Friday, April 29, 2011

Messy Books

I've been reading a lot of Young Adult (YA) fiction these days; a large chunk is for my YA class this summer. I'm sensing a definite theme in the selections: Printz Award winners (always edgy) and usually books which have been challenged or banned. Books get challenged for sex, violence, bad language--the usual suspects.

What should get a book challenged? I'd like to think it would relate more to worldview issues than the mere occurrence of a mild sex scene, but unfortunately, most parents readers don't look that deep.

I rate books with fellow Christian parents in mind. I want my children to grow up loving to read, able to read well and critically, and able to evaluate what they read by THE standard: the Word of God. And I'm okay with messy books. I don't want my children to read any ol' thing, nor do I want them wallowing in messy situations which provide no hope. But there are times when it is appropriate to read and discuss the messy issues in life. Our children will wrestle with the biggies whether we care to discuss it in our homes or not; I'd much rather guide my children than have them find out their answers somewhere else.

That means that on this blog, and in my book recommendations list, there will books with messy content: sex scenes, bad language, kids who drink and/or smoke, death, betrayal, deceit.... I look for redemption in the midst of those things--is this a book which glorifies these elements? Or is it a book that wrestles with these scenarios honestly and, in the end, redemptively? Simply put: is there hope? Even if the hope offered is not the ultimate hope we have in Christ, the mere option of hope provides a great jumping off point for discussion. If hope is not held out, is the lifestyle seen to be shallow, meaningless, vanity of vanities? If it is, then that, too, can be a good jumping off point for discussion (re: Ecclesiastes).

If you are troubled by the thought of your children reading books that might raise thorny questions and/or expose them to the more nefarious side of life, then I would like to give you a reading assignment: Genesis, one of the 4 gospels, and Revelation (in that order). Throughout Genesis, you see God's people breaking every single one of the 10 Commandments (granted, the Law has yet to be given God's people, but still). And, they break it in a BIG way: murder, incest, idolatry, lying, coveting, extra marital sex, .... And, in the midst of this sin, you see God creating the world, sustaining it, protecting and preserving his people (not because of their merit, that's for sure!), and promising a Redeemer. In the Gospels, you see that Redeemer incarnate: Jesus certainly deals with the messy side of life: prostitutes, tax collectors, the demon possessed, the outwardly religious and inwardly dark, idolatry in the temple, murderers, betrayal, poverty, death. He brings redemption in the midst of it and offers ultimate hope. And, finally, in Revelation, we see the final redemption of our world--not just our souls, but a new heaven and a new earth.

That, my friends, is why we can read books like Diary of Anne Frank, Speak, Looking for Alaska, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, .... because we know Who it is who provides ultimate hope, what the end of the world will result in, and how the troubles of this world are not insignificant but are temporary, nonetheless.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Isn't every little girl fascinated by Rapunzel and her glorious hair? My 5-year-old daughter hasn't even seen Tangled but she totally knows that it exists and what story it tells. I think she has Rapunzel Radar. She's even got a Tangled nightgown (gift from a friend) and uses any excuse to make Rapunzels:

  • drawing them
  • making a Rapunzel salad person (a lunch time favorite in which we make "people" with our food; Rapunzel always gets LOTS of Ramen noodle hair...which then gets eaten)
  • various crafts
And so forth.

If you aren't a Disney fan (or even if you are), seek out some traditional tellings of Rapunzel's story to read to your kids. Zelinsky's Rapunzel is a nice retelling, complete with a scary-but-not-too-scary witch and the ending in which Rapunzel and the prince are reunited and her tears heal his blindness. In this version, Rapunzel gives birth to twins! The illustrations are rather classical looking; in fact, this book is the Caldecott winner from 1998.

Rapunzel stories also appear in most fairy tale collections, like The Random House Book of Fairy Tales and others. Don't let Tangled be your child's only interpretation of this great story! Didn't we all want Rapunzel hair when we were little?!

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Gingerbread Boy (Paul Galdone)

My kids and I thoroughly enjoy Paul Galdone's fairy and folk tale retellings. One of our favorites of his is The Gingerbread Boy. Our infatuation with this experience *might* have had something to do with the fact that the library let me check out a big book!*

At any rate, I read this aloud hundreds of times during our 6-week relationship (of course, I renewed it). My children played games using the story concept and still talk about it months later. Highly recommended.

*a "big book" is just what it sounds like: a really big version of the book that librarians often use for story time. I think this one measured roughly 2 feet by 1 foot or so.