Monday, June 28, 2010

On YA Books

I found through Semicolon an article by David Mills, "Bad Books for Kids: A Guide to the World of Youth Literature & What You Can Do About It." First, I'd just like to say that I am so thankful that Mills' "What You Can Do About It" is not a call for parents and 'concerned' adults to ban or censor books. He makes five points towards the close of his article. I especially loved his last three points.
Third, do not be afraid to upset your child by telling him he can’t read something he really wants to. As I have told ours about movies they want to see but can’t: you will never be harmed by something you didn’t see. I have also told them that I have seen movies I now profoundly wish I hadn’t, because some images never leave you.

Fourth, read to your child as much as you can. Read good books and books slightly too old for him. Use the books as a way to explore certain issues and questions with him as they come up in the books themselves.

Fifth, immerse your child in the worship of the Church and every other activity that can shape his imagination as Christian because he acts it out. The greatest prophylactic against cultural infection is not a shield but his love for something better and greater and more heroic.
What should you know about the article--it's written by a Christian parent for other Christian parents. It addresses the fact that in young adult books there are some things that are at the very least un-beneficial and at the very worst potentially harmful for readers. Assuming that the reader in question is a Christian or being raised in a Christian home.

But at the same time it isn't just a faith issue. It isn't just that these books have spiritually questionable content. Mills is examining morality--the presence or lack thereof--within a handful of YA books. This reminds me of a series of articles earlier this month by a variety of YA authors/bloggers. The conversation started at Shannon Hale's Squeetus Blog. Morals and Values and Lessons, Oh My. It continued in her On the Openness of Stories and Warning: This Post Contains Scenes... Janette Rallison added to the conversation with her own Morals and Values in YA Lit.

Early on, Mills' writes " I was shocked, and I think of myself as someone who is not easily shocked, by the evidence of commercial depravity."

That statement got me to thinking. Are young adult books really more shocking than adult books? I suppose that question needs to be put into context. You can see it in several ways I suppose. Young Adult books are in the middle. They're for an older audience than children's books. They're for readers ready to move beyond Winnie the Pooh, Ramona Quimby, Age 8, and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. But at the same time the assumption is that they're for readers not quite ready to read adult books. (Emphasis on assumption. I don't think any assumption is always true. Since many teens only read adult books. And you've got just as many adults only reading young adult books. And what about books that are published as adult in some countries and young adult in others?)

Adult books can be shocking to Christians. (They can be shocking to some non-Christians too, I imagine.) Young Adult books can be shocking too. When it comes to 'shocking' content: language, violence, sex, drugs, drinking alcohol, smoking, etc. are usually to blame. Though sometimes it's more of what the book has to say about a subject that offends--politics, religion, faith, etc. But all content must be taken within context. That is the most important thing to remember. Context matters. Age matters too. You can't assume that "YA" is for any one age. There are some books that I would feel slightly uncomfortable recommending a 12 or 14 year old but that I wouldn't for a 16 or 17 year old. Age isn't the only thing that matters though. Every person is unique. And what one teen is ready to read, another may never be.

I think by the time your "child" is preparing to graduate from high school, to go to college, to get a job, etc. you've got to have freedom and trust. If the *real* point is that you're worried about the content of books shaping the faith and belief system of your child, then the foundation is the most important. I think focusing on the positive is the best way to do this. What is most important--whether they're six or sixteen--is knowing God, loving and worshipping God, having a relationship with Him. While church can be important--can be central--it is just as important for your family-life to be a good faith model. How central is God in your home? How central is your faith in your daily life? How are you living your doctrine, your beliefs? Sometimes what you do is just as important as what you say you should do.

I did not agree with everything in Mills' article. I don't know how fair a sampling Mills really read while researching this issue. How many did he read? Was he just skimming? Was he trying to pick the most "dangerous" in order to make a point? If he really was just picking books based on their display in bookstores--then that sampling may not have been the best YA has to offer. Since vampires--sparkly and non-sparkly--may have been over-represented. (You'll never convince me that the best-of-the-best YA has to offer are vampires, werewolves, ghosts, or fairies.)

I don't think YA books are bad. I enjoy reading YA books. There are books that I read that I would feel comfortable recommending to Christian teens (and adults)...and there are books that I wouldn't recommend to Christians. But I also think there are some books (with some shock content) that have definite worth for most (if not all) readers. Even if you don't agree with everything within a book. Some books are good for discussions. Some books are good for challenging you, for making you really think. And that can be a good thing too.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

1 comment:

Dani In NC said...

When I was a teen, I moved straight from kiddie books to stuff like "The Thorn Birds". If there were YA books available in the 1980s, I wasn't aware of them. So when my own kids became teens, I will admit that I was a bit shocked at the plot lines of some of the books that were targeted at their age group. Yes, I read books that had some graphic content but I knew that I was reading books for adults; I never thought any of that behavior was what teenagers did.

Having said that, the books that Mills picked up sound much worse than the books I've run across for my girls. I have found that it is much easier to avoid the dreary books that he described in his article than it is to keep kids away from other media such as objectionable TV shows. A kid is more likely to feel like an outcast if you keep her from watching the latest popular show like "Gossip Girl" than if you tell her she can't read "Story of a Girl". This is one instance where it is good that books aren't as popular as TV; kids won't feel peer pressure to read something that a parent doesn't like.