Monday, March 15, 2010

In Which Laura Has a Panic Attack (again)

As you know, this blog is rated PG (and so are our books). But if I'm being honest, I'm the true prude of this twosome [Editorial note from Lisa: Shocker!!!].

I think it's because I used to teach 6th grade and I know exactly how young our readers are (Lisa may or may not think high schoolers are the equivalent to the cast of Gossip Girl) [Editorial note from Lisa: Honestly, I think it's more of a cross between Gossip Girl and the new 90210. Totally fair assessment in my opinion].

I also realize that my daughter will one day read what we put out there. So, I guess you could call me relatively conservative. [Editorial comment from Lisa: If you consider wanting our book club members to call us Ms. Roecker conservative, then yes, I would agree with that statement. Of course I would also call it having a stick up your ass. But that's just me.]

That means I like to read the books BEFORE we choose them for our YA book club. But at our last meeting, something happened. It all went down so quickly, I didn't even have time to think. First we were watching a book trailer, then we were reading the premise, then we were checking out reviews and then we had chosen the book. All without me having read it first! I know, shocking, right? Anyways, Lisa was making fun of my panic stricken looks and subtle warnings that maybe this book would be inappropriate for 6th graders as the girls were chatting happily about reading BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver.

[Editorial comment from Lisa: For the record Laura looked like she was going to cry. At one point I considered giving her a paper bag to breathe into.]

As soon as everyone left, I immediately began my research about whether this book would be appropriate for our savvy 6th grade girls. Let's remember, I run into their mothers at the grocery store and they live in my neighborhood. I don't want to be responsible for exposing them to...well, anything (that's the baby in me speaking). So, you can imagine the growing pit in my stomach as I read the pages available on Harper Collins' website. Let me say, Oliver's words were amazing, hooked my right away, and I absolutely didn't want to stop reading. But I learned that the main character is a senior, like many kids her age, she went to parties and *gasp* drank alcohol and was contemplating having sex for the first time with her boyfriend.

All of these issues are totally appropriate for ages 14 and up, as the book says, but our impressionable, somewhat naive eleven, soon-to-be twelve-year-olds? I started to feel a panic attack coming on. I called Lisa, [Editorial note from Lisa: Laura called me three times and sent me two separate e-mails. When I finally answered she was out of breath and fighting back tears. I laughed at her and we got into a fight.] she got annoyed and told me to email the girls' parents.

So I did.

[Editorial note from Lisa: Laura was obsessed with getting responses. I think she was worried that the parents were going to blackball her from book club or something. She's seriously going to give herself an ulcer.]

And they wrote back the most open-minded, reassuring, responsible emails. They said things like, "...opening up lines of communication," "I prefer to have issues presented to the kids in this manner," "As long as it's YA," "...wonderful opportunity for her," "....I soooo appreciate the positive influence."

[Editorial note from Lisa: They also said things like "the girls are gushing when they leave meetings. They trust you and see you as peers." I might have cried. Just a little.]

So, wow. Crisis averted. Pretty amazing that in this age of helicopter parenting there are still parents out there who give their kids complete freedom when it comes to reading books. So, where do you stand on this issue? Do you (or will you) let your kids read whatever they choose? Fire away in the comments.

56 comments:

Lisa and Laura said...

To be fair, I didn't WANT the girls to call us Mrs., the parents started it!

Lisa and Laura said...

YEAH RIGHT. You totally wanted them to call us Mrs. until I flat out refused. If I remember correctly I said they could call you Ms. Roecker and me Lisa and that's when you finally broke down. Dork.

Lisa and Laura said...

Also, this sort of feels like the good old days when we used to regularly fight in the comments of our own blog posts. I get a little teary eyed thinking about it.

ChristaCarol said...

