When choosing books for their children parents can be very choosy, but few actually know how to decide if a book is good or not. I can’t give you a list of every single good and bad book out there in the world, but I can tell you how to evaluate a book. There are several different elements to being sure that what your kids are reading is worth their time.
Some Books Are Dumb
First of all, though not every book has to be “educational”, they should at least not make kids dumber. Some of the popular series of today have zero literary value. R.L. Steins Goosebumps, The Junie B. Jones books, and some of the newly popular graphic novels (not all graphic novels, many of them are excellent) fit in this category. If your kids like these, it’s okay in small doses. Treat them like you treat candy. It’s okay to eat once in awhile as a special treat, but as a regular thing it’ll ruin your health.
Some Books Are Banned
Next, there is a constant war on certain books, with some libraries, school, and parents banning them or at least restricting them to older children. The Little House on the Prairie series, Huckleberry Finn, and Harry Potter have all been in this camp, along with Fahrenheit 451 and Canterbury Tales. So how do you really know if they’re good or not?
Some books are fine for adults, but certainly not for children because of the content. Books that deal with abuse, rape, war, sexuality, or crime are probably not appropriate for children. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is an excellent book with insights into the middle east and attitudes there that are extremely relevant to today’s issues, but I would not have a child younger than 18 or so read it–it’s just too harsh for a child to deal with appropriately. Also books filled with foul language are not good for anybody, no matter what the rest of the book may contain.
What about a book like Harry Potter? Many parents are as big of fans as their children are, but many others think it is straight from the devil. So which is it and how can you tell?
Whole, Bent, and Broken
There are three main types of books: whole, bent, and broken.
Whole books are stories that tell of a struggle between good and evil and you know throughout the book which side is good and which is evil and in the end good wins. The Chronicles of Narnia are of this type and so is The Lord of the Rings.
Bent books are of a struggle between good and evil as well, you know throughout the book which side is evil and which side is good, but evil wins. The Lord of the Flies is this type of book. These books are important as well and should be read, but probably not as often as whole books. In this world it often seems as though evil is winning, so it’s important to examine this and human nature, but we all need the constant encouragement that whole books provide. We need the heroes that whole books provide. We need the truth that eventually good will win that whole books provide.
Broken books are pure evil and should be avoided like a stinking mess of sewage. Broken books have just evil, but evil is made to appear as good. They confuse and beguile one into believing that power is the same as good, that there is no evil, just differences of opinion. Cheap racy romance novels fit here as well as many other books.
What About Harry Potter?
So which is Harry Potter? I will be courageous and give you my opinion on this controversial issue. Harry Potter is most emphatically a whole book. It has a clearly defined battle between good and evil. Throughout the books you know that Harry and his friends are on the side of good and Voldemort is on the side of evil. Voldemort seems unconquerable, but in the end he is beaten by the power of love, which he has so foolishly discounted.
Many parents do not like Harry Potter because of the fantasy world of witches that the book inhabits. They would say that this fantasy world, which involves witches and in which witches are seen as good, is broken.
First of all, the world of witches is merely a device used to create a world within a world, a common device of fantasy. Fantasy itself is used to teach truth in a separate world, which allows us to step back and see things that are close around us in a detached, and therefore more objective and clear way. The Chronicles of Narnia, an undeniably whole book, uses this device of fantasy deliberately to make allusions and parallels that would not be easy to make if it were set in the every day world.
As to witches specifically, the word has been used in the past to describe women who were seen as evil by a particular community. Whether they were actually evil is highly suspect. Originally the word “witch” meant a wise woman who used herbs to heal, and I don’t want to get into the whole persecution of women thing, but over time the word took on an entirely different meaning and connotation. The truth is that witches as magical beings have never existed, so why do people still get all worked up over them? Do parents also object to the Wizard of OZ or The Lord of the Rings, both which contain good and evil witches/wizards?
Why did Rowling use the world of witches and wizards to set her story in? I do not know, but I speculate that she did it because it had never been done before. Rowling did an amazing job of not only entertaining, but of making a new ordinary hero who fights against incredible odds and overcomes. In a world of incredible odds we need such heroes desperately. She also sets forth some truths about evil, government, fighting for freedom, education, courage, loyalty, strength in the face of temptation, and love.
Smart Parents Censor
Though governments should not and do not have a legal right to ban books, such is not the case of parents in the home, you can censor to your hearts content and a wise parent will do this with discernment. Embrace whole books, analyze bent books, nibble occasionally at the “junk food” books if you must, and avoid broken books. To fail to control your children’s input of information is as detrimental to their souls as failing to control their food intake would be to their bodies. Parents have a responsibility to guide their children and mold their characters.