Earlier this week, the Guardian published this article relaying the highlights of author Neil Gaiman’s lecture about the importance of libraries and children reading fiction. It’s pretty awesome, if you have time to read it and haven’t. What struck me most, however, was Gaiman saying we should allow kids the freedom to choose what they want to read, to not limit their books. I don’t think he could be more right, and I don’t think many people are brave enough to say such things.
As a kid, I was lucky to have a mother who read to me and encouraged me to read whatever I wanted. There were no limits when we went to the library on what kind of books I could read. My mom read me the typical kid picture books, but also fairy tales and fables and the Little House of the Prairie books. For myself, I picked out all sorts of books growing up. I was obsessed with mythology for a long time, and then I’d wander over to the adult non-fiction and pick out books about animals and nature. I was allowed to choose whatever I pleased.
There were a few times I read books that were a little too much for me, and if they scared me or upset me, I stopped reading them. My mom never “monitored” these books. She monitored television (my siblings and I weren’t allowed to watch Nickelodeon for a couple of years because they said “suck” on Rugrats), but never books. Books were sacred, no matter what they were. And they weren’t always “junk” books. I read the Phantom of the Opera in the beginning of seventh grade by choice, and countless other “classics” before that.
I do not have children, but if I ever do one day, I will never censor their books. Kids are pretty good about not reading things they aren’t ready for, or completely glossing over it. (I was about seven or eight when I got into Greek mythology and that stuff is filled to the gills with sex and violence, but it went right over my head.) Kids are a lot cleverer than adults give them credit for, and with so much in their lives dictated by rules they have no say in, can’t we adults at least give them the freedom to read as they will?