View Full Version : On choosing literature

Carol S
09-06-2012, 01:00 PM
What are some of your thought processes in choosing lit for your older students?

I would like most of their reading to fit into a Philippians 4:8 model, but many books that make the public school reading lists I see at the library definitely do not meet that test.

How do you make the decision to balance what is uplifting and beneficial for godliness with cultural literacy with what a freshman in college might be expected to know?

I am sure there is a place for dystopian literature, for example. I have certainly read some. I have read Farenheit 451 and 1984, but I have not read A Brave New World, because I felt like it seemed to have TOO much that was ignoble. I felt like Cliff Notes was plenty. YKWIM?

I know I am not the first parent to have ever wondered this. What has been your guidelines>

Robin in Colorado
09-06-2012, 01:43 PM
One area I'm particular about is language.

In my opinion, there is absolutely no reason to use certain words. "Realism" is not an excuse. There are ugly words that no one needs to know. Knowing them perpetuates them. Yes, we can know that there are ugly words. But we don't need to add the actual words to our own hard drives, KWIM?

Also, really - I focus more on the "think on these things model" than on "what would a college freshman need to know." I think that's God's hope for us - that we would focus on what he says is best for us and not what someone else says we need.

I know lots of people will disagree with me on this. Let me give you a little background so you'll understand my position. I have a journalism degree, and then some. I taught English in the public schools. I am a lifelong (since age 3) reader, and a writer.

Words have power. We can group words together to express ideas, or we can use simple one-word expressions to convey meaning. Words, all by themselves, have power. Think about how God uses words, how the patriarchs used words - think about The Word.

Your kids know that there is ugliness in the world. And the older they get, the more they will know that. But there is no reason to open their minds and pour in ugliness. We want our kids to be arrows, to go forward and reach for beauty and truth. We don't need to drag ourselves through the mud first. Wallowing in any kind of mud, literary or otherwise, can permanently stain.

Yes, there are hard truths out there, and yes, it's good to read about them. However, it's easy to add ugly to ugly with writing. A skilled writer, a true thinker, can write about hard and ugly things without adding ugliness to the world (including someone's inner world). Look for those writers. If you feel the need, read the "classics" again, this time with the eyes of a mature Christian parent.

What we put in our minds is what we reach for. Where do you want your kids to reach?

Just my $0.02.

09-06-2012, 11:39 PM
I would like most of their reading to fit into a Philippians 4:8 model,

I understand where you're coming from. I also have felt this way, but as my dc get older, I feel more and more strongly that I would be doing them a disservice to not introduce them to many things that don't fall neatly into that category. Does that make sense? So that shapes my choice of literature (or approval of personal reading, for that matter).

As a parent, I consider it my duty and privilege to prepare them for life. I didn't grow up Christian, so "life" for me may have a different connotation than it does for a lifelong Christian who has been surrounded by almost all Christians in every aspect of their life. I have to assume that this may not be the case for my dc. I have no idea where they'll end up or how they'll get there. So I think to apply that verse in a very strict sense would be overly controlling and over-sheltering (for me to do with my dc).

As for literature, I couldn't in good conscience avoid certain great books because of language or other possibly objectionable material. I'm talking here about classics (including great modern fiction) that may have some language -- not R-rated contemporary novels that maybe some schools are requiring these days. I have no interest in those. You mentioned Brave New World. As an example, I will probably assign that in conjunction with 1984 because one of them is about a government that controls individuals through pleasure and entertainment (something like Fahrenheit 451) and one is about a government that controls individuals through fear and deceit. There is so much to discuss there. Not the least of which is, which countries are falling into which traps? Where does the U.S. fall? Fascinating stuff, and highly relevant to today's world.

But even more important to me is cultural literacy. (And those two books are good examples of that.) For me, it's very important that my Christian, homeschooled children don't grow up "out of touch" with the reality of the world or the literary references that are a part of everyday conversations, media, and academia. Hugely important to me. So again, I do draw the line at contemporary trash (yes, I know that's subjective, but I know it when I see it), but I don't necessarily draw the line at adult themes, language, etc. If I feel that a book has a message that's important, that can be discussed, and that makes a person think, then I'm much more likely to say it's okay.

My list of "okay" books changes every year, as the child gets older. At some point, they're going to read whatever they feel like reading and I won't be able to do a thing about it. So I'm making the most of my influence now -- but I never want to be over-sheltering (by my definition of over-sheltering). I want to prepare them. I want them to feel prepared for life, not out of step with reality or with their peers -- in the sense that they are clueless and feel awkward and maybe regret homeschooling or (God forbid) coming from a Christian family. I don't feel like I'm preparing them to be worldly, just wise and knowledgeable. As best I can, that is.

And those books also lead to great discussions. Not just academic discussions, but personal discussions about life, which is often ugly and unpleasant and unfair and cruel. I treasure those discussions and I'll miss them when my dc are gone.

