Wednesday, March 31, 2010

To Read, Or Not To Read

One of my fellow authors, Lisa Pietsch, posted a blog recently about a children's book that had caused a bit of a stir at another author's school board meeting. The book in question was Newberry Award Winner The Giver by Lois Lowry.

Apparently, some of the parents were concerned that this book was on the reading list for the fifth graders at that school, and felt it was too mature for that age group and requested the book be removed from the list.

I am always one to take the side of the book, but I wanted to find out about it before I made my decision. So, I picked up The Giver from my local B&N and settled in for what I hoped to be a good read.

The book blew me away.

I was sucked in to the story at once, fascinated by the world Lois Lowry created. The Giver takes place in a futuristic "utopian" society where everything is organized and controlled. There is no worry, no hunger, no war. But in trade, there is also no individuality, no joy, no love. People make no decisions for themselves. The young hero, Jonas, is about to turn twelve and get his job assignment for the rest of his life. He is chosen to be the community's new Receiver of Memory. All memories of all life before will be transferred to Jonas to bear alone, so that society may continue to exist without the burden. Jonas discovers many things that he can't belive have been "lost" to the community, such as colors, music, snow - but he also finds out what pain is, loss, and in the end discovers the hipocrisy that this utopia is built on, driving him to make the first and possibly final choice in his young lifetime.

There are so many things to spark discussion for young people in this book. The topic of what utopia means, or world peace, or what sacrifices might have to be made for a society to run without trouble. What emotions really mean, and how can we say someone is wrong if they have never been shown another way? Not to mention the underlying theme of how a world would be if no one was treated as an individual - complete and total equality. I would have loved to have read this book as a student, and I see no problem with the 7-12 year age rage it is rated.

I think parents that get up in arms over books that obviously were chosen for their literary contribution to the learning process should step back and take a real look at why they are uncomfortable. Turn it around. TALK about it with your kids. Use the opportunity to get to know your child better and how he or she thinks.

That's the power of books for children.

Use it.