so, when i was a teacher, i used to get the common complaints from parents: my kid doesn’t like to do homework. my kid wants more recess. my kid doesn’t like to read. well, i couldn’t do much about the homework bit. frankly, i dislike homework myself (too often it’s assigned for the sake of being assigned, rather than being useful). i also couldn’t do much about recess, as that was set by the district and extra free time was as rare as faerie dust, because we were forced into rigid pacing schedules. but books! yes, i could help with books. see, I LOVE TO READ, and i made it my mission to help the kids in my classes learn to love reading, too.
the key to this is simple: FIND BOOKS KIDS LIKE. if they like it, they’ll read it, right? seems like common sense. to me, it didn’t matter if it came in the form of comic books, comedies, scary stories (oh, how little kids love their scary stories), classics, above grade level/below grade level options, or any other kind of book. if it got kids to read, then it was okay by me (okay – it’s not like i had smut or anything in the classroom! but you know what i mean).
there was a series of books that, without fail, were always a hit with the kids: dav pilkey’s captain underpants series. these are books about immature boys who like to make comic books about an overweight superhero who – no surprise here! – wears only his underpants and a cape. hilarity ensues amongst potty jokes, pranks against teachers and adults, and crazy aliens and scientists bent on overtaking the world. there’s enough in the books to make adults giggle, too – especially with the teacher names (ms. tara ribble, mr. meaner, mr. morty fyde, ms. edith anthrope, etc…) i’d read these books to the kids and they’d crack up and fight and haggle over who got to read it at their desk or check it out of the library. it was awesome. the kids would savor every word and reread until they memorized every corny joke. i thought to myself – victory! children reading! no one complaining!
ah, how wrong i was, dear readers. people were complaining, just not the kids. a number of parents give me stern talking to’s – “how can you let my child be exposed to this sort of crap?” (nice, right?) and “do you really think potty jokes are appropriate to first/second graders?” (i wanted to ask, “have you ever talked to a first/second grader?”) and my very favorite: “these books are corrupting my child!”
i was flabbergasted. but, i wanted to argue, your child loves to read! your child eagerly awaits their turn to read these books! why does reading have to be always so serious? can’t they have fun? can’t they find joy in reading rather than a tired sense of obligation?
and then i find out that pilkey’s captain underpants series went on in 2002, 2004, and 2005 (all years i was teaching) to becomes among the most challenged and banned books in the country. they never were banned in my classroom – no, i had a very supportive, progressive principal who wanted kids to love learning, not hate it – but i still hear those parents’ voices every time i see one of those books and see the sneering disapproval on their faces.
my kids will be allowed to read these books if they want. if they don’t want to, that’s fine with me. if they do, i’ll be the one leading the charge to the bookstore or library. boys, i’ll tell them, if you want to read [INSERT TITLE HERE], and it makes you happy, go for it. want to get a book banned by stuffy, opinionated grandstanders who think they can tell the rest of us what’s good for us? i’ll be more than happy to get you a copy. huck finn? done. slaughterhouse five? you got it. brave new world? i thought it lame, but make up your own mind! captain underpants? LAUGH AWAY, BOYS.
(oh, except for playboy. want that one? become an adult and get it yourself. i know better than to believe the whole, “i like it for the articles” ploy.)
parents, rejoice if your kids want to read captain underpants. rejoice that they want to read. someday, captain underpants will lead your children to other kinds of books. ones which will be more meaningful, but your child will not shy away from them because they know reading is something pleasurable. reading is not work. reading is not a chore.
reading is a gift.
for more information on banned books, visit the ALA website.
for socal folks, take your kids to my kids’ favorite bookstore, mrs. nelson’s, and buy them a book! let them pick it out! share their excitement over reading it with you at home!