Friday, August 5, 2016

Junk Food for the Brain

Gabriel Roth has a thought-provoking article on Slate: "My Kids Read Only Subliterary Branded Commodities. Yours Probably Do, Too!" His premise, which I don't disagree with, is that left to their own devices, kids probably won't select the literary award-winners beloved by parents and librarians. Instead, they'll head straight for books with licensed characters.

This is especially true for beginning readers. For every Elephant and Piggie or Frog and Toad, there are thousands more Meet the Angry Birds (really?). Where I part with Mr. Roth is his fatalistic attitude that there is little to be done about this. He seems to throw up his hands when his young daughter requests yet another reading of Ariel's Royal Wedding/Aurora's Royal Wedding.

When my daughter was young, I often didn't solicit her preference on which books she'd like to read. I knew that left to her own devices, she'd be drawn to many of the slickly packaged mass market items of the day, just like when grocery shopping, she pined for sugary breakfast cereals. (Don't worry, she didn't get them either.) So instead of cramming her brain full of junk, I'd go to the library or bookstore and get the books I thought she'd enjoy--which she usually did. She became a huge fan of Kevin Henkes, Roald Dahl, Seuss (The Sneetches, in particular), and even Marjorie Flack's charming Angus books (courtesy of our local library).

Did that mean that she never got to read Disney's Little Mermaid or an American Girl or two? No. Just as she was allowed a Kit Kat every Friday afternoon and got to choose an assorted cereal fun pack during vacation, she occasionally read "subliterary branded commodities." But I didn't keep them in the house.


  1. I'm with you. My daughter will pick that stuff out sometimes, but if what I primarily offer is higher-quality books, she'll happily read and enjoy them. Now that she's 6 I've started mildly commenting on story quality when we do read some branded titles. But basically I trust that the better stuff is going to eventually stand out as better anyway.