Parenting Without The “Gatekeepers”: Who’s Afraid of the Self-Published Children’s Book?

Little Z is AngryMy parents didn’t regularly moderate my reading material when I was a kid, at least not to my knowledge.* They glanced at the covers of the books I picked out from the library and the bookstore, but they rarely prohibited me from reading something I had chosen. I’m similarly laid back about my children’s reading material, even though the ubiquity of the Internet and the rise of self-publishing raises concerns that my parents didn’t have to consider.

Today, my children have access to far more reading material than I ever did. Some of that reading material includes self-published children’s books, which Amazon has recently encouraged through the launch of KDP Kids, a tool to help self-published authors “create and sell beautiful Kindle books to millions of readers worldwide.”

I’m excited to see efforts that democratize the publishing world, which has a long history of bias against women and cultural minorities. I published my own New Adult/Contemporary Fiction novel, Two Lovely Berries, without ever agonizing over a query letter and without women’s shoes on the cover (Hallelujah!). Self-publishing was a good option for me, even if it is more limited in marketing reach than the traditional model — at least as compared to the handful of traditionally published authors who receive marketing support from their publishers.

Understandably, many readers believe that the blessing of a publishing company is an indicator of quality. There are undoubtedly some lemons in the traditionally published bunch, but it can be an efficient way to choose reading material. You can just grab a book off the (virtual) shelf and be assured some minimal level of quality. My method of reading reviews and sample chapters before purchasing a book, whether traditionally published or not, is far more time consuming, but it’s often rewarding. It results in a wider range of options than just what a publishing company thinks will sell.

So, for my reading taste, the gatekeepers are of little use. But do they still have a role to play when it comes to what my children read?

With KDP Kids, there are tools for self-published authors to “help parents choose the right books for their kids,” but who knows how effective those tools are. Will these tools successfully weed out developmentally inappropriate books and books with offensive material? For some parents, it may be comforting to know that the minions at a publishing company have approved of the material before inserting it into the marketplace.

Then again, maybe not. Censorship-happy parents have railed against many traditionally published books, such as And Tango Makes Three and The Family Book,** as bloggers across the Internet will discuss during Banned Books Week later this month. The ambiguous cover art in Pssst!, an enjoyable picture book, also hasn’t been safe from complaints.

Even I’ve disagreed with HarperCollins over the recommended age range for Jean Craighead George’s Julie of the Wolves, and I don’t see eye to eye with Random House over Junie B. Jones (thanks to her atrocious grammar!).

So, the mark of a traditional publishing company doesn’t necessarily mean that a book is ideal for my kids. I research the book, regardless of its provenance, before I recommend it to my kids. Right now, there are quite a few self-published children’s books on our growing “To Be Read” list (reviews forthcoming!).

Of course, my twins are old enough to start choosing their own reading material, and I won’t vet everything they check out of the library or, in the future, buy with one-click. My hope is that I’m raising them to choose well and to come to me with questions when, inevitably, they end up reading something better suited for an older audience or something that promotes a message that differs from what we’re teaching them.

In some cases, the very worst books have the potential to teach children the most important lessons. For example, Junie B. is turning my daughters into future grammarians. 😉

*This post stems from Jancee Wright’s comment on my post last week, Junie B: Mom Versus The Kids. Thanks, Jancee (of Jancee Reads)!

**See also two of my favorite posts on this blog: (1) Please Stop Parenting My Children; and (2) What’s NOT Okay: Thoughts on Todd Parr’s “It’s Okay To Be Different.”


  1. Is it terrible that I haven’t given much thought to this? My daughter is still at the age where I read to her (or her teachers or my husband or the grandparents . . .), and so I have veto power over everything she reads. I guess I have always figured I would be like my parents were with me–trusting me to know my limits and not really censoring what I chose to read. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to know what my child is reading–I definitely do! And there very well could come a time when a book my daughter wants to read is not one I think she’s ready for. I’ll just have to take it as it comes, I guess. I think it is harder today though, given the easy access to social media. Like you though, I hope I can teach my daughter young enough how to choose well for herself–and most of all, I want her to feel comfortable enough to bring questions and concerns to me so we can discuss them together.

  2. I think it always comes down to the parents. While publishers can give us guidelines, my six year old may be very different from your six year old. We are always going to know our kids best so while I appreciate often appreciate gatekeepers starting the work for me, I know I will have to finish it.

  3. I was a teen when my mother forbade me to read The Harrad Experiment, a book that was a huge bestseller in its day, all about a college where kids got something more than the usual education. She kept it in her purse, so one day when she was at the neighbor’s, I sneak-read it. Guilty as I felt doing it behind her back, I kept reading until I finished. This might explain my warped views of sex and relationships today. 😉

    All joking aside, I enjoyed the story. It was racy and different from all the other stuff I’d read, and I remember wondering why she thought I shouldn’t be reading it. It gave me some new ideas to think about, and I don’t believe it affected me in a negative way. If anything, it opened my eyes to a way of living radically different from mine, which was its purpose, of course. I think I read it at exactly the right time. 🙂

    1. It’s so important for kids to explore new ideas in their preteen and teenage years. Books help them do that. Forbidding a book is the surest way to get a child to read it! 🙂

  4. My kids are both in college now, and my husband and I raised them the way my parents raised me, to read as much as possible of everything. The cure for being influenced too much by one book is reading another, we think. I remember my father cringing at something I brought home in middle school, and I cringed at some of my kids’ choices, but tried not to let them see that too much. They are widely read, and I think at least part of why is that I read some books with them for a while and we talked about them, but then they got the satisfying feeling that they were passing me up. And as my very competitive son said, that’s something, because I read a lot and had a head start.

    1. I completely agree with you! Proponents of book banning fear new ideas. As I said in “Please Stop Parenting My Children”: Exposure to many different ideas doesn’t brainwash people. It’s the exposure to only one idea or belief system that does. If the mere exposure to new ideas is enough for those old beliefs to crumble, then its proponents should stop to consider why their beliefs aren’t more persuasive. In my opinion, an idea that can’t withstand a fair debate isn’t an idea worth passing onto the next generation.

      The more books the better. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Banned Books Week is my favorite library thing of the year. I’ve always been passionate about topics like the freedom to read and censorship and how a book that someone views as too rough can be a lifeline for someone else. My roommates get irritated around this time of year because I won’t shut up about it!

    Like I said in my comment before, I don’t have kids yet and don’t know if I ever will, but I’m always looking for ways to be smart parent. I don’t want to be that parent who is so restrictive that my kids can’t grow into their own and learn how to make informed decisions, but I do want to provide a great, honest support system, where we discuss and learn. It’s just smart.

    Love your posts, you always have such great thoughts. I always learn something from you!

    1. Thanks, Jancee! I really like Banned Books Week too. It amazes me that there are people who have the audacity to challenge a book at a public library. Thankfully, they seem to rarely succeed, though I wish our courts were a little better on the issue than they’ve been in recent years.

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