Books: why we're so choosy

We are very selective when it comes to choosing books for our children to read. When we go to the library, the kids know that if they find a book on the shelf that they like, they come and give it to me (or Mark, if he's there) to "see if this is a good one".

There is plenty that is not good. The things we try to avoid, off the top of my head, are:

-blatant disrespect (a child that says NO when a parent asks said child to do something). Often books will make a game of this, or the parent will compromise and the child will end up not having to do what the parent originally asked.

-sassy behavior (a child that talks back or speaks disrespectfully in the course of the book)

-unkind behavior towards a sibling. I avoid these books like the plague. An example of this is the books that discuss a new baby coming into the house, and the older sibling has an attitude problem about it (jealousy, complaints, acting out, annoyance), as if that's the natural course of events when a new baby comes into the family.

-unwholesome talk. So we avoid books with words like "stupid", "jerk", and the like.

-w*tches, gho*ts, and all other forms of evil in that realm.

I'm sure I'm missing a few things, but those are the basics.

The reason for this is simple: our children need no encouragement whatsoever to sin. They do just fine by themselves, thankyouverymuch. And the behaviors and attitudes found in many books today are not attitudes we want our children learning.

On the contrary, we have a responsibility as parents to guide them in truth.

Philippians 4:8 says, Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

It is our aim to provide our children with books that will keep their minds to the above list.

I must say, this has gotten just a bit more challenging now that Ella is such a voracious reader.

First of all, while I am trying to read (or at least properly skim) everything before she reads it, she is now reading long chapter books and it's getting difficult for me to keep up. [I would love to hear how the rest of you do this!]

Secondly, if in the past we came home with a library book that was questionable, I just edited it as I read. (I've been known to tag on whole sentences, like, "...And because the little boy was so disrespectful to his mommy, she disciplined him." :) But now that Ella reads, she reads along with me and catches any of my edits!

Last night, we came home from a used bookstore with a stack of new-to-us books. Three of them were American Girl books. We currently own a total of two of these books, both given to us, and Ella has enjoyed them both. So I found them, last night, and- not having the time to read them, I passed them to Ella and said she could get them. She was thrilled to have three new books to devour, and held them tightly in her hands for the rest of our outing.

When we got home, it was bedtime, and as Mark was putting the kids to bed, I picked up Ella's books to read them. It took me just a couple of minutes to rule out two of the three books we'd brought home. Here's an excerpt from one:

[When Samantha's grandmother told her she was unable to go to a friends' party because they had an out-of-town guest named Cornelia coming to visit]:

Stupid Cornelia is ruining Christmas
, Samantha thought. She's ruining it for everybody, but mostly she's ruining it for me. I'm not allowed to decorate my house and I can't make a gingerbread house, either. Now I can't go to Ida's party, so I won't be able to play charades or see magic tricks or wear my beautiful new dress!

"I hate Cornelia!" Samantha said when she was sure Grandmary wouldn't hear her.

The selfishness exhibited in this particular excerpt will not assist Ella in becoming a godly young woman. And "hate"? That's a pretty strong word, one that Ella has never used before when speaking of anyone (or anything) else and I'm certainly not going to be the one to introduce it to her, through a book.

This morning when Ella got up I told her that I'd read the books we'd gotten and that daddy and I had decided she could not read them, after all. I explained why; that one of the girls in the book spoke unkindly and had a naughty attitude and that we didn't want her reading that. My sweet girl was perfectly fine with it. She asked which book she could read, and I showed her two others, one of the American Girl books that was okay, and another book we got about Helen Keller. She promptly went and got those and asked no further questions.

This reminds me, just yesterday I read an excellent post about our responsibility to guard our childrens' hearts. I encourage you to go read it! There is such wisdom in Rebecca's words.

Blessings to each and every one of you as you are diligent to lead your children today!


  1. This is a wonderful post! I would love to see your book list sometime!

  2. We, too, are very pickey about books! And yes, as children become chapter-book readers, the skimming gets a bit more challenging. I appreciate some of the book lists that are out there (1000 Good Books List at is one I really like) to help me be discerning. Even then though, I like to have a quick look through. Garbage in, garbage out, you know?

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  4. Hi Stacy :) What a super post! Thanks so much for sharing your heart - it encourages us to find other mommies and daddies who feel the way we do.

    Something we are doing with Miss M is finding a series that we approve of and then letting her read ahead of us in the books in that series. We tell her that she is to stop reading immediately if she finds something that we don't care for (words, ideas, whatever) - even if it's something we haven't discussed that she thinks we might need to talk about.

