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Good books and people who love them.

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The following article was first published by Homeschool Enrichment Magazine

Avoiding Literary Landmines
by Derri Smith

An enticing picture book tells the happily ever after story of a prince finding his true love—another man.

A Newbery award winner, on virtually every required reading list in the nation, paints a glowing picture of the Spiritualist “Church.” Its distinguishing theme is the belief that the spirits of the dead can be contacted by masters of the occult to provide guidance in both worldly and spiritual matters.

A popular trilogy for young people portrays God as weak and deceitful and the Fall as the origin of human liberation. It tells of God’s ultimate defeat in a final war in heaven.

Welcome to a lovely family outing at the public library. These books are all real, widely circulated volumes with innocuous titles and covers designed to avoid parental red flags. And these are only the tip of the iceberg. Some titles found in the young adult section are far too perverse for description here. As one mother commented, “Books like these are no mere entertainment. They are part of the bigger agenda to wipe out (Judeo-Christian) morality and the sense of sin in our next generation.”

I’ve known well-meaning parents who want the best for their children and work hard to provide it for them, and yet who unknowingly assign their children books that seriously undermine their family beliefs and values. They assume that life is the same as it was when they were growing up, and that titles found on a library’s required reading list—books considered “classics” and books which have won major awards like the Newbery Medal—are high quality selections that every well-educated child should read.


The Library is No Longer Safe

In truth, however, those days are gone. No longer can we protective parents allow our children to freely roam the library shelves and select whatever captures their interest. No longer can we allow our children to freely select readings from Scholastic Book Club, or the latest books grandma picked up from the local bookstore. No longer can we just skim the book cover. Skimming The Geography Club cover, for example, would have you think this is a nice book to encourage your child’s interest in learning the continents, countries and landforms of the world. In reality, this book is about a group of “out of the closet” homosexuals who designed a club “so boring” that others would leave them alone.

What are we busy parents to do? It is not too difficult to look through picture books before our children read them. But many of us have children who are voracious readers. Once children start reading longer chapter books, there simply isn’t time to preview every title.


Helpful Tools and Methods

Concerned parents have found some helpful tools and methods for filtering books. Many use reference books like the Honey for a Child’s Heart series by Gladys Hunt or Jan Bloom’s What Shall We Then Read? Many rely on recommendations from trusted friends. Home Educators consult lists prescribed by curriculum providers, like Sonlight or TruthQuest and booklists, like the 1,000 Good Books List by the Classical Christian Education Support Loop, found on-line. Other parents assume that books of a certain age will better reflect their own Judeo-Christian ethics. For example, they restrict reading to only books printed before 1950.

These resources and methods are certainly helpful in discovering excellent authors and avoiding some of the truly horrendous “stuff” out there. Yet each family is different. There are books listed in Honey for a Child’s Heart that offend some families’ values. The adventure story that your child’s friend loved and that his mom recommended may give your more sensitive child nightmares. The fantasy book that your family loves for its rich Christian allegory may be offensive to your friend whose conscience does not embrace fantasy books. Some books printed before 1950 still have untrue worldviews, and some modern books are powerful teaching tools.


Pool Your Resources

Consider pooling resources with people of similar values through your church, school or homeschool support group. Design a simple form, perhaps on the computer, for parents and older teens to fill in as they read books. They would list factual information under broad categories of importance to group members, such as Violence, Morality, Family Relations, etc.

Under Family Relations, for example, the reader might note that the children in this story argue a lot, and that parents are presented as ignorant and inflexible concerning issues important to their children. The reader could even list examples of the behavior. Another reader might note under Morality that the main character is a model of honesty and selflessness.

You might survey group members to see what categories are of particular importance to them. Make the completed reviews available via a website or simply print and distribute them periodically for parents to keep in a three ring binder.


General Book Review Sites

A multitude of counsel can be found browsing general book review websites, like Amazon.com. Here you can read the official publisher’s summary. These descriptions are often sanitized of the useful information you want, but looking over member reviews will often raise red flags or give you reason to look further at a promising title.

Reviewing the websites published by those with views contrary to your own can also be helpful, at times. By looking at the sites of organizations promoting acceptance of homosexuality, abortion rights or the legalization of marijuana, for example, you will find the books they recommend for indoctrinating children. That might be a good clue to avoid those titles, if you don’t agree with those particular views.

BookAngles.com

The most informed choices are based on more information than simply “This is a good book,” or “You shouldn’t read this one.” In considering how best to help  families select the most appropriate books for their family (and for each individual reader in each home), our family was inspired by the movie review site for parents, called “ScreenIt!” Screen It! provides factual information about movies, grouped under categories of potential concern to parents, such as violence, sex and profanity. Screen It! reviewers exert painstaking effort to list the specific instances of each in the movie.

Rather than simply wishing someone would provide informative parental reviews like this for books, our family decided to create such a website, ourselves. And so was born BookAngles.com, a free online service.  Here we list potential parent concerns by categories, such as Intense Situations, Spiritual/Worldview Issues, Language and Character Issues.

We also provide a subjective rating and our narrative opinion of the book, because some people find that helpful. The heart of what we provide, however, is the objective listing of facts so that the adults who know each individual child best, can decide whether they are ready for a particular book.


Pen Mightier than Sword

It is easy to see how the old saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” came into general use. It is because books are powerful! They can inspire either noble or immoral actions. Literature can foster acceptance of the values of our culture or those of the Kingdom of God. Stories can encourage selfishness or selflessness, integrity or moral relativity, courage or self-protection. They can build cohesive homes or fractured families, respect for each individual or selective value of only certain lives over others.

Books may reflect what is true or make what is false appear reasonable. Read at the right time, a book can make a deep impact on an impressionable, young mind, while reading the same book prematurely can be a waste of great literature. Books can even help fill in gaps where our own parenting, family life or experiences are lacking.

How important it is, then, to use available resources so we may select our children’s reading materials with great care and guide them with discernment as they read.

Derri Smith and her husband, Bill, operate Sweet Home Press at sweethomepress.com, providing parents with curriculum and aids for real life, and BookAngles, an online book review service, at bookangles.com. 

Please contact us for reprint permission.

Censorship?


Neither BookAngles, its parent company Sweet Home Press nor the individual reviewers have the power or authority to demand any book be censored from the public domain. We do, however, exercise freedom of speech in equipping parents with knowledge they can use to guide what their own children read, what they purchase and how they act and vote in matters concerning public libraries and schools.

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