Q: My high school student daughter has been assigned a book to read that I am concerned about. I don’t think it is appropriate material for her to read. The subject matter makes me feel uncomfortable. What options do you think I might have?
A: Judging books as appropriate or inappropriate has been a challenge since the dawn of publishing. Think: Huck Finn, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird (and one of these is one of my favorites). Today many contemporary novels deal with heavy and even graphic subjects. But sadly so do our children, sometimes everyday. If you feel strongly about a book your daughter has been assigned there are some steps you may consider.
Read the book: It is imperative that you read the book, not just the back cover or part of the first chapter- the whole book. This is a case where the expression “don’t judge a book by its cover” is literal. What you thought you might- possibly-perhaps-maybe find offensive, may in fact be a minor component to a great and moving piece of literature.
Communicate (in person): If after reading the book you still feel that it is inappropriate for your daughter, then set up a conference with the assigning teacher and maybe the media specialist (librarian) at your daughter’s school. In a polite and open manner listen to these professionals explain why they find value in the book. How are they going to help their students process the book? Why they feel the selection is important might be for an incredible reason about which you are unaware. Likewise they should listen to your concerns. By communicating in this manner you may find that the selected book is in fact an ideal selection, based on information shared.
Rethink Assignment (last resort): If after meeting with your child’s teacher you still feel the assigned book is inappropriate, you may politely ask for an alternative assignment for your daughter. Think carefully about this request. Is this really in your daughter’s best interest? Maybe your daughter would be better served to read the book and discuss all components with you (now that you have read the book).
Literature has been forcing humanity to examine the world (and our selves) in sometimes challenging manners. It is a good thing. We are better for it. Support your daughter as she explores challenging material. This may turn into an invaluable parenting opportunity. Seize it!