PAREN(T)HESIS — Wider perspectives

June 1, 2017

By Jill Rothenbueler Maher

Raising children can take us to unexpected places. A friend surprised me when he told me that he resorted to hiding books from his own kids. He took this unusual step because they got obsessed with the Harry Potter series, and for years, they wouldn’t read anything else for fun.

“Read what you like” is a good guideline. The popular Super Reader program available in the Bay View library and other MPL branches has children promise, “I will read things I like,” when they register for the free program. Most parents generally agree, but my friend thought his kids took Harry Potter books to an unacceptable extreme. He wanted them to get exposure to a wider world.

This spring the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Gene Luen Yang, helped encourage young readers to expand their perspectives by either:

• Reading about a character who doesn’t look like them or live like them

• Reading about a topic they don’t know much about

• Reading a format they don’t normally read for fun (chapter book, graphic novel, or magazine)

The endeavor is called the Reading Without Walls campaign and I learned about it in the excellent children’s magazine Cricket. The magazine itself exposes children to a variety of styles and topics in every issue. The May/June issue includes a page about the history of the umbrella. This everyday object started as a parasol to provide shade from the sun and became a symbol of wealth and prestige among various cultures across the globe. It was used on various continents but not for rain protection until an English man carried an umbrella to keep dry and he was considered eccentric. This usage caught on and that English man’s ‘repurposing’ of the parasol is the main reason Americans and people everywhere carry umbrellas. There’s more to the story than I can summarize here. That article piqued my own interest and it will surely make some kids look at umbrellas differently, too.

Another part of the current issue retells the story of the ancient Indian Hindu epic Mahabharata. An endnote gives perspective, including that it’s a story more than 2,000 years old and reflects a time when Indian culture allowed far more independence for women than in later centuries.

Allowing children to explore new things through reading takes a bit of courage for the parents, especially for those with controlling personalities like mine! Our neighborhood abounds with Little Free Libraries where neighbors exchange books but I’m a little uneasy about what she will grab from them. It freaks me out for reasons that are hard to articulate but I get concerned that she will read something upsetting or topics that are too mature. Of course we try to scan them as she brings them home.

Reading is a great way to get out of one’s comfort zone from the comforts of home.

More info: read.gov/cfb/ambassador

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at jill@bayviewcompass.com.

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