My son is taking an awesome English course this semester. The English teachers at his high school create and present (on paper) a semester-long seminar class, and the students (when they are closing out their junior year) request, in order of their preference, which English course they’d like to take. He got his first choice: Graphic Novels, Comic Books: Superheroes and American Culture.
Like mother, like son, eh? It’s no secret I adore the graphic novel format, that I think it powerful and complex, that it is often a window into our culture, our values, our history, and our thinking. Sometimes, the graphic presentation is really the only presentation that would work for a particular story.
The books for his class have been sitting on his desk for a few weeks now; we talk occasionally about what they’re currently reading (they’re finishing up Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud). In the pile is a copy of Maus by Art Spiegelman.
I read Maus for a history class in college whose official course name I’ve long forgotten. What I do remember is this text. I wept like I baby when I read it in college. I know I re-read it a time or two and eventually lent (read: gave) my copy to someone, and though it has been years since my last re-reading, I still remember passages vividly.
In short, I’m just itching for his class to get to it.
But then. But. Then.
I have to remind myself that I’ve been in this exact same boat before. Both of my children have now read To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my all-time, hands-down favorites. Their general reaction to the book was Meh. Good enough for a book we’re required to read, but I’m not in love. Go ahead and rip my heart out, why don’t you. Do they know from whence they came?!
Another favorite book of mine is, unsurprisingly, Pride and Prejudice. None of the film versions compare to be the book but that hasn’t stopped me from watching them all (I still like them, but the book is superior). I love how so many of the characters have their flaws as well as their attributes. They’re good and bad, normal and messed up. Human. So far, only son has read it (for an English class). I think he was generally fine with the story. Mr. Bennett amused him to no end (an “English badass” is what I think my son referred to him as), and Mr. Collins really drove him bonkers. I loved having conversations with him about these two characters, but in the end, it was another book that will remain one of my favorites and not one of his.
And that’s okay.
My favorite books do not have to be his. What my daughter loves to read will not necessarily be what her child devours. I share some reading preferences with my own parents, but certainly not all.
Through the years as a librarian, I’ve had many parents come chat with me about either their excitement over a book they loved as a child that, they feel, their child might be about ready for or their disappointment over their child’s disinterest – and worse, dislike – in their old childhood favorite.
It’s actually kind of sweet, really. It means that these stories that we read when we are young stick with us. They become part of us. They help us think, grow up, and figure out the world. So of course we want to share them with our children!
But here’s the thing: your favorite books growing up? They’re yours. They’re part of your history, your upbringing, your experience, your life. Your child may or may not respond to them the same way.
The sadness some parents experience when this happens can be impressive. When lamenting over her fierce love for Harriet the Spy, I once had a mother say of her daughter, “she says it is boring. She can’t even get through it!” Heartbroken doesn’t even begin to describe.
So, I told this mother about my own children. How they kinda sorta like some of the books that are near and dear to me. How they have a different childhood than mine. How they read a huge amount of literature that has been published since I was a child. How someday, they will be excited to see if their own children will love the same books they did.
We do, actually, share a few favorites, though. I remember reading aloud Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume with kiddos; I read it as a child and thought it just about the funniest book imaginable. My kids, did, too. And we all just love The Twits.
There will be some mixing and matching of favorite books; they’ll love some of your favorites and acquire favorites of their own. And if you, as parent, would really like to nudge them, try reading that old favorite of yours out loud to them! Your enthusiasm for the text and the very fact that you’re spending time together just might work some magic.
And if not? Maybe you can find a new favorite together!
Just so long as you . . .
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