OK, you two crack me up with your sisterly bickering. I can only hope my girls are as close as you two ;)

As for the reading? WHATEVER THEY WANT. Well, excluding like, porn and stuff. But you know, anything in YA. Especially if they tend to read up. I wouldn't mind my MGer reading YA (my eldest is 4 3/4 and she already knows how to read, so anything I can do to encourage it, right?) I dunno, this day and age it seems not as many kids read as much. Sure, the YA market is definitely growing, but there are still a lot of kids (even girls) I know in this age range that are like "Twilight? Yeah, haven't read it. Don't really read books." <---just an example (I don't go around asking kids if they've read Twilight yet *snork*)

So anyway, yeah. Whatever they want. For the most part. :)

Kim said...

Wow you two are hilarious. I am super conservative. That's why I read mostly YA. I can't take the graphics in most adult books. I've put down really good books because I couldn't stomach the details.
BUT I let my nine year old read what she wants. She's already read Twilight and she listens to all of our audio books (Think Dan Brown and Dean Koontz). We talk about what's appropriate and what's not and I only stop her if I feel it is way too graphic or the f word is used too much.
I WANT her to be a reader, and if I start censoring her books, her desire to read is going to go out the window.

Karen said...

What a neat experience!

Y'know, when I was in 6th grade, I was reading adult novels. I read To Kill A Mockingbird, which has sub-plots of rape and lynching. I remember talking about the book with my parents and watching the movie with them to discuss the differences.

I think as a parent, I'll just want to read what they're reading and discuss it with them. Or send them over to your house to discuss it with you. :)

Nisa said...

You guys always bring a smile to my face!

Where do I stand on this? I think it's important to talk to 10/11 year olds about this stuff because it's not just happening in the teens anymore. It hasn't been for awhile. But to learn about it through books/movies? Eh... I'm also a prude (yep, I admit it) and this sounds like a book I probably wouldn't let them read until they were 13, but I reserve monitoring rights and the prerogative to change my mind after reading it.

lbdiamond said...

Wow, love the back and forth in the comments! LOL!

I worry about such things too. Don't want to tarnish impressionable minds. On the other hand, kids have probably heard it all before, LOL! ;)

Listen, I read The Witching Hour at 10 years old. Nothing PG about that! And Stephen King and Clive Barker--geesh!

Kimberly Franklin said...

LOL! You two are too funny! Love it!

Thankfully, I don't have children, so I don't worry about this too much. But, I would think that it if is YA it would be safe. I don't think I've ever experienced a really graphic YA book... not yet, anyway. : )

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

awwww too cute and I wish I was in 6th grade so I could join the book club!!

Emily J. Griffin said...

Please, please keep comment-fighting. I thoroughly enjoy it.

I intend to let me kids read what they like. Hell, if we're being honest, I've already started a reading list entitled: Books To Be Read By Emily's Completely Hypothetical, Possibly Never-Existent Future Children... by the time this is even a small possibly, I imagine the list will be quite long. Of course, I'll be reading AND discussing right along with them (that's where the PARENTING part comes in, so says the non-mother).

Emily J. Griffin said...

please forgive my blatant disregard of grammar and laziness when it comes to editing comments...

Dawn Simon said...

You two are hilarious!

Anyway, I let my kids pick their own books, but we talk a lot about what we're reading. I was more concerned when they were in the fourth and fifth grades, but I grew out of it. ;)

Rachele Alpine said...

Awww...I love open minded parents like that! I allow my students to read anything they want for independent books and it's so great when their reading isn't censored. I just started "Before I Fall" this weekend, and you're going to love it. I can't put it down!

Abby Annis said...

You ladies are so funny!

As for letting my kids read whatever they want? I'm a little restrictive. If it's YA, I read it first and then decide. But my kids are only 8 (girl), 10 (girl), and 11 (boy). The 11-year-old I don't have to worry about so much. My 10-year-old wanted to read Twilight when she was 8 and is still upset with me for not allowing it. I just don't want her thinking a relationship like that is normal or healthy. Sure, I could let her read it and then we could discuss it, but that wouldn't erase the way the story made her feel. And those feelings are going to have a much stronger influence on her than anything I have to say on the subject.