And that's my long, rambling answer to your very interesting question. :) I guess in short, I don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. I chew the meat and spit the bones, and am (I hope) teaching my dc to do the same with what they read.

Carol S
09-06-2012, 11:52 PM
At some point, they're going to read whatever they feel like reading and I won't be able to do a thing about it.

Yes, and that day fast approaches, and that issue is part of my dilemma. I mean, it is not like they are begging me to read Catcher in the Rye or anything. But I do think a 10th grader should have quite a bit of say in what she reads. Now, her tastes happen to be a little bit immature right now, and I hope that will change a little as we go along through the year.

Would either of you ladies be interested in emailing me any required reading you have had for middle or high school grades? It does help me to know what others are doing.

I was with my private schooled niece this weekend, and I photocopied her reading list for the year. The darker books included Dr. Jekyll and Animal Farm. I have not actually read either one of those, but will put them on my own list immediately so I can make a decision.

Not quite sure how I got through school without having to read either Animal Farm or Lord of the Flies. Other students had one or both of those as required reading, but apparently I must have had the English teachers that weren t into that sort of thing. ;)

Right now, as Sarahs tastes are a little immature as i mentioned, I think there is plenty to choose from to up her cultural literacy without veering too far into the ignoble. But I really do seek guidance on this issue. I guess for right now I think that perhaps she still needs her discernment muscle exercised a little more before we tackle some of those things.

09-07-2012, 12:46 PM
I find a website like http://www.commonsensemedia.org/ very helpful in making reading decisions. I use it even for myself! The comments often give you more information about a book or movie so you can see if you're comfortable with that.

This is a tough area because you have to find a balance. I don't shelter my children, but we also don't roll in the filth just because the rest of the world does and argues that it's "good for you" as you grown up or should be part of a "necessary" process. According to the scriptures, that's a lie. (Rom 2:8)

We live by the thought "Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character" (1 Cor 15:33) and that includes what books, movies, music and internet sites you spend your time with. Some people have a more sensitive conscience than others, but that's actually a Good thing so those of us with less sensitive consciences do not want to stumble those around us. This is a belief our children agree with as well. I have worked very hard not to allow my children to be desensitized, but we are very aware of what's going on in the world, we discuss it daily and reason and compare. We make careful decisions that leave us with a good conscience and a good relationship with our Creator.

By studying God's word, you learn what God views as good and what he views as bad and we follow the admonitions found thru-out the Bible.

Ps 34:14
Ps 97:10
Prov 11:27
Amos 5:15
Mic 6:8
Rom 2: 6-11
Rom 12:9
3 John 11

This is what helps us decide what literature to read and there are plenty of Classics and Contemporary novels in our school, but for us, we know where our personal line is.

Nancy Ann
09-07-2012, 12:52 PM
I think literature can be a great tool to teach children to "find God." Teaching them to find God in the darkest of places. "Finding God under a rock" is one of my favorite expressions because it encapsulates how merciful and beautiful God is. He is there with the untouchables, He is there in the dark places.

For me Philippians 4 is an important verse and a life motto; but I don't necessarily use it to judge materials. I also use it as a way to guide me and help me find these things that emulate this in our world. Most things will not completely encapsulate this verse but we can find this in most anything because God is in everything, even those that want nothing to do with Him because they are still His creation.

Now there is literature that is better than others, there is literature that is very dark. I am not saying to pick the most ickiest of all this literature. I am only suggesting a different perspective in approaching how to choose the literature and what you can do with literature that may not be the most noble. You can take literature and find God in them and it will teach children a great lesson that will help them in life. Instead of first judging someone or something...they can learn to see and find God and see the good in someone or something. There is some stuff in this world that is just evil and bad but there is A LOT that is gray and that is the stuff I am meaning.

ETA: When a kid grows up and goes to college they will have to read certain things or they won't get a grade, so again thinking in this approach may help them through that. Help them to deal with certain books, movies and tv shows that they encounter as adults.

09-07-2012, 04:00 PM
Carol, funny you should mention those titles. Jekyll and Hyde will be on my oldest's reading list for next summer (could have done it earlier but ... too many books, too little time). He just finished Lord of the Flies two days ago (from this summer's reading list). Lord of the Flies, while certainly dark, is the perfect opportunity to talk about an author's worldview -- in this case, his view of humans as being basically good or evil (and I don't mean in a theological sense as we might discuss original sin at Bible study). What, if given the "anything goes" opportunity, will "come out" in human beings -- good or evil? If you push humans to the limit, what is displayed as their true character? Golding has a very dark view of humanity, an unredeemed view, and it makes for a very good discussion. Also (and you knew I would say this), that book is such a well-known work and has made its way into the language. It's a must-read for my teens.

Funny you should mention Animal Farm as dark. Even though it's dystopian, I don't think of it as a dark read -- it's easier to read (theme-wise and adult subject-matter-wise) than 1984. You might be surprised.

