September 24, 2009

Good Books, Part 2

Last time, I shared the first two of the six "tests" I use when deciding on the appropriateness of particular books for my children. To read about those first two tests, click here to view an archive of that article.

This week, I detail the other four tests. Then next time, I'll describe a recent situation in which I wrestled for weeks about the appropriateness of some books - and tell how God intervened and resolved the problem.

3. Does the book contain appropriate images?
When addressing this question, we logically think first of a book's illustrations, which we must, of course, examine in any work with pictures. But we must also remember that writers endeavor to "paint word pictures" that will grab readers' attention - and good writers are very skilled at using language that indelibly sticks in our minds. So we must consider word images, as well. In both cases, the concept of  "what's appropriate" is somewhat slippery, as we each have different tastes and tolerances. But, when it comes to our children, the bottom-line question in this regard is, "Will the images here build up or tear down?" In other words, the decision is not ultimately about what your child's peers, relatives, or even you yourself think is "cool" or tolerable, but what is in your particular child's best long-term interests.

4. How might the book influence my child's character development?
The idea of building up or tearing down is, at heart, a question of character development. For example, a few years ago, I discovered a well-known series of picture books about the adventures of a precocious little girl. So I picked up one of the titles, intending to introduce my girls to her. The drawings were delightful and the plot was standard adventure fare. However, it only took me a couple of pages to realize that the protagonist was boorish, self-centered, and appallingly materialistic. It would have been one thing if she were chastised for those traits - or grew and changed through the course of the story. But, instead, her attitude and behaviors were celebrated. So that book quickly went back to the library and none in the series has seen the light of day in our house since.

5. Is my child spiritually and emotionally mature enough for the book?
Some books are well-written, pass the "gut-check," have appropriate visual and verbal images, and even promote good character qualities. Yet I've opted to not automatically offer them to my children. But in most such cases - such as with material that discusses other religions or worldviews - it's often simply a matter of time. For example, I may not want my child to hear stories of Greek mythology at age five, but it would probably be quite appropriate for an older child to read such legends.

6. Where am I currently at spiritually?
This might seem like an odd question, but it's perhaps the most important one of all. Because - as with anything else in life - if I am in regular communion with the Lord, seeking to know Him more and be conformed into His image, I can be more assured that any promptings I receive (one way or the other) about what's appropriate for my children will be on target. Conversely, when I'm spiritually stagnant - merely going through the motions or even purposely disobeying - I cannot trust that I'm correctly gauging God's intent for my kids' well-being in this area. For the sake of my children, I need to be honest with myself about my spiritual state and "get right" when I need to.

Read Good Books, Part 1 here.
Read Good Books, Part 3 here.


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