I hope next month's book is better.

Frog Out