As they get older--13, 14, 15--I'll probably let up a little, but for now I'd like to shelter them a bit longer. I know they're already hearing about a lot of grown-up issues at school and we've had several discussions about it, but just because they're getting it everywhere else doesn't mean they need to have access to it at home.

Eventually, my kids will have to make their own decisions about what they think is appropriate, but they have the rest of their lives to make grown-up decisions. For now, I'd like them to be able to be kids for as long as possible.

B.E. said...

Wow - it's really great that you care about the girls enough not to want to hurt their minds. But whenever I worry about my younger cousins or friends reading something inappropriate, I think about Matilda (loved that book) and how, when she came to an 'adult' part of a book, she didn't let it bother and just skipped over it. And there are so many inappropriate things in Disney movies that kids don't even notice. So you probably don't have too much to worry about.
Although, the idea that just because a book is YA means it's appropriate is a dangerous one, and kudos for looking up information about the book first. :)
Just my opinion.

Kelly Lyman said...

Great topic to discuss. I taught 5th grade for a few years, so I understand when you are coming from. While I was teaching, there were a few girls who would have been okay reading this type of book- they had older siblings who had already introduced them to the world of sex and parties. However, I had some students who were very sheltered and immature. I think when it comes to topic such as this, you have look at the individual child, especially at this age with this type of writing. I think for all YA, it is important for there to be a adult who has read the book as well to discuss the topics at hand. Good for you ladies for holding this reading club- I do one with high school girls- it's a trip sometimes.

Melissa Sarno said...

Hilarious, I love this post! I don't have children, but I figure I'll let them read what they'd like to read. And I'm sure they'll find a way to read the things I may think are inappropriate. I do recall managing to read me some VC Andrews Flowers In the Attic when I was about 10 years old. Mom would not have been happy...

Jemi Fraser said...

lol :)

My kids are older now, but they were always free to choose what to read. My son mostly chose not to read, but that's another tale.

My daughter read a pretty wide variety and a variety of levels. She still does.

I find most strong readers read intense stuff pretty early, but they're able to handle it. If they're not, they generally put down the book because it really isn't at their interest level.

Jackee said...

LOL! See? THIS is why I need a writing sister. Just to make people laugh on my blog. You two are hilarious.

And to answer your question, I have no problem restricting my kid's media use of any sort until I think they're emotionally mature enough to make their own choices. So I say it's the parent's call. Dial the freedom of speech hounds on me, I don't care. But I choose what my kids read, see, and eat. For now.

Kristi said...

Wow - I'm not the only one who calls her sister a dork. Thanks for the validation!

As my kiddos are 2 and 5, they're somewhat restricted by their reading levels at this point but I let my 5-yo pick up and read whatever he comes across. I'd much rather have my kids read something and discuss it with me than restrict it. Forbidding them to read something will only make them want to read it more - and I've worked with enough teenagers (as a psychologist) to learn from other parent's mistakes.

Shannon Messenger said...

LOL-you guys crack me up. And Laura--you're a girl after my own heart. You have NO idea how much I panicked when I first got roped into the stupid PG Love-Scene blogfest going on today. Until I found my loophole... ;)

As far as what I would let my currently imaginary children read, I guess it depends on their personalities. Each kid is different. (Oh boy--I shouldn't share this, since it could SO easily come back to haunt me--but apparently my parents tried to have the birds and the bees talk with me and my year and a half older sister at the same time--killing 2 birds with one stone and all that. And apparently as soon as the word "sex" came out I stood up, told my dad "I'm not ready to hear this" and walked out. *blushes* I have ZERO memory of that...but it sounds like me) So it's really up to the parents to know their kids.

But I'm a big fan of reading things myself--before making the decision--and a big proponent of open communication. So if my kids were ready for it I'd gladly read it along with them so we could talk. :)

Rhonda said...

