IMO: Why We Should Just Let Kids Read

Posted on 05/04/2012 in Discussion / 21 Comments

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A twitter follower, who won’t be named because she’s a minor (although she is welcome to comment here if she likes) said this to me yesterday: “My dad decided I had to read ‘big kid’ books” – when we discussed why she didn’t yet have a copy of Insurgent in her hot little hands.  She had been placed on a book ban until she finished a biography that even I found sounded boring.


What constitutes a “big kid” book anyway? Is it some enlightening material that is going to help you become brilliant? Is it a textbook or a biography? Who and what determines the guidelines of a “big kid” book?  Hearing that, it made me realize that, at thirty-two years old (yikes!), I don’t read ANY “big kid” books.  In fact, I never have (the Steve Jobs book doesn’t count – I’m an iNerd – and I haven’t cracked the spine yet).  Upon inspection of the books I’ve read this year alone, 21 out of 25 books have been Young Adult.  !!!

When I was a kid (elementary through high school), the only book ban my parents enforced upon me was when they grounded me by taking away my books, because they figured out that grounding me from going outside or from the TV, or even from talking on the phone with my friends (this was before texting you guys), didn’t do anything since I would simply banish myself to my bedroom and read a book. Contentedly. Raised as an only child (I do have two sisters – they didn’t live with me) I was perfectly capable of entertaining myself; I was also very willful (still am), therefore punishments were probably hard to think of for me. So – I got grounded from my books.

But my parents never told me WHAT TO READ. I think they were so happy I wasn’t watching garbage on MTV that they didn’t care what I read, as long as I was actually reading something. I often perused my stepfather’s bookshelves for more content to bury my nose in, begged to be taken to the bookstores and library, and borrowed friends’ books religiously. But it was never mandated that I HAD to read books I didn’t want to read, unless it was for school.

I’m a big proponent of not forcing kids (hell, people in general) to read things they don’t like. I think that squashes the love of reading and is a detriment to the very trait a parent is trying to instill. I would love for my boyfriend’s son to enjoy reading, so I get excited when he even shows an interest in magazines. It’s one step closer. I’ll buy him any book he wants as long as he wants to read it. I will never tell him he has to read a “big kid” book, because that’s two steps forward and THREE steps back and not the direction we want to go.


I also find that people, no matter what book they read, still take something away from it. Right now, the current popular genre among teens and young adults is Dystopian and finding a hero in a character like Katniss Everdeen, who is a) smart, b) cunning and c) brave isn’t really all that bad.  There is a lot to take away from books like The Hunger Games and Divergent, especially given the world’s current political climate.  No, they aren’t classics, but we don’t know if they will be someday.  Every great classic started somewhere, right?

I can only hope as I get older that I don’t make these kinds of mistakes with “my” kids.  I don’t want them to hate what they read and then perhaps someday, hate the written word.  Where would we be then?

So tell me your thoughts: would you make your children read the classics, or biographies and memoires outside of school?  Or would you be perfectly content if they were simply “readers?”

Special thanks to my Tweeper for the inspiration of this article!  Now finish that terrible book you have to read so you can get Insurgent!

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Jennifer is both a book nerd and professional photographer. That means she lives in the fantasy world all the time, whether of her making, or someone else's. She collects books like the Duggar family collects kids, and began waiting for her Hogwarts letter at the tender age of 33.


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21 responses to “IMO: Why We Should Just Let Kids Read

  1. Growing up, I read whatever books we’re lying around the house – so usually whatever psychological thriller my mom was in the middle of reading. I was also occasionally bought/given books I wanted to read, but I definitely was never told what I could/couldn’t read. I think if I were hoping to have my kids read a “big kid book” I’d make sure they were readily available, so when the time came when there was nothing else to read, or when they decided to take an interest on their own, there would be nothing stopping them. But having had books forced down my throat for school, I would never force a book upon a child – I agree that it only discourages them from reading, because they associate this boring book with every book out there.
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  2. I hate that attitude some people have that once you reach a certain age, you can’t read kids or ya books. I’m nearing 21 and I read the diary of a wimpy kid books with no shame! I think reading any kind of book is great. Just because something isn’t an adult book doesn’t mean it can’t be just as moving or thought provoking or entertaining. I agree with you. If I ever have kids, I’ll encourage them to read what they like.

