My 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.”