350. Predictable Books

No matter how many times you read Good Night, Moon to your child, there aren’t going to be any surprises. The same characters and inanimate objects are going to be there, and with the exception of the cow jumping over the moon, they aren’t going to do much. All they do is stay in the book and wait for you to say good night to them. If you have more interesting things to do, you may wish you could skip some of the items so you could hurry up and get to your interesting things.
But the book says something important to children who like it. It’s very predictable, very soothing, and it lets them know that at least part of life will be that way. Lots of books can do that for some children. They become children’s friends. Children who can’t read nevertheless know when you’ve skipped a page. And they want you to go back and read that page. Maybe you skipped it on purpose, hoping to get the job done more quickly. But sometimes you can’t get away with that.
Later on, when children can read, many of them still like that kind of predictability. Some read the same book over and over, and some read books that belong to series. Carolyn Keene (who, I think, was the same person as Franklin W. Dixon) described Nancy and George (or Joe and Frank) at the beginning of each book. It’s soothing for the young reader to find out that these are characters they’ve met before. And though there may be challenging words like “queried,” there aren’t too many. By the time they’ve read a few of the books, children know these words. It gives them a feeling similar to what they used to get from Good Night, Moon.
I used to think these books had little redeeming value. They didn’t move children toward greater understanding of important ideas. I thought they were addictive, stopping children from growing in new ways by letting them lean back on old ways. I let children know I disapproved of these books, and tried to steer them towards books that I considered better.
But reading the “better” books required more thought than reading the series, and for some children, that wasn’t pleasant. Reading about Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Sweet Valley Twins, or any other characters in the popular children’s series was more like watching television. But at least it WASN’T watching television. I decided, at some point, that THAT was the redeeming
value of these books. So I ended my crusade, and even read Nancy Drew books aloud to my daughters.
Some parents don’t want to settle for the least of all the evils available to their children; they want their children to experience the “best” literature, hear the “best” music, and so on. I’ve seen that approach work on some children, but I know there are children who would much rather read books that don’t necessarily qualify as great literature. Maybe it’s just a stage they go through, or maybe not. But I don’t feel like fighting it any more. At least they’re reading.

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