    • Okay, I admit, when I went to buy the Twilight books at the height of the craze, I was the only person my age (29?) with them in hand at the store. I did feel like a jackass. I wouldn’t now though, knowing there are die-hard fans from 13 to 70 years old. But I didn’t know that then LOL!

  3. I know of someone who has this kind of implemented book ban as well. She’s from Twitter too so maybe they’re the same person? Anyway, I was just so sad when I heard about it because I thought parents wanted their children to read and the last thing in my mind were parents banning books they didn’t deem appropriate. Like you said, forcing someone to read what she does not like will most likely suck any interest in books and reading that child has. Perhaps, they could argue that they’re just giving their child a chance to try and read the “big girl” books and the classics but I do believe that parents should always provide any opportunity for their kids to read and banning books that aren’t in the “big girl” or classics category takes away that opportunity. They should be allowed to read anything and should be given access to any books they fancy, of course this is within consideration of their age. The only book ban my parents implemented throughout the 18 years of my life was book splurging and I think that’s practical. They’re not readers but they did not discourage me instead they encouraged me to go to libraries and see and discover more books and I’m forever grateful for that. I hope parents will realize that although they are the grown-ups and they feel that they should give their children proper upbringing by introducing them to books they like them to read, dismissing your children’s need to read books of their liking will only result in what you rightfully said already: hating the written word.
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    • Yes, exactly all of this. My parents didn’t pay much attention to what I read, honestly. Looking back, it probably wasn’t age-appropriate for me to be reading Sweet Valley High books in the 4th grade, but I didn’t take anything bad away from it luckily. The classics bore me, too. To Kill A Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby were the only ones I enjoyed.

  4. I think many classics are boring as hell. I was lucky and my mother let me read anything I wanted I loved going to the library and she was all to happy to take me. I feel sad for this kid sounds like her dad is trying to do something that may be best of intentions but in a very bad way.
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  5. Hmmm very interesting post. You know, I agree with most of it. However, in my opinion, I would have my kids try to read a couple of different genres. My mom had me read books like “Sounder” and “Black Beauty”, to try them out and see what I thought. Because of that, now I am able to read books like “Anna Karenina” – oh, and reading “Little Women” at the age of 10? That was definitely because my mom was helping me to try new things. She never forced me to read anything, but I definitely know that her input has helped me to open up to a ton of other genres and see reading in a new light. That’s why I want to do the same thing with my kids. Help them pursue all genres and classics, in a way that’s fun (I’m currently writing a literature curriculum based on the premise that kids nowadays don’t like to read because they’re forced to – what can I change about that?). So anyways, great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I definitely agree that kids should not be forced to read what they don’t want to, but that they should be helped to try new genres and even something a little harder that they might find to be their next all-time favorite. 😀 Sierra @ Yearning to Read
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    • Thanks! I agree that kids don’t read because they are forced to. I also kind of feel like when teachers force curriculum reading, it can be a detriment. I do think there are great benefits to kids reading the classics and also to curriculum reading, but I know so many of my peers that hate reading because of what they read in school and that they were forced to think about what they read. It’s a tough line to walk for parents and teachers alike.