    She doesn't find much - because we have pre-approved the series - but it's a wonderful trust between us, and she is very faithful to discuss things. Also, she knows that I am reading along behind her in the series :) so there is accountability.

    Just an idea for you :)

    Oh! and I enjoyed Rebecca's post so much! Love, Q

  5. Hi Stacy,

    Not commented before but enjoyed reading, and found lots of helpful guidance and encouragement - thank you.

    This post was great timing for me, as it's something I've been increasingly trying to do. I didn't buy a book in a series my boys love about knights because it introduced a witch....but then when they found it at the library yesterday figured well one book couldn't do any harm could it...and once they've had it they won't want it again. A mistake, and I think I knew that deep down, but just didn't want to go through all the lazy...and not the way to raise the boys to know the truth deep in their hearts. Thank you for getting me back on the right track!

  6. You're a great mommy. :)

    It is SOOO hard. (Although it was definitely easier when I only had one reader, and when I could preview everything. Now with four readers it is impossible for me to read everything they read. I hate that.)

    I also avoided all those things you listed... Cassie wasn't allowed to read Junie B. Jones, etc. b/c she was sassy. But eventually I changed my stance a little. I knew I wanted my girls to read things like Anne of Green Gables, and of course she is SASSY and disobedient, etc. So many great stories have stuff I don't love in them.

    Eventually I came to a point where I had to remind myself that books (fiction) are about humans, and humans are sinful, so I wasn't going to be able to find books for all my kids for years to come that wouldn't have bad attitudes or selfishness or sin in them. Of course I TRY to use them as teaching times, and TRY to talk about what should have been done differently. And actually several times I've been thankful that there have been ugly attitudes in books so that we could process through how to handle something that might come up with a friend.

    Parenting is HARD, and I know I'm just getting into the hard stuff...books, music, tv, movies, friends, etc.

    Keep on keeping on, girlie. You're doing GREAT!

  7. Thankfully you'll come to a point (I's fantastic) where your older kids will have this amazing ability to really hear The Holy Spirit on their own and will come to YOU and say that a book is inappropriate. It's the best feeling ever. Both of my oldest kids have done that, and I feel like all those years of hard work have just paid off in triplicate.

  8. Stacy, here is my .02 on the subject. First you must know that my kids are 17, 14, 11 and 9.

    I am beyond pre reading all my older kids books, if I still did that they'd all be running around hungry and wearing dirty clothes! :o)

    I do have a story about this though to give you some encouragement. When my oldest was about 14 or so he was enamored with the Redwall books. We read some of them together and he read some alone and I decided I was okay with them.

    Once he had read all of those I looked up on a Christian book list the Redwall books and it said if you like those, try these other books. So I went to the library and ordered the three in the series of the 'other books'. They looked a bit sinister but it was a Christian book list so surely they were okay.

    Well about 3 days later I found these books in the to be returned pile. I asked my ds if he did not like them and he told me that he did not like them and they were kinda 'dark and creepy'. I went back to where I got the recommendation and I had made a mistake! This was NOT a Christian book list, and those books really were dark and creepy!

    I was so proud of my son and we had some great discussions about choices. After that, I rarely checked his books. I have him lots and lots to choose from, from sources I do respect and I trusted him to be discerning himself.

    For each child this comes at a different time and I still talk to my 17 year old about what he is reading and watching etc, but the time for me to choose for him is coming to a swift halt.

    So while I think offering our children good choices is vital, and so is monitoring what goes into their minds from many different sources; so is teaching THEM how to monitor for themselves. And that comes with age and maturity.

    This was meant to be an encouragement to you. You are teaching her how to choose wisely, and one day soon, she will be able to do that on her own. Which is a good thing because you’ll be pre reading all the books for the younger ones by that time!

  9. Oh I loved that post by Rebecca too! She has such great wisdom. I really liked this post also in case you missed it.

    It gave me lots to think about.

    I recently purchased "The hand that rocks the cradle" by one of the Bluedorn children. It gives an overview of tons of books that they read as kids and for what ages they are appropriate. It could be a helpful tool as you choose books for Ella. I'll show it to you.

    I have also been so thankful for blogs to help with this issue. If a blogger whom I know to be like minded mentions that their kids read a particular book, I look into it!
    Which makes me think that this would be a cool side bar thing for you to do! You should keep up there what you have read aloud (and liked) and what Ella is reading. Then I (and others) can just copy you!

