Monday, August 27, 2012

The Kind of Books Boys Want & Need

My last post dealt with books we should avoid. Now let me point you to a good article on books for boys. Martin Cothran's "The Dangerous Article for Boys: Why boys don’t need to get in touch with their feelings and how you can protect them from people who think they do (with a list of books to help you fend these people off)" is a great article.

Here is the opening section which frames the article:

A recent edition of The New York Times Sunday Book Review featured a Robert Lipsyte article that attempts to address this problem. Here is the proffered solution:
[B]oys need to be approached individually with books about their fears, choices, possibilities and relationships — the kind of reading that will prick their dormant empathy, involve them with fictional characters and lead them into deeper engagement with their own lives. This is what turns boys into readers.
Excuse me while I dab my eyes delicately with my handkerchief, touched as I am by this tender thought.

Okay, let's get something straight here: solutions like this are part of the problem. I'm normally against shooting spit wads in class, but I am willing to make an exception in this one case. The entire educational establishment has tried for over 50 years to force boys into their effeminate mold, and in the process, they've succeeded in evacuating literature of all the things boys like in books: action, adventure, danger, bloodletting—and an iron moral code that is taught, not by smarmy sermonizing, but by immersing them in the moral universe of a story about a hero who not only believes in this code, but enforces it with a vengeance.
Boys now seek refuge in cheesy horror novels because the Cultural Authorities won't give them the adventure books that were once staples in every boy's life. It is to this I attribute the popularity of vampire novels (and movies and television shows). But even here a boy is destined for disappointment.
Read the whole thing. He concludes with some recommended books for boys.

Friday, August 24, 2012

"Bad Books for Kids"

David Mills’ article, “Bad Books for Kids: A Guide to the World of Youth Literature & What You Can Do About It,” is one parents of teenagers should read.  Mills is no simple reactionary and this article is not a mere screed. Mills spent time investigating current popular books (the article first appeared three years ago) and distilling the worldview they present. You may not agree with all his points, but his overall assessment is important and compelling.

Mills’ survey of current books leads him to warn parents in several ways
“You may be surprised, if you don’t keep up on these things … how tawdry and sometimes depraved are the kinds of books being offered to teenagers by the major publishers and bookstores, and even the schools.”

If such stories form the child’s imagination and behavior, as they undoubtedly do, the average contemporary young adult “real life” book is a dangerous book.

After his survey he gives a very helpful analysis of the portrait of life that emerges from these books, their picture of a “good life.” He also gives several points of advice to parents in selecting books for their children to read, including, “do not be afraid to upset your child by telling him he can’t read something he really wants to.” There is really good advice here.

In his advice Mills makes this important and profound point:
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.
Something like the Christian story, in fact. This is the map you want to give him, the image of reality you want most profoundly impressed upon his brain, so his thoughts will run naturally upon it.
These contemporary stories, Mills says, are tawdry and dreary. They appeal to baser desires and miss our longing for glory. We must give our children books that will give them a nobler version.  As Mills says,
A culture forms and reforms with enormous power. But we have God on our side, and God tells a better story. Even the great pagans told a better story.