      • Totally agree!! I feel like if teachers made more of an effort to make it seem like a choice, not a chore, for the kids to read the books they have to for school reasons, it might be easier for kids to step up and try all different genres. I’m not saying it’s one person’s fault, though, and you’re so right, it’s a really tough line – a fine line. Thanks for your thoughts 🙂
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  6. My dad banned books from me, too. I wasn’t allowed to read Anne Rice! I think I was maybe twelve when this happened, but I borrowed the books (The Mummy, and The Queen of the Damned) from my mother, and brought them home to my dad’s where I lived full-time. And he took the books away from me, and never gave them back — not to me, not to her. Ever. Why? Because they had sex in it! Now from what I can recall, they don’t. At least not the Vampire books but whatever. That will never happen with my children. I’ll be happy that they want to read ANYTHING.
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  7. My parents did something a little different (granted this was 30 years ago): They let me pick 4 of the 5 books that I would get from the library (never telling me no) and they would pick 1. We would go back to the library when I finished all 5. I do think that you should make kids branch out from just one type of fiction but I do not think it should be done to the deterrent of their love of reading!
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  8. Oh, I’m definitely with you all the way! I think reading is good, no matter what you read. If they enjoy it, let them enjoy it! I’d like to know if parents who does this have read the “big kid” and the “small kid(?)”, book themselves and if they know it’s for some reason better than the other books… Which kinda brings me to wondering what you bring up: “what is a big kid book?” o: I know my sister doesn’t read at all and she’s recommended to read. Even the teachers doesn’t care what it is, as long as she does. My parents doesn’t force me to read anything specific (heck, they don’t even know WHAT I read), but they do think I read too much and want me to be more like a “normal” teen. I guess me not being out drinking every weekend is a bad thing. It’s always an interesting discussion with kids and reading!
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  9. I read anything and everything as a kid, and my mom never said I couldn’t read, or had to read, any specific books. She probably should have told me to wait for books like Stephen King or trashy romance, because I read both of those too young. But I plan to take the same open mindedness with my son as I just want him to enjoy reading, regardless of what it is.
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  10. Valerie

    I refuse to mandate what books my sons read. My 10 year old is reading the Hunger Games and the Harry Potter series at the same time. I do offer new books to him that I think he’ll like, but I NEVER tell him he can’t read a book just because it’s above/below him. The only time I intervene is if the reading material is not appropriate for his age, such as the Twilight series. I will NOT allow him read it due to the sex and romance that he is not ready for at 10. His reading scores at school were a 5.0 – 13.0 level, meaning he reads anywhere from 5th grade to first year college level material. He is in 4th grade and chooses to read more books that are closer to senior year high school or early college reading. Why would I EVER squash that?!?!

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  12. Uh. Buh. GAH! Your parents took away your books? THAT IS CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT :O I think what you said here sums it up best: “I’m a big proponent of not forcing kids (hell, people in general) to read things they don’t like. I think that squashes the love of reading and is a detriment to the very trait a parent is trying to instill.” My parents never MADE me read anything, but they instilled a deeply ingrained love of reading in me from a young age. How? They read to me. They gave me books. They never stopped me from reading anything, but encouraged me to read anything I wanted. I picked up books that interested me where I was at, starting with picture books, moving onto Babysitters Club moving onto Narnia, then I read my Dad’s fantasy novels (David Eddings, David Gemmel and Raymond E. Feist) as a teen, before, as a 15 year old, I picked up 1984 all of my own accord. I loved to read, so I wanted to discover more, and moved onto classics myself. My dad loathes Shakespeare to this day, because he was forced to read it. I love Shakespeare, because I discovered him of my own accord. I’m a grown up, and I wouldn’t read a biography unless it was someone I was interested in, or I was, I don’t know, paid to. Why the hell read something I’m not interested in? That poor girl’s reading choices are her own, as is this going to teach her to love biographies? No. It’ll probably do the opposite. Which sucks. I would never MAKE my kid read anything. I’d encourage them, wax poetic about something to spark an interest in them, but I’d never force them to, for the same reasons my Mum, Dad, Brother and me all read different books: personal taste. We have overlap in what we enjoy, but it’s not always the same, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I just love that we all love to read in our own ways, and if my kids love to read one day? I’ll be the proudest mum there ever was ;D
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  13. I don’t think that parents should ever discourage their children from reading (or forbid certain books or require that their kids read certain books), but they should take pains to be aware and available to discuss what their kids are reading. The YA Fiction genre is thriving with some truly amazing books, but some of those books trade in difficult or disturbing themes.
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