A dad I know searched used book stores and sites until he came across the book he thought would be perfect for his nine-year-old son. No matter that it had been out of print since 1985; the dad himself could vouch for its power since it had been his favorite book – in 1979.
That particular book will remain unnamed here. It’s a perfectly fine book. But the scenario of a parent (or other well-intentioned adult) giving a book to a young reader that has nothing to do with that reader’s preferences AND that has all that extra weight of being so important – this rarely ends well.
What do you do when an adult gets between a reader and the right book? Robin Rousu, a children’s librarian and one of my friends/colleagues at Seattle Public Library, says it’s all about giving the child more options. “You don’t want to question the parents’ or teachers’ authority, but you want to be ready with some other options,” she says. Those options might be a better fit, and at the very least they’ll get more of a conversation going. “That gives the reader an out without hurting the teacher’s feelings, or the child worrying about hurting someone’s feelings.”
I tend to gush when I really love a book, and I’m constantly reminding myself in my day job as a librarian to avoid saying things like “This is the BEST book” or “You’re going to love that book.” I still find plenty of w
ays to swoon over books and to talk about what it is I loved about them. And I encourage each and every person in the world to keep gushing and swooning and loving and sharing excitement about books. But maybe we can all cut back a bit on pushing our own tastes and favorites on kids.
“It’s usually coming from a very good place, though,” Robin the librarian reminds me, especially in the case of a relative bestowing a child with one of his or her own favorite books. “It’s coming out of love.”
Let’s just try to add a couple of books to that love pile so that there are options — and a better chance for a young reader to connect with a book that will become his own favorite.