Kids Need Better Books: Have You Looked Inside?

We want our children to be critical thinkers and good citizens.

The prevalence and popularity of offensive children’s books is astounding.  These books do not inspire critical thinking skills, good behavior, or develop a child’s knowledge in general.  While it is okay that children might read some of these books occasionally, series after series are flooding our libraries and classrooms, displacing high quality literature. Where is the outrage over these poor quality books marketed to our children?

Crude books encourage children to do things like make arm farts or burp and laugh at it!  When children need humor give them a book of funny and tasteful jokes and riddles (e.g. Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids and National Geographic Kids Just Joking) or quality literature with humor like The Stranger Next Door.   At least then they are learning to read between the lines and contemplate the intricacies of language and usage while they laugh!


Children in primary grades looking at books, NARA

We need educated and thoughtful citizens in our country.  This is not encouraged when children are rewarded for reading books that end with pictures suggesting that “birds are practicing target shooting at the human below” — as described by a child commenting on a current Sunshine State Young Readers Award (SSYRA) book.  This type of crass humor targeted at young children does not take much thought.  It’s the least common denominator in the world of humor, potty-talk, and a low bar to set for our children.

Many of these poor quality books contain crass references, encourage humor in bad behavior, and don’t exemplify civil behavior. These books lack age appropriate literary depth, complexity, or life lessons.  They don’t dig into the internal struggles around how hard it can be to hold onto good ethics.  In the increasingly immoral society revolving around children today, why don’t all of our school libraries bring attention and focus to more [tastefully] challenging books that will stretch our students’ minds?

Books titled Ninja Farts: Silent But Deadly and The Booger Book: Pick It, Lick It, Roll It, Flick It from The Disgusting Adventures of Milo Snotrocket are stamped as Amazon Best Sellers.  I don’t have to read or preview these books to know I don’t think children should be wasting energy from their brain cells reading them.  Is getting a child to read anything by giving them crude and shallow material really a good idea?

I am not alone in the offense I take at targeting young children with these themes.  The book series Captain Underpants placed #1 on the Top Ten Most Challenged Books in 2012 (ranking worse than #4 Fifty Shades of Grey).  This article critiques and discusses many problems with the Captain Underpants series.  Captain Underpants is authored by Dav Pilkey, who also authors the series Dog Man.

My review of Captain Underpants discusses a few issues, including the author’s response to critics in Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot.  The author appears to inject politics and disparage critics by insulting the elderly.  Even worse is that the author wrote this response to criticism in a Captain Underpants book.  The response to adult critics was directed at children.  Are some authors and publishers using shock value to profit from children?

There are also questionable books marketed at young girls.  One example includes Dork Diaries, a series of books that exemplify negativity, materialism, unkind behavior, and bad relationships.  For a deeper dive into concerns with this series, see Dork Diaries: Concerns from a Cursory Review.

When materialism, negativity, and manipulative behavior are illustrated in books without explaining why the behaviors are unacceptable, and when overarching themes of moralistic behavior and positive relationships are missing, the result is poor role modeling.

A not so surprising observation is that words and phrases young children repeat and behavior they replicate can be found in these books they have read.

Children are easily influenced. There must be some societal-driven code of ethics protecting the health of children’s developing minds. The freedom to write whatever you want in a book in the name of intellectual freedom sounds great for adults.  Freedom comes with responsibility.  Unconstrained [written] speech is not acceptable when it drives straight past ethics and morality and presents unhealthy relationships, uncivil and crude behavior, and other age-inappropriate topics to children.  There are ramifications for irresponsible content directed at children in schools and book fairs.

John Dewey wrote about the relationship between responsibility and freedom.

Where do we draw the line in children’s books? Should it be at crude and indecent behavior, disrespectful treatment of adults and peers, nudity, political shaming, or sexually explicit discussions?

Parents have the right and responsibility to draw that line for their children as they see fit.  A parent is not getting the choice to draw that line when a public school promotes books with questionable material and allows children to check out or read those books at school, often without parental knowledge.  Public school material must be held to the highest standards.  Parents who want to buy poor quality or offensive material and give it to their children still have that freedom at home.

Do books laden with shock value and little depth set children up to struggle in high school or college; when students are not consistently encouraged to develop strong reading skills and positive relationships from a young age?  Development does not occur overnight, so what will happen when they are assigned Dostoyevsky in high school after ten years of reading thought bubble fluff.

Children of bygone times read higher quality material than these “books”.  For example, look at Granny’s Wonderful Chair (read online at, a book inspirational to Frances Hodgson Burnett (author of The Secret Garden and The Little Princess).  This book is believed to have influenced her writing.  Her adoration of Granny’s Wonderful Chair is evident in the introduction she wrote for it in 1904.  Would material like Captain Underpants have inspired Frances Burnett to write The Secret Garden or Little Lord Fauntleroy?

We must not choose to market books to children written with prolific use of thought bubbles, large graphics, and very little prose as good literature.  We should not choose to peddle violence, crude and petty behavior, and adult topics to children.  At some point children become desensitized and begin to expect dumbed down literature.

We should encourage children to read challenging material with depth, complexity, and quality over a variety of genres.  Material with a good and decent moral direction will help reinforce positive behavior as normal, acceptable, and expected.

Parents and community members may underestimate their responsibility to speak up in their localities and not realize the power of their unified voice.  We have a say.  It is our community, they are our children [grandchildren or neighbors], these are our public schools, and these children will one day be the leaders of our great country.

306-CS-6N-4Children checking out books from the Benjamin Franklin Library, NARA.  
This is the first post of the series, Kids Need Better Books, where topics that influence or are related to a child’s reading experience will be tackled.
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