This year is the first year that we’ve been able to really participate in our local library’s homeschool book club. Over the past few years, we’ve had good intentions, but the day of the week they met was always in conflict with our schedule, or I’d forget about it, or we’d end up with other plans the day of the meeting. So I was excited this year to make the planning meeting, and discover that the stars have finally aligned and that we can participate this year.
The first book that we read was for the month of September. Lois Lowry’s ‘The Giver’ was the selection. I read this book a couple of years ago when my friend PBJMom was going through it with her class (she is a former homeschool expert, now amazing public school teacher). With the movie version that came out this year (which my oldest has seen), I figured that was a pretty good choice, especially if/since some of the kids had probably seen it, and would be more familiar with the story. It’s age-appropriate (middle school, which is my kids’ age, and the age that their book club is designed for), and provocative in that it deals with subjects that I feel are important for kids to consider.
In no way did I think that this was a ‘controversial’ choice, but apparently I was so wrong about that! When we went to discuss the book, I learned that the suitability for this book for this age qroup had been questioned – to the point that rather than selecting a single book to be read and discussed for the month, there is a list of 5 books that the kids can choose from, with a few questions at the discussion that pertain to how the book the student chose affected them, personally. While I don’t think that’s an entirely unworthy pursuit, it’s definitely not what I expected.
In books clubs I’ve previously been part of, the book is chosen and the discussion pertains to that particular book and how it impacts the discussion group members. Ideally, a ‘good’ selection offers something challenging – an idea or viewpoint that the reader hadn’t previously been confronted with, or a situation that broadens the reader’s experience in some way. That’s what I was looking for in a book club for my kids, and I feel like the approach that is being taken in this case is ‘safe’. And by safe, I mean boring, and not challenging, and wrong.
I can’t help but feel like the choice is based on pressures from the conservative and/or religious set in this area. I may be totally off base on that, but I really think that has a lot to do with it. The only ‘objections’ that I’ve been able to find for The Giver come from a conservative and/or ‘fearful’ viewpoint, with questions and concerns about the topics of sexuality, suicide, and rebellion.
Given that the main character is 11/12 years old, I think it’s entirely appropriate for children who are that are to be reading about what a child of a similar age might be seeing, thinking, feeling and dealing with, including the awakening of sexual feelings. A pre-teen is likely dealing with some of those same issues, and struggling to find his or her own identity. Books – especially those that bring new ideas to the table – are essential to their developing sense of morality and individuality. Far better, in my opinion, to read books that a parent finds objectionable with your child than to try to hide it from him. Reading with your child does several things. It enhances the bond you have with your child. It provides opportunities for discussion and exploration of the ideas presented in the book. Talking about those points can help a parent know their child’s mind, and re-direct his or her thinking if necessary.
Reading books together also provides opportunities to talk with your children about topics that you may find uncomfortable, or hard to bring up. Some things just don’t come up in everyday conversation, and trying to segue into them can be difficult without a catalyst. The Giver has a couple of openings that provide an in-road to a discussion about euthanasia, suicide, end of life decisions, eugenics and selective breeding, and a host of governmental and societal topics that we simply don’t have to deal with in our lives. I think those are valuable discussions to have with your kids!
Moving on, the discussion, itself was great! Our librarian is just amazing, and she does a great job at getting the kids engaged in the discussion, even when they’re reluctant to participate, or feel they may not have much to add. She brought popcorn and drinks, and used the game ‘Apples to Apples’ as an ice-breaker to get the kids (and parents) comfortable with talking to each other before she opened the book discussion up. It was a great strategy!
In any case, I don’t think that book clubs should be all about deep discussions, and despite all evidence to the contrary, I really am looking forward to next month’s discussion. The books the kids got to choose from were: Treasure Island, The View from Saturday, Anne of Green Gables, The Book Thief and The Pet War. The boys chose different books originally; PeaGreen was keen to read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, while LBB chose The Pet War by Allan Woodrow. After some discussion, PeaGreen decided to switch to The Pet War as well, so we’re working on that at the moment. We’re in chapter 6, and it’s clever, funny and engaging.
We’re notebooking our way through it, using ‘graphic’ note-taking. PeaGreen has really gotten into it, with pictures and charts, while LBB tends to prefer a more linear style of note-taking. It’s odd to me that they’ve ended up taking notes the way they have; I’d have thought they’d be opposite in their styles. Just goes to show that there’s always something to surprise you!
I’ve read The Book Thief already, and I think when we finish this book, we’re going to read that one, too. It can’t hurt them to be prepared with more than one book!
What are your thoughts on book clubs and ‘controversial’ topics in literature for kids?