This past summer, I noticed a disturbing trend in our family reading. Namely, every book I was asked to read featured characters from a movie or television show. I started to worry about how branded my children were becoming, and began to feel pretty guilty.
While chatting with one of our children's room librarians about this problem, she said something to me that resonated. "Well, you've got to have some fluff and some stuff. Character books are a lot like fast food. It happens sometimes, but it's okay in balance." I think she was right.
So, after that conversation, I started to make a concerted effort to bring in more non-character books. You know, books with some "stuff." But, it was also becoming clear that character books were not going away.
Here's the thing. Not all character books are created equally. There are a lot of rote, lifeless retellings of movies or an episode of a show. You know the ones I'm talking about. They are the ones you can barely follow unless you have viewed the source material. Those books are pure McDonalds.
But, then there are books like the Out and About with Winnie the Pooh series, which are honestly good books. Do they rely on familiar characters? Yes. But, they also each have a decent plot, some beginner science concepts, and quite a bit of heart. I think of these as the Chipotle of children's books. Is it still fast food? Yes. But they're trying to use free-range meat and organic ingredients, and there is at least the illusion of love or care going into your meal. Most Sesame Street books (with the obvious exception of some--see my previous post) fall into this category.
My feeling nowadays is that it is almost impossible to have an unbranded child. If you do, I stand in awe of you. I would still rather see my kids reading about their favorite characters than watching them. I have just promised myself that I will read the books a little more carefully before purchase, trying to find the ones that are written with some level of skill, and which might impart a bit more wisdom than "buy our merchandise and watch our show/movie and make our company richer."
You will see character books popping up in this blog. You may even see a lot of them. I will be honest with you about whether I regret buying them, and if they are well-written. We have found some real treasures that feature our favorite characters (The Muppets Books to Grow On come to mind). But, there certainly is a whole lot of trash in this category.
Come play along with us. Comment and tell us if you allow your children to read character books. What good ones have you found? Which do you wish you could burn?