Love the sisterly bickering...glad to know my sisters and I aren't the only ones who have it down to a science. :)

I was an avid reader as a child and I read nearly anything and everything I could get my hands on...much of which was far above what my mother would have considered "acceptable" reading material. The problem was that I was such an avid reader that most books that were geared toward my age I'd either already read or I considered too 'babyish' to be bothered with (yes, I was a book snob even as an eleven year old).

So when it comes to reading material for my step-daughter, I'm pretty cool with whatever she chooses to read (well, as someone else said, "excluding porn and stuff"). If it's a bit beyond what she's experiencing in her life right then it can serve as a means to open a conversation on how to deal with certain issues *before* they arise in her life.

However, having said all that, if it were someone else's children? I'd have been right on board with the full on panic attack because I know not all parents are as relaxed when it comes to reading material as I am.

Jen said...

I don't have children but I would let them read young adult and anything that I've read in the past that I think is appropriate... but to be fair I yet to have kid so I guess when I have them it could change!

I'm glad to see that the crisis was averted none the less!

Tahereh said...

ahahaha

*cries*

ahahaha

(why don't i have any sisters??)

*cries*

you guys are hilarious.

and i don't know... hummm i don't have any kids, but i think i'd let them read most of the stuff my parents didn't let me read. i think keeping the kids educated is healthy, but keeping them informed (with the door open for communication) is more important.

after all, if they don't hear it from you, they'll be searching for answers somewhere else.

best for the parent to give the kid advice, i think.

p.s.iloveyouguysandimalreadywearingallthreepiecesofthatnecklacedon'ttellanybody.

Angela said...

It's such a tough call--I think you really have to go by a case by case basis, It's all in how the topics are handled, and what gets across. Are there tangible consequences to irresponsible behaviors, or not?

Just stuff I'd be thinking about when selecting what a certian age group should read. And good call on talking to the parents. That's exactly what I'd have done. Better safe than sorry, right?

Does this mean We have to start calling you Mrs too?

Corey Schwartz said...

Ah, hilarious as always. Btu I admit I got a little teary-eyed when I read the parents' responses. Aw!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Laura,

I can totally sympathize with your panic attack. I once had a parent threaten to bring me in front of the school board because her daughter chose to read a book by Sharon Creech from my classroom library. (One in which the MC discovers her mother had a son before she was married.)

Crisis was eventually averted. But I've never been able to pick up a Sharon Creech book since then.

(Sorry Ms. Creech. But I get a post-traumatic stress flashback when I see your name on a book.)

Christine Danek said...

I love your posts. They always put a smile on my face. What a great topic! I think it is more the responsibility of the parent to know what their child is reading. I think it is great that you warned the parents and allowed them to make the decision.

Too many parents expect other people to raise their kids then if their child acts out they put the blame on someone/something else.

Your book club is a great idea.
Thanks!

Christina Lee said...

First of all, SQUEE b/c I just downloaded that book to my kindle iphone app. But yeah, loaded question and makes me glad teen years aren't coming for awhile for little man. But if it makes you feel any better Laura, that would have totally been me--so from now on, call ME not your sissy for support--LOL!! You guys did the right thing emailing the parents. And how very cool you have this going on and with the parents support. Can I come next time? I promise not to show up with my bi 'ol bottle of red wine! Maybe just some beer :)

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Books are a safe place to experience the world. I love that you are reading alongside these kids.

Marsha Sigman said...

Love the bickering.lol

I think it's great that you have a group of girls in your bookclub with such awesome parents! I personally get a little teary when I see any book in my son's hands. I do not care what it is as long as he READS.

He still likes me to read the book and then tell him everything that happened. I am hoping he outgrows this before college.

Heidi Willis said...

