A post at the Nerdy Book Club this week really made me think. Priscilla Thomas, an 11th grade teacher, wrote about the repercussions of what she called "bookshaming". Thomas says:
"To be clear, opinion and disagreement are important elements of literary discourse. Bookshaming, however, is the dismissive response to another’s opinion. Although it is sometimes justified as expressing an opinion that differs from the norm, or challenging a popular interpretation, bookshaming occurs when “opinions” take the form of demeaning comments meant to shut down discourse and declare opposing viewpoints invalid."
She goes on to enumerate five ways that bookshaming (particularly by teachers) can thwart the process of nurturing "lifelong readers." I wish that all teachers could read this post.
But of course I personally read this as a parent. Thomas forced me to consider an incident that had taken place in my household a couple of weeks ago. We were rushing around to get out of the house to go somewhere, but my daughter asked me to read her a book first. The book she wanted was Barbie: My Fabulous Friends! (which she had picked out from the Scholastic Book Fair last fall).
I did read this book about Barbie and her beautiful, multicultural friends. But at the end I made some remark about it being a terrible book. And even as I said it, I KNEW that it was the wrong thing to say. Certainly, it is not to my taste. It's just little profiles of Barbie's friends - no story to speak of. But my daughter had picked out this book from the Book Fair, and she had liked it enough to ask me to read it to her. She seemed to be enjoying it. And I squashed all of that by criticizing her taste.
Two weeks later, I am still annoyed with myself. Priscilla Thomas' article helped me to better understand why. She said: "When we make reading about satisfying others instead of our own enjoyment and education, we replace the joy of reading with anxiety." What I WANT is for my daughter to love books. And if I have to grit my teeth occasionally over a book that irritates me, so what?
Rather than continue to beat myself up over this, I have resolved to be better. The other night I read without a murmur The Berenstain Bears Come Clean for School by Jan and Mike Berenstain, which is basically a lesson on how and why to avoid spreading germs at school. As I discussed here, that same book has helped my daughter to hone her skills in recommending books. It is not a book I would have ever selected on my own. But I'm going to hold on to the image of my daughter flipping to the last page of the book, face shining, to tell me how funny the ending was.
Growing bookworms is about teaching our children to love reading (see a nice post by Carrie Gelson about this at Kirby Larson's blog). They're not going to love reading if we criticize their tastes, and make them feel anxious or defensive. I'm sorry that I did that to my daughter over the Barbie book, and I intend to do my best not to do that again. If this means reading 100 more Barbie books over the next couple of years, so be it. Of course I can and will introduce her to other authors that are more to my own taste, to see which ones she likes. But I will respect her taste, too.