  10. I appreciate how thorough you and Mark are in selecting what your children read! It only takes a few seconds with our children reading the wrong thing, watching the wrong thing, or talking to the wrong people for their innocence and purity to be shattered forever. Are we guilty of sheltering our children? You bet!

  11. Stacy,

    I really enjoyed your post and the comments that have followed. As a mommy of little children, I am thankful that usually the "signs" that a book is not one we should take home from the library are pretty clear; disobedient kids and parents who don't discipline them or unkindness towards siblings. I get so excited when I find a "new baby at our house" type of book in which the siblings are excited about and loving towards their new baby.

    I do look forward to those times when I can, together with my kids, discuss the possibly sinful attitudes and actions of the characters we may read about in a way that helps prepare them for what they may encounter as they grow older. When we read books that talk about dinosaurs I often hear the boys telling eachother "Well, the book says that millions and millions of years ago life began on the Earth but that is not what the Bible says." We have discussed that not all things we read in books are true.

    Daniel has reached the chapter book stage and devours anything that catches his interest. Like Amy suggested, it would be great to have a sidebar type thing in which you could keep a list of approved reading!

    Thinking about this stuff and all the wisdom I lack makes me so thankful that our resource for wisdom is our Father in heaven "who gives to all liberally and without reproach." (James 1:5)

    I love "visiting" you here, Stacy!
    rebecca m

  12. Great post. My oldest has been devouring books since about 5 years old. I struggle with the same thing. It seems at times we have read all the chapter books and novels that the library has that we would allow. So much of the material at her reading level just is not appropriate.

    We also have boundaries. If she comes across certian types of attitude or words she is to bring the book to us. She has been very faithful to do so and responds so well when she isn't able to finish the book. We prefer to catch things before but it just isn't always possible. There have been some great conversations that come from these moments.

    Wouldn't it be great to compile some recommended lists of books to choose from.

    Sometimes I go to a local book store with pad and paper to look thorugh books and write down titles to get at the library. That way I have looked at them before hand. I love the nifty way you can order books online at our library and go pick then up like fast food. :o)

  13. Good thoughts. Peregrine isn't there yet as far as reading goes, and I still do some editing when reading him chapter books. But the day will come soon enough. Lindafay had a great post a while back on pre-reading her children's books; you might be able to find it on her blog if you look.

  14. I'm just to the point where I can't pre-read all our books, so we end up bringing home a few lemons from the library now and then, too. I like how you discussed with Ella what made certain books unacceptable.
    I'm glad you found the time for this "whole post"-- and I thought yesterday's post, its update of sorts, was lovely.
    How about another Open House? I'd come!
    Blessgings, Annie

  15. Excellent post! It does get harder as they get older and there just isn't time to pre-read everything. A couple of weeks ago my son was reading an award winning book that I hadn't pre-read. When I asked him how it was going, he mentioned that there's a lot of swearing in it. I had no idea. He thought it was bad enough that he should stop reading it. Setting these standards and having discussions like the one you had with your daughter prepares them to be more discerning themselves! You're laying a great foundation!

    I think this is the first time I've visited your blog. I've seen you comment on Cindy's many times and finally decided to come over. It's nice to "meet" you. :)

  16. Stacy -- I'm learning so much by reading your posts...You are great Mommy filled with Godly wisdom. Thank you for sharing.
    ...April :)

  17. Great true that Parenting is a full=time job. So much to teach, so much to guide them in, our time is so short and we must seek God for His wisdom, so that we can walk in it fully.

    mama to 6
    one homemade and 5 adopted

  18. This was an excellent post, Stacy! I read it last week and didn't have time to comment. I really like the guidelines that you and Mark have set forth for choosing books. I'm going to share this post with hubby!

    This is a great concern for E and myself. I think we are going to have an Ella-like voracious reader on our hands, and our weekly library trips are eagerly awaited by Selena.

    I've already had to really screen books (and these are preschool books here!) for that subtle "attitude" that is prevasive in many of them. And just two weeks ago, I came home with a book that I realized was not appropriate. A dancing mouse had just become a big sister, and she actually wrecked her whole room and broke things because she was jealous!! Yikes!!

    I recently took a two year correspondance course on writing children's literature. I found out that respectful children and proper speech does not sell these days. It was very saddening to find this out from my instructor! Looks like we'll be sticking moe and more to those old faithful classics.

    Your children are so blessed, Stacy! Thanks for sharing this with all of us.


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