Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Recommend books?

A movie just came out that I haven't seen, but I've done better: I read the book. The Lightning Thief, the first in the Percy Jackson series, is an EXCELLENT book that I can recommend to any middle schooler. The series is a modern take on Greek mythology, and it introduces mythology in a way that students remember and can connect to. For instance, today in my 30-minute reading block at the beginning of the day, we discussed the seven wonders of the ancient world (yesterday, we had talked about Oedipus and the Sphinx, so this was a natural segue, of course). There were three items out of the seven that reference mythology: the Temple of Artemis, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, and the Colossus of Rhodes (giant statue of Apollo). Several of the kids knew who Artemis and Apollo were already (from PJ book 3, The Titan's Curse). Small victory. I'm almost through the fourth book, and the fifth and final book is looking at me from the shelf, beckoning me to read it. So far so good.

But this has gotten me to think about another series that I love: Harry Potter. I have extremely mixed emotions about recommending this series, even though I adore it. It's weird. My hang-ups have nothing to do with the magic or anything. My hang-ups have to do with content. Let me explain:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is about a 10-year-old boy who has been through great loss in his life. In this book, he is finally finding a sense of belonging, a place where he fits in, friends, and a purpose. The book is so well written. I was in awe of the language used and the pictures painted with words. Every time Snape snapped, I had to smile, because it is physically impossible for me to read that without the corners of my mouth twitching. And when Dumbledore "twinkled" at Harry (furthermore known as HP), I would have to turn and twinkle at Eli. Loved it.

I would say this book is age appropriate for 10-12 year olds. Maybe. The problem lies in the fact that HP ages faster than his reader will. That 10-year-old will pick up the first book and read it. And then want the next one, where HP is 11 years old. And then the next one where he is 12. And this same ten-year-old reader (probably almost an 11-year-old by now unless he's particulary voracious) will then pick up the fourth book, the one in which HP is 14.

The Goblet of Fire and all the books after it are very dark. It goes right along with the story, and makes sense. But that didn't make it any less shocking when the first of several characters died. I was stunned speechless after reading it. And I was...21 years old when I read it? Can't believe it has been that long.

The battle between good and evil is genius (I do love the bit about the Elder wand), and you have to know that good prevails, as it will in most kids' books at this age, but that doesn't mean the imagery is appropriate for the same audiences that the movie makers are trying to appeal to.

So, it makes me uncomfortable. How is it that one of my favorite series of books EVER is something that I can't honestly recommend to my students because they're at that stage where they still want every book to have a happy ending--delayed gratification is NOT acceptable? I don't know if I would want my 10-12 year old reading past the third book due to maturity of subject matter. And if my child was not allowed to sit down and devour all seven books as the story unfolds, having to wait, then isn't that just as torturous as waiting for the seventh book to be published was??? Those six years from book four to seven were some of the worst waiting years of my life--so bad, in fact, that I refuse to start series that aren't complete anymore if I can help it(sorry, Eragon). So, no. I don't recommend them. To children, anyway.

But I don't shy away from magic, just to be clear. The legends of King Arthur and Merlin are excellent. The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis) are excellent. The Dark is Rising series (Susan Cooper) is excellent. The Strega Nona picture books (Tomie de Paola) are fantastic. The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are good if you're willing to chew chew chew on the jam-packed wordiness of Tolkein. (I vowed I would only ever read them once. Period.) And anything by Terry Pratchett (though he has few books intended for children). Anyway, I've read so many books that I'm sure there are many, many more that I'm leaving off, but I hope you get my point.

I've been reading magical books since I was a little girl, and I like to think that I'm pretty well-adjusted if not more normal than I sometimes would like to admit. I grew up in the church, and I had good answers and information from my parents. I hope to introduce Elsie, et al., to the world of reading and the wonder of storytelling, including stories with magic (hello fairy tales).

And that, my friends, is what my brain needed to unload this evening. Thanks!



Craig-Jen said...

Thank goodness you're a level-headed Christian that doesn't think HP is evil. I remember my Baylor Sunday school teachers telling me that they would NEVER expose their children to HP because it was wrong and evil. My first response was, "Have you read the books?" They had not. Then, I asked if they allowed their children to watch Cinderella. There are fairies who fly and do magic. Reading is a lost art of kids sometimes and I believe if a child wants to read, let them read! It inspires creativity! Parents are the first filter on teaching real and make believe and right and wrong. But there are age appropriate books and each kid is different. My little sister read adult books from a very young age (she's brilliant really) and after she poured through the Left Behind kids series, she read the real books (I think at like at 8-10 she started them).

And guess what? Those Sunday school teachers let their kids read HP. I like to think I opened their minds a bit.

Time for work for me!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry I don't always have great comments like your friend "Craig-Jen" but I love reading your blog, your thoughts and your adventures...keep up the great posts!

Daddio said...

One of ours just got a Percy Jackson book for his 9th birthday, I suspected you would have something to say about it. Maybe we'll put it on the shelf for a couple years.