I know that my blog is usually full of links to interesting websites and in-depth analysis of the books we’ve read recently. But today I have to unburden myself as there is one issue that keeps coming up in class that is starting to drive me a little crazy. Most recently, we discussed Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka, the hilarious account of Scieszka’s absurd childhood, growing up with 5 brothers in Michigan during the late 1950s-1960s. I found this book to be quite funny, as did many of the members of our class. But one of the issues raised by those who did not like it was the fact that it might be hard to relate to, since kids’ these days are raised in different environments, and it might be a funnier book for people who grew up at the same time. Or it’s hard to relate to if you are an only child.
We’ve heard a lot of complaints about books that echo these; about The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate turning off haters of science or After Tupac & D Foster not appealing to kids who may not know who Tupac is. All of these things are valid concerns. On occasion, I have been the person who can’t relate to a book for one of these highly personal reasons. It happens. But to paraphrase one of the many corny posters hung around high school libraries: “Reading lets you travel when you have to stay in your seat.” I’m sure that I’ve made a mess of the pithy quotation. Nevertheless, I am a firm believer in using books to expand and explore and have new experiences that may not be possible to have in real life. I think that most good books share some amount of universal feelings, so that people who have not lived those experiences can relate to the story at hand.
Many teachers, librarians and free speech activists have defended controversial teen and tween books by saying that this is a safe way for kids to explore these situations and emotions. I have to agree with them. Not everyone reading about sex is having sex, though most probably think about it as something they can and will do in the future. Books can help them tackle various tricky issues before they are faced with them in real life. So what about those books that tackle issues that likely won’t arise in real life? Like survival books. Kids love Hatchet even though most don’t experience anything like it (thank goodness). It’s fun to put yourself in those shoes, especially if you’re not the one stuck out in the wilderness with nothing but a hatchet.
People read for many reasons, probably about as many reasons as people don’t read. I understand discussing possible caveats and reasons why kids might not like a book. I know not everyone is like me, mostly because I’ve read a lot of books about characters who don’t resemble me at all. More seriously, I know that not everyone is as voracious a reader as I am. I have no problem with genres like fantasy or historical fiction that many people shy away from. I love books and will read almost anything you put in front of me, though I’ll admit to having a preference for YA and middle grade books. And I want everyone to love books as much as I do, though I know nothing in the world would get done were that to happen. But I’m just tired of everyone deciding that a kid won’t like a book because it’s not about kids like them! We need to have books in the world about all kinds of people, that’s why blogs like “I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?” and “Reading in Color” and “The Brown Bookshelf” and “Guys Lit Wire” and “Readergirlz” and…I could keep going forever. These blogs promote books for their particular audience, boys or teens of color or girls or GLBTQ. Some of these categories do need more books –see recent Scholastic scandal about Lauren Myracle’s Luv Ya Bunches–and they need more general acceptance. It is important to have these books around, for all the kids that have two moms or all the kids who don’t. And though I know no one has argued that books they don’t like, like Knucklehead, shouldn’t exist, part of me is tired of hearing about how boring and impossible to relate to books are from adults. Teens and tweens? That’s what I expect from them. So I guess this class is good practice!