The other day I was sitting at the kitchen table, spacing out, when slam! onto the table comes this book.
"This book is bad!" she said (pretty fiercely, I can tell you).
"Oh, did you read it?"
"Of course not!" (Try to imagine someone very small looking as outraged as possible.) "I'm not going to read this book. I'm going to throw it!" (She does.)
"What seems to be the problem?"
"This is supposed to be a book for kids, right? But look!" She points to the back of the book (after picking it up), and show me with a particularly insistent finger where it reads: "With disappearances, a possible kidnapping, and maybe even a murder or two, it's anything but a boring weekend at the Blossoms'."
"Hmm," I started to say, but the truth is, it couldn't have mattered less what I said, because she was off and running, both thrilled and horrified by her proximity to something so dangerous.
I do care about what my kids are exposed to, in a general sort of way. When Diana read so early, it was a real focus of mine to try to keep her away from the Metro section of the New York Times, where she was always just about to begin on some article about a man who impregnated his daughter multiple times, then threw the babies down the air shaft. But that is, I think we can agree, a fairly easy call, parent-wise, when you have a six-year-old. It's other things, things in some YA and kids books, that are trickier, as I have already talked about here and here. But that's been coming at it from a whole other angle, a child hungrily reading everything in sight comes upon a few weird things, most of which will fly right over her head. This was a child finding a book that I am all but certain had nothing weird in it, and being tantalized. Horrified, indignant, but without question pretty thrilled.
I am not sure what to think about it. It calls to mind the fervor with which my friends and I swore to each other that we would never try cigarettes. Or drugs! Or anything with boys! Never! Never! Never! I'm guessing you know how that went.
It's the old "Methinks thou doth protest too much."
At any rate, the next day Chestnut was looking for poor old Mud Blossom. "Why?" I asked her. "I thought you…"
"Yeah, but my friend at school heard about it, and her sister's been calling her a girly-girl, so she asked me to bring it to her so she could prove her wrong." I'm still wondering how that went.
What will come next, I can't imagine. Will Chestnut read Mud Blossom? Will Chestnut read any of the maybe 50 or 60 books that have been rejected as being too scary? Is this the dawn of a new, tough age? I wonder.
3 thoughts on “Murder!”
Cracks me up! It’s funny how different kids are. I started reading the scary stuff at about 8 or 9 and I loved it all. Ate it up. Got in a little over my head and read a few things I shouldn’t have, but I turned out fine in the end.
If Chestnut’s friend needs to prove she’s not a girly-girl, Matt Christopher has a whole series of books about hockey-soccer-basketball. Some even feature girl athletes!
What a good question. And especially from Betsy Byars, not exactly RL Stein. This is stuff I would assume is tame. But I was also a big fan of the Trixie Belden books (“girl detective”), and though I think there were never any murders, she and her friends were regularly held hostage, accidentally kidnaped, and otherwise in danger. Makes me wonder if I was a “tougher” reader than my oldest, or if I just remember reading only after I crossed some sort of line. Maybe at his age, I wouldn’t have liked stuff like that either.
When my brother was little, he hated reading. It wasn’t until junior high, when he started reading Stephen King, that he really became an avid reader. My parents got a lot of flack for letting him read “scary trash,” but they said they were just happy he was reading. And now he’s an enthusiastic reader who just got his master’s. So though there are some things that are easy (I, too, have found myself covering up books I’m reading or sections of the newspaper; he doesn’t need to know about the war in Sierra Leone just yet), a lot of it seems really complicated.
I’m curious to hear whether she eventually reads it and what she thinks.