Freedom to Read, Freedom to Think

In 1999, my kids wanted to read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Their friends were reading the books, but their mom, and other parents I knew, had concerns about the series. As parents, we agreed I would read the first book and let her know what I thought.
My kids and I had just moved into our new house, and I spent a rainy week in July reading the audio book, performed by Jim Dale. My youngest walked into my room to hear the line,
“Urgh – troll boogers.”
“What are you reading?” she asked, with some surprise.
My kids started reading Harry Potter later that summer. We talked about the books, what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what bothered them.
Over the years, I’ve made it a practice to read what my kids are reading. Not everything, but even if I didn’t have time, or if I couldn’t get a digital copy of the book, we talked about what they were reading. And being able to talk about books meant we could talk about other things—music, movies, or pop culture.
This week is Freedom to Read Week. Reading with kids and talking about books can be the most effective ways to help a new generation become more aware and more clear-thinking adults. And reading together is simply one of the best ways to spend time with kids—I say that as both a parent and a storyteller.
Western culture has a long history of adults trying to control what kids read, going back farther than the eighteenth century. At that time, adults wanted kids to read books that were uplifting, instilled a fear of God, or taught lessons in honesty and working hard. One of the most shocking books ever written for children is James Janeway’s A Token for Children, which featured stories of child martyrs, all dying in the knowledge that their faith in God is secure. But children have always been drawn to those books adults don’t want them to read—both then and now.
If you want to read more about Freedom to Read Week, check out their website. Have a look at this list of challenged books in Canada from the Edmonton Public Library’s website—a list that contains some of my favourite books. And listen to this story from the CBC archives about the challenge to Margaret Laurence’s books in 1985.
The battle over books has gone on for centuries. But it’s not just about books; it’s about ideas and the freedom to think critically. Kids are curious; they want to read, and they want to talk about what they read. Unfortunately, the challenge to most books emerges out of fear—fear of what we dislike, fear of what we see as different, fear of what doesn’t reflect our own beliefs. Much is gained from maintaining a dialogue with children and young adults about what they think—they’re pretty awesome. And they are, after all, those who will inherit the Earth.

2 thoughts on “Freedom to Read, Freedom to Think”

  1. I was a couple of years later to the Harry Potter game, but I read the books on the same principle – I wanted to see what the fuss was all about before letting my kids at them and/or at the movies, which were just starting to come out. And I found I loved the books – in fact, we all did, the whole family, and for years it gave us something to share (still does, with the new “Fantastic Beasts” movies).
    I don’t think every book is “good” for every kid, but it really starts with adults doing the critical thinking first and not accepting or rejecting a book (or movie) on the say-so of someone else.
    (And now I want to know why you have a copy of The Philosopher’s Stone in every Hogwarts House colour – or am I seeing that wrong in the picture?)

    1. Angelika. Thanks for your comment. And yes, deciding on the books one’s kids read comes down to being involved in their reading and using some common sense. As for the photo, I do, in fact, have four copies of the Philosopher’s Stone, each in a different house colour. I’m not a collector of editions, but I thought this would be fun. I also bought all four so my kids could pick the one they wanted.

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