Choosing good books for your pre-teen or teen daughter to read

A reader once asked me (Hi Henna-Maria!) about choosing good books for our pre-teen or teen daughters.  This is such an important question.  
   
I have a lot to say about this topic, actually, so bear with me.  Just a caveat, here, too: I try to be really selective, but what I think is appropriate or wholesome may be different than what you find to be so.  So please use your best judgment, not mine.  ;)

Also, I haven't done this perfectly, by any means.  In fact, there were two books Ella read recently that had parts in them that I did not remember or anticipate that I wished she hadn't read.  Ugh.  (More on that later.)
Ella (14) has always loved to read, and she reads quickly.  I am thankful she doesn't mind reading books over again!  When she wants a new book to read, she peruses her shelves and finds a favorite and reads it all over again.  :)  I'm also very fortunate because she likes the same type of books I do (classics and historical fiction), so that makes it easier because she can select from my library or from those I have read and remember.  That has given her many books to choose from, and they took us a long way into her life  (just off the top of my head— beginning with Little House on the Prairie and the rest of that series, Anne of Green Gables, and many others by L.M. Montgomery, Little Women and others by Louisa May Alcott.)  
However, she has more time to read than I do and because she reads so quickly, I cannot keep up with her. So I do not pre-read every book she reads.  However, (and this is probably the most significant part of this whole post:) I trust her judgment and I trust our relationship. 

We have a spent years being selective about books.  And by now I trust her taste in books.  We have read primarily whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right,... (Philippians 4:8) in our home for so many years that her appetite has been developed for such and she naturally seeks those books. 
 

For the most part I know what she’s reading.  She may choose a book from the library shelf, but if I am unfamiliar with the author or title I will try to look it up and read some reviews— (check for the low reviews; they will often alert you to something you will want to avoid).

In general, I also tend to avoid newer books.  I’m always looking at the publication date and generally am on alert if it's a book published within the past decade or so.  I am MUCH more prone to pick up something that is older.

If I am unfamiliar with a book and Ella is interested enough to take it home and read it, I will say something like, “Okay, hon.  But I don’t know anything about that book so if there’s anything in it that is questionable, please come and tell me or set it aside.”  She will.  And she has done so.  Also, if it’s something I remember reading and it’s been YEARS since I read it, I will say something along the lines of, “I can’t remember everything about this book, so let me know if something comes up that concerns you.”  And then I ask her about what she’s reading…. “How is it?  What is the story?  Who are your favorite characters?  Is there anything in there I wouldn’t like?  What other book does it remind you of?

Now. To the two books I mentioned earlier that I wish she hadn’t read.  Or at least I wish I had been able to tell her to skip a couple of pages within the story.  BOTH of these books were recommended by me.
(*cringe*)  One was Christy, by Catherine Marshall.  I remember reading it when I was younger and I had loved it.  So I handed it to her without another thought, trusting it was wholesome. And it is a good story.  She was reading it and enjoying it and then I asked her one day, “How is it?  What do you think about it?” etc, and she mentioned that there was a “bad part” and my heart sort of fell and I’m scrambling to think “What?!?  What was in there?” and then she explained that one of the characters had been assaulted (this is a nice way of saying that there was an older man in her life that had taken advantage of her) and was telling Christy about it in the book.  I had Ella bring me the book so that I could read exactly what she had read, and as I read it, I felt ill because it was awful; and there was such a dark feeling with the telling by this older woman of when she was a vulnerable child being preyed upon, really.  I felt so responsible that I had handed her this book.  I said I was sorry, and that had I remembered that part was in there I would have had her skip at least that portion (if not the entire book for the time being).  But it gave us the opportunity to talk about it, and I was able to answer her questions, talk through the reality of this and to pray with her. 

The second book- more recently- was a book by Brock and Bodie Thoene.  I haven’t read all their books but I remember enjoying the Zion Covenant and Zion Chronicle series when I was about her age, as well as a few other titles of theirs.  She first read Shiloh Autumn, which is a story about some families struggling through the Great Depression, and she enjoyed that, so I encouraged her to check out some of their other books at the library.  And she began reading (and enjoying) their Jerusalem series.  She approached me, part way through one of the final books in that series, to tell me that there was something in that particular book that was inappropriate.  Again, that unsettled feeling in my stomach of, “OH NO.  What have I done?” Especially because in this case, I hadn’t read this particular book/series.  She told me about the part that had made her uncomfortable (and for good reason, poor girl), and then later I read *exactly* the scene she was referring to—which involved a husband and wife in the bathtub that was not at all appropriate for a fourteen-year-old.  (I actually don't think it's prudent to have such a scene in a book for any age.)  Sigh.  I was so disappointed. Again, though, we were able to talk about God-given intimacy between a husband and wife and the beauty of that (but that we don't really want to READ about that, thank you very much, Brock and Bodie Thoene) and I answered questions she had and we prayed together and it ended well.  But still.  (Just learn from my mistakes, okay?)


Henna-Maria, I know you asked specifically about Francine Rivers' Mark of the Lion series, which I loved when I read them, but I was also much older when I read those books, and I forget the details.  (You've read it much more recently so you will know so much better than I will how your daughter would receive them.)  I plan to re-read those again sometime within the next year and then hand them on to Ella if I think she's ready.

***

Here is the most recent book list I've posted with a list of wholesome books:
Book list for a 13-year old girl

(Since then she's read several other good books, too-- most recently Pride and Prejudice and Emma, both by Jane Austen.)  She's still keeping track of everything she's reading so I'll post a 14-year old list when we get to the end of her fourteenth year. 

7 comments:

  1. {{{hugs}}} dear mama. You are not alone as I had 2 books similarly with my daughter using Sonlight curriculum. It was horrible and I felt I exposed her to things that I so wish I could take back. I thought it was okay to trust a Christian company but obviously we cannot. I appreciate your sharing your heart.

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    1. Thanks, friend. (((hugs))) to you!

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  2. I love this- thank you!
    I wanted to peek in and say that I also loved the Mark of the Lion series when I first read it over ten years ago, but in re-reading it last year with my daughter in mind, I realized how much of it I had forgotten; Rome is truly a depraved city and much of what the character, Julia, goes through is, I think, far too inappropriate for a teen girl. (homosexual husband, her sexually transmitted disease, etc.) I had been reading them because I was thinking about my own girl for the future, but gosh, it's amazing how reading books as an adult without anyone else in mind can make you skip over remembering the inappropriate and just retaining the beautiful! Just my two cents... thank you for sharing your failures and successes. <3

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    1. Oh, Elise-- a heartfelt *thank you* to you for reminding me of those things from that series! And for saving me some time! (Yes! I can't believe how much I forget from the books I've read... and how differently I view things as I re-read with my girl in mind.) Thanks again. (((big hugs))) ~Stacy

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  3. I feel the same, thanks for sharing these moments and ideas. What a wonderful relationship you share with her. xoxo

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  4. Wow, Stacy. I read this post back in July, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question. I just never got around commenting before, but here I am now :) One thing that strikes me is how you talk with Ella about things. It encourages me. I am an introvert and somehow finding ways to have good conversations with my pre-teen kids is hard. Thank you for your example!

    p.s. I decided to wait with the Mark of the Lion series. She is only 12...

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    1. Henna-Maria,
      Thank you for your encouraging comment. (((love to you and yours, sweet friend!)))
      ~Stacy

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