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August 23, 2021

Children’s Literature and the Power of Bad Ideas

It’s tempting to be content that your child is reading anything at all, but there’s no substitute for excellent literature.

There is a war for the hearts, souls, and minds of our children. It is a war of ideas and worldviews that seeks to influence the thoughts and behavior of these students. This war is primarily fought in the seats of a classroom, where teachers do their best to educate the children in their care. If teachers are honest, they will try their hardest to lead these children toward the good, wholesome, and true. Unfortunately, some teachers’ hands are tied. They are limited by the resources provided to them and the policies that control their positions.

But there is also an even worse reality. Some teachers are more interested in either making a paycheck or using their position of influence to further an all-too-political agenda.

The first kind of teacher — the one who may be well meaning but is more interested in getting a paycheck — is probably the kind who would stock the classroom library with “trashy” books. Trashy books are those that reinforce rude, shallow behaviors; that have no moral or literary merit; and that are easy and quick for students to read. It is tempting for teachers to turn to these since they tend to be cheap and easy to get in great supply.

This is a huge problem. Children who are reading these books are absolutely influenced by them. They are learning from these books that rudeness is acceptable behavior and that being shallow gets you the kind of popularity they crave. One parent made this horrifying discovery with her oldest daughter’s reading choices from school. She was trying to find the source of the poor behavior she had seen in her daughter. Mom picked up one of her daughter’s library books and began to read. “I quickly felt literally sick to my stomach,” she explained. “The books were packed with everything we were trying to teach her to avoid: disrespect to parents, rude behavior, self-centeredness, focus on body image, and obsession with boys at a young age.”

She decided to change what her daughter was reading and came up with a book list of wholesome literature that has changed her daughter’s mindset for the better. She points out: “Many parents are just happy if their child will read anything, and they are afraid their children won’t love reading if they give them clean, high-value books. I am bold in my message: trust good books.”

The other sort of teacher, the activist, fills the classroom bookshelves with books that introduce children to concepts such as furthering the LGBTQ+ agenda and Critical Race Theory. Here are a few titles to look out for: It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn; Little Heroes, Big Hearts by Vera Heath; I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings; They She He Me: Free to Be by Maya Christina Gonzalez and Matthew Smith-Gonzalez; And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell; Prince and Knight by Danial Haack; and The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish by Lil Miss Hot Mess. Sadly, there are so many more.

These activist teachers will, at the same time, remove books by beloved quality authors, Dr. Seuss being the most notable. In March 2021, Dr. Seuss was canceled for his stereotypical depictions of other cultures in some of his earlier works. This was done without allowing for the context of the time in which he lived, or for the redemptive growth he had as an author creating works like The Sneetches, a tale teaching against the evils of discrimination. At the end of the day, taking Dr. Seuss from the shelves is just as powerful a statement as putting books like I Am Jazz on the shelves. It is a declaration of indoctrination.

Books are so foundational to the development of children. As Roald Dahl describes in his book Matilda, “The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives.” As parents, you are your child’s first and most important teacher. It’s tempting to just be content that your child is reading anything at all, but there is no substitute for excellence when it comes to literature. Here is a book list that may help you in guiding your child’s reading this year. Also, don’t be afraid to turn to classical literature such as Peter Pan, The Secret Garden, or Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales. Lastly, make time to read to your children. Your sharing good literature with them is the strongest influence of all.

“Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled ‘This could change your life.’” —Helen Exley

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