Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Good Grief?

I've written before about the chaos that is library trips with my three kids.  My head is usually spinning as I attempt to keep track of them all in the large and busy children's section of our library.  Thankfully, my oldest is fairly adept at choosing his own books.  I end up doing the bulk of the book selection for my middle and little but am not able to do so in a leisurely fashion.

I grabbed Stinky Stern Forever because it was a short chapter book with the word "stinky" in the title.  Sold.  That was the extent of my previewing.

On Sunday, I was heading out to do a quick errand and reminded my middle guy to take a Minecraft break and start a new chapter book.  I offered up Stinky Stern Forever because I knew he would not be intimidated by the length.  Indeed, he read the whole book in less than an hour, but I returned home to some bewilderment.

My husband:  Why did you make him read that book?

The reader:  It was kind of really sad.

My oldest:  A kid died.

Oops.  I then scanned the inside cover and found this teaser:  But when school lets out and the kids begin to head home, something unexpected--and horrible--happens that will change Mrs. Fennessey's class forever.  Having neglected the inside cover, you can bet I also did not look up any reviews or summaries.  I might have discovered this plot point from a School Library Journal review on Amazon:  Pa Lia Vang doesn't like Stinky Stern, the bully of her second-grade class. But late one day, on his way home from school, he is hit by a van in full view of the child. She learns later that evening that he has died.  Had I previewed the book further, I would also have seen that those leaving reviews gave it high marks for tackling a difficult subject with sensitivity and offering a welcome degree of complexity and honesty to younger readers.  However, I still wouldn't have chosen it for my almost seven year-old.

The book made him feel sad, but it was ultimately, not a scarring experience (at least not so far).  It's okay to feel sad.  For another reader (including some others in this house), however, I think this book may have provoked anxiety, sleeplessness, and questions I'm not totally prepared to answer.  If my middle guy had been more rattled, I would have read Stinky Stern myself so that we could talk about it.  I have not done that because I don't really want to read a book about a second grader getting hit by a van.  I know horrible things happen that kids witness and must process.  I know that literature is one way to imagine the pain and confusion of a tragic event and to try to make sense of it.  I know that good and great books are often built around tough realities.  But, that's not what I was seeking when I put this book in our library bag.

So, what's the lesson here?
Authors should not write books in which children die.  Of course not.  Such books are needed, though I would prefer if they did not have a goofy kid on the cover and "stinky" in the title.

The library should put a little tombstone sticker on the side of the book.  You know, like the stickers that delineate sports books, mysteries, etc.?   Of course not, though I will say, my middle guy did ask several times, "Are you going to tell the library about this book?  I don't want other kids to be sad."

I should go online to read reviews of the books I choose for my children.  Practically speaking, I don't think this will happen, but I definitely will preview a bit more carefully going forward.  I would have found enough to give me pause had I just checked the inside cover.

I should ask our wonderful librarians to help us select books.  Definitely.  I have seen them in action.  They are great at asking about kids' interests, showing them options, and selling their favorite titles.  My middle guy and I will go that route next time we're there.

Curious about how other parents and kids choose library books?  Any tips or habits?

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