You two are so funny! I love reading posts where you both get your say. :)

Too bad you don't live in the south. We solved the Mrs. or first name problem by calling everyone Miss or Mr. AND their first name. Like, I'm Miss Heidi to my kids' friends. It's respectful and warm.
(my verification word is "burpin." seriously??? who comes up with this stuff??)

Lisa Desrochers said...

Okay, so, I actually wrote my book for my daughter. She was 14 at the time, and still, I was a little embarrassed to have her read some of what I wrote. You can see what you think when you get my ARC in a few months. =)

I think books present a great opportunity to discuss issues like drinking and sex with pre-teens. Instead of mom "preaching" we can discuss the characters' choices and all the pros and cons.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I haven't allowed my 7th grader to read Chris Crutcher yet, even though I adore him and his books. I think there are themes and text that are just too old for some kids - because of age or maturity level or content. Wyatt is a good enough reader, and pretty mature, but I don't think he's ready for the material and language of Crutcher's books yet. I take it on a book by book basis. :-)

Elana Johnson said...

Great post! I think I'll read what my kids do before they read it. Or at least look it up online first.

And can I just say that I wish someone would fight with me in my blog comments? LOVE that your first three comments are from, well, yourself!

Sarah said...

You're hilarious. I love the "dialogue" in the comments.

I think it depends on how old the kids are and what the subject matter of the book is exactly. One of the awesome thing about books is that you can talk about them.

Kim Harrington said...

My parents never censored what I read. My dad let me read his copy of PET SEMATARY when I was 9 or 10!

I'm going to let my lil' guy read anything he wants, too.

But, I understand your panic attack, because those girls aren't your kids. And, though I will not censor what my son reads, I have to respect that other people may have different rules in their families.

Danyelle said...

It will depend. At least one of us will need to have read the book first so we can be aware of any issues that we'd need to discuss with our kids.

It would also depend on the book and the level of maturity of my child.

There are some things we don't allow in our house, and any media (books, music, movies) with sex scenes is one of them. But we also tell our children why, and are open to discussion on why we don't. We keep it age appropriate, of course, and it's nice to have those kinds of conversations instead of just forbidding straight out.

Kim said...

From another former 6th grade, stick-up-her-ass teacher, I say you were right to worry and check it out. I don't think of 6th graders as YA. Since these are not YOUR kids, you never know how the parents will react if they found out after the fact.

Ok...that being said, this comment is also left by the former 5th grade teacher who thought it would be a good idea to start off the sex ed unit by having the girls write down all the slang words they knew for breasts, vagina and penis so that after that day we would only use the correct terms. um...this all took place in Hawaii where there were an abundance of Filipino and other foreign terms this haole had never heard before. So like a complete fool I was up there saying God-only-knows-what trying to figure out what column these words belonged in. Yep, not one of my finer teaching moments.

Did I even answer the question?!?!? Hey, my word verif is "preepie". I'm sure that was on that list.

jessjordan said...

Oh, how I adore the back-n-forth, sarcastic banter. Thanks for reminding me why I love you two. :)

By the way, how in the world did you come to host a book club with a bunch of 6th-grade girls? I would absolutely LOVE to do something like that--with a slightly older age group--but I'm thinking I'd look a little bit creepy, inviting a bunch of kids to my house ... (Not that you 2 did, of course. I'm sure you were super normal ...)

:)

April (BooksandWine) said...

Well, from where I sit, I'm 22 and don't have children, but if I did, I'd let them read whatever they wanted, but I'd also read out-loud to them, because I know how positive that activity can be. Maybe that'll change when I settle down and have kids, but if I woke up in the morning and magically had children (perish the thought!), they'd chose their own books from the library.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

You guys crack me up. Loving the editorial comments.

I think the sort of responses you got are probably similar to what I would have said. The important thing is to discuss the issues with your kids. They'll be exposed to it regardless, so better to do it in a responsible, mature way, I think, where you have some control over how they learn about it. Granted, I'd rather she wasn't exposed to EVERYTHING at age 11, but all in moderation. :)

Please do keep up the convos between you. And then be sure to publish them. It's downright hilarious. Except for when you fought. That made me sad *tears up a bit*

;) Love how well you guys get along.