Another thing I believe about literature is that when you read about humanity in all its forms, it widens your perspective and builds compassion and understanding about fellow human beings. I felt that way when reading so many books -- Their Eyes Were Watching God, for example. Conversely, there were some books where I felt nothing, because the characters (to me) were so unlikable or the writing was not to my taste (The Great Gatsby or Catcher in the Rye -- I may assign those at some point, but I personally don't care for them). But they all make me think. Which is a good thing. :D

09-07-2012, 09:47 PM
What are some of your thought processes in choosing lit for your older students?

How do you make the decision to balance what is uplifting and beneficial for godliness with cultural literacy with what a freshman in college might be expected to know?

You've received a lot of well thought out replies. My thought process includes the following:

Does it glorify sin? If so, it's out.
Does it include unnecessary foul language? If so, it's out.
Does it include justification of ungodly relationships? If so, it's out.

I want books that are edifying, enjoyable, and well written. I personally think a lot of the classics are over rated, and so does my dd. I try to pre read books before giving them to dd, and some of the better known classics just don't fit my criteria. I'm pushing my way through Pride and Prejudice right now, and am not enjoying it at all. Nothing so far that is in my elimination list, just nothing that would have me require dd to spend the time with it.

I've found that I do better giving dd a list of book options, and requiring her to pick 3 per quarter. That way, she can stretch her discernment muscles, within what I consider acceptable reads.

Also, because everyone has different criteria on their radar, I really like this site for bookreviews with specific potential problem areas:

09-07-2012, 09:54 PM
Funny you should mention Animal Farm as dark. Even though it's dystopian, I don't think of it as a dark read -- it's easier to read (theme-wise and adult subject-matter-wise) than 1984. You might be surprised.

I wouldn't consider Animal Farm dark either. Both my girls read it, it is a quick read. Very applicable yesterday and today, and shows what happens to a society not following God's laws.

Vicki P in VA
09-07-2012, 10:22 PM
I'm not sure if I should weigh in here or not, because I teach literature. :) However, this is such an interesting discussion (on one of my favorite topics!) that I couldn't resist!

I obviously have a different perspective than some might have here, considering I have studied literature for a long time. However, I respect your various perspectives and your prerogative for choosing what you deem appropriate for your children.

All I really wanted to share here was an experience I had teaching a course that including Dr. Jekyll, Dracula, and Frankenstein on the reading list (the theme for the course had to do with "monsters" of the 19th century, as you might have guessed!). I should say here (in case you're wondering!) that I am a strong Christian, and was involved in college ministry for a number of years. So, I determined these choices for our course "despite" my faith. :)

If you have read any of the books I mentioned here, you will know that they all deal very openly with questions of faith. In Frankenstein, the author is critiquing man's attempts to "play God"; in Dr. Jekyll, the author is dealing with hypocrisy in the church and society, as well as the nature of good and evil; in Dracula, one of the main characters (and the ultimate victor) is a man of faith who convinces the rest that we have to go back to the basics of religion and faith to deal with modern problems. Hardly the stuff of horror fiction they've been made out to be these days! [As a side note, since Dr. Jekyll was specifically mentioned above, I can confirm that it really isn't too terribly dark, especially by today's standards. There is one scene of violence (a beating) but it is very hazy as it was written by Victorian standards.]

In teaching these books, I had an amazing opportunity to share Christ with one of my students. We were reading Dracula at the time, and she (a Japanese student who had grown up without any faith) started asking me questions about religion and faith based on what the above mentioned character was saying in the story. It was a very thought-provoking conversation, and it was clear to me that God was working on her heart. Not something I ever would have expected in assigning that novel!

In sharing this, I am not trying to insist that they be read (I'm sure some of you are shuddering at the thought of having your kids read Dracula, for instance!). :) I just wanted to point out that sometimes God can be found in surprising ways, even in texts that are not overtly Christian. Questions about good and evil, the human condition, truth, etc. are dealt with throughout literature. Of course, some must be read with more discernment than others, and you all know best when your kids are ready (if ever) to read some things. But as a literature student myself, I know that this is a way that God has reached me many times over the years, and I have learned a lot about the world in which we live (good, bad and ugly) as well. Just a thought.

Vicki P in VA
09-07-2012, 10:33 PM
I'm pushing my way through Pride and Prejudice right now, and am not enjoying it at all. Nothing so far that is in my elimination list, just nothing that would have me require dd to spend the time with it.

This is not at all related to the current discussion, but I am a HUGE Jane Austen fan, and I have a hard time reading P&P as well. :) (Now the movie, on the other hand...!) I personally find Persuasion or Emma much more enjoyable to read and more manageable for students as well. Just a thought!

09-08-2012, 12:09 AM
That's good to know. Emma is in the plan as it's part of our Movies as Literature curriculum. :)