K. M. Walton said...

Being a former 6th grade LA teacher I completely felt your panic. I had a similar situation when I blindly recommended The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie to one of my 6th grade boys. He LOVED it. Then I read it.

OOOOHHHH. MYYYYYYY. GOD.

Cursing. Masturbation. Yeah. Uh-huh. Recommended by THE TEACHER.

Now, to be honest, it was my favorite read of that year.

I did the same thing you did, called his mom and she had the same reaction. Whew.

T. Anne said...

Great topic! My boys aren't YA readers but when my daughter is of age I will for certain be reading her books first. I don't want her reading any of the cr@p I read when I was in fifth and sixth grade. Yeah I had one of those moms.

Alissa said...

Well, I don't have any kids, but I can distinctly recall reading Catcher in the Rye when I was in sixth grade, and that's a pretty mature book.

Sorry, I was going to write something else, but I got all distracted noticing you two had written the first three comments on this blog and started laughing so hard I lost my train of thought.

Kat O'Keeffe said...

Haha you two are hilarious! When I have kids, I'll be pretty open with what I let them read. I agree with what some of the parents said about opening the lines of communication and preferring to present the issues in this matter.

(Also, you guys are so cool for doing that book group! I wish I had something like that when I was younger!)

Lydia Kang said...

you guys are too funny. I think I'll let my girls read stuff when they want so long as they let me talk to them about it!

lexcade said...

i love you guys. you're hilarious :)

it's awesome that you have this book club with the girls. it's so important that they learn to appreciate words and their influence, and also to have super-cool friends like you guys who have chosen to mentor them. 11-13 is tough, and everything about being a girl starts to change. it's good that they have influences like you guys who obviously care about them.

Little Ms J said...

I love it when you fight in your comments. I say the kids should be able to read whatever they want as long as mom/dad, and the Mrs. Roeckers (plural) foster dialogue about the subjects that may be a little more sensitive. What a great way for kids to be exposed to the grown up stuff.

Erica said...

Yep. I would let them read what they want. I would certainly talk to them about whatever questions they had, but who am I to begrudge them reading something they might love? This of course excludes any X-rated stuff, at least until they are 18 and can decide for themselves.

It's not as if they haven't heard it elsewhere at various times.

Fabulous post- and you two can bicker anytime - it's pretty hilarious ;o)

Stephanie Thornton said...

I think emailing the parents was a great way to avert any possible disasters. And now you're going to have a great discussion with your group. Yay!

Laura Pauling said...

For me it's not so much the sex or violence, it's the emotional maturity. I haven't let my 11 year old read Twilight because it shows such an unhealthy unrealistic view of how you should love a boy. Even though, I liked the books, I don't want her to exposed to it. Yet. Meaning, I wouldn't let her read Hush Hush either. Thankfully, she mostly reads high fantasy so the girl characters are strong and independant not weak and dependant on men.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I'm the same as you -- I worry about being the one to introduce kids to things that their parents may not want them to read about yet. I stressed over giving this sixth grader a book that had the word "dickhead" in it so I asked her mom and the mom said she would prefer that she not read the book. But then someone gave it to her for Christmas and when I borrowed books from this girl, there was far more language than dickhead on her shelf! So there you have it. The mom didn't even know what was going on under her own nose! Why was I surprised?

Donna Gambale said...

You two are hilarious. I'm so so bummed we can't meet on Thursday. And I'm a few years from wanting kids, but I'd like to think I'll be open to what they read -- especially considering my love for YA and that I'll be happily reading right alongside them, which will make it easy to discuss issues in the books.

ASBLACKASOBAMA said...

Every time I turn around, more and more new books are preceded by 'book trailers'.... Are these the new hot thing? Are we going to see this more often?

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