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I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my daily digest via email or RSS feed. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Why My Kids DON'T Read Many Award Winners

Why My Kids DON'T Read Award Winners {The Unlikely Homeschool}


This past Monday, the 2015 ALSC Book and Media winners were announced...among them, the Newbery and Caldecott honorees. As always, the list created quite a stir in children's lit circles.

Sadly, many parents and teachers rushed out to be the first to stock their shelves with these titles deemed medal worthy by the "experts." With little to no regard for who these "experts" actually are and the criteria they use for judging children's literature, well-meaning folks plunked down their dollars in hopes of buying "quality" for their budding readers.


(This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for full details.)

Medals and accolades EQUAL quality...right?

Well, I suppose that depends upon who you ask.

"Consider the source"...that's what my momma always told me.

According to the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), the "experts" responsible for awarding such prizes as the John Newberry Medal, the Randolph Caldecott Medal, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, the Odyssey Award, the Pura Belpre'Award, and many others...according to them, this book is quality...a book worthy of one of the highest citations in the literary world, a Caldecott honor.

In full disclosure, the Caldecott is given
"to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children." ALCS
It's awarded to an artist, not a writer.

The problem, however, is that the average well-intentioned parent doesn't necessarily know WHY a bright silver badge was placed on the cover of a book. They just trust that an award-winning book MUST BE award worthy.

I wonder if these same parents would still purchase this year's honoree if they were privy to this sampling of words taken directly from its graphic...very graphic...pages?

  • tits
  • ta-tas
  • sluts
  • f***ing
  • sh*t
  • bl** j*b
  • and so much more
I guess it's not called a "graphic novel" for nothin'.

This YA book WILL be purchased by librarians and teachers all across the country and will be tossed on the shelves along with all the other "award winners". With an age range of 12-18, YA books are becoming increasingly sadistic, sexually-charged, and wrought with adult themes. 

But, YA books aren't the only ones brimming with this R-rated "quality" content. The middle grade Newberry winners of the past fifty years, like this one and this one, have garnered their own share of accolades simply for pushing the envelope. For doing something "new" with tween lit. For talking of witch craft and "scrotums" and oh so much more.

The literary innocence crafted by Laura Ingalls Wilder and fanciful imagery painted by C.S. Lewis are long forgotten in award circles. Shock value and bibliotherapy are more in vogue.

Maybe it's time we, as parents, spend as much time protecting the hearts and minds of our kids as we do their bodies. We do all we can to make sure they are eating "green"...and taking their vitamins...and wearing their bike helmets...and slathering on sunscreen. We have grown quite accustomed to all that physical "safety" demands. But, do we even pause to consider the damage we might be doing to their souls?

Society, at large, cries fowl when a parent hands a child a drink of alcohol (and rightfully so). But, we think nothing of passing out books filled with soft-porn. Every addiction starts somewhere. We are negligent, at best, if we think flooding the mind and heart of an impressionable child with trash will not bring long-lasting consequences.

These are the facts as I know them to be.
I hand them to you to do with as you wish.
But, if you're asking me what I do when I breeze by a library shelf and see a book plastered with silver and gold stamps from the mid 1960s and beyond...

I "consider the source" and just keep right on walking. 

There are far too many great books for my kids to read like this one or this one to waste their time and hearts on those other "award winners".

I apologize for the graphic nature of some of the words in this post. It is not my intent to fill your mind with anything other than what can be filtered through Philippians 4:8. In this case, I feel it is necessary to include actual verbiage from the books in order that you might see the disparaging content for yourself. 

To be clear, my children DO read award winners including the titles shown in the photograph. With the exception of a rare title like The Whipping Boy, all the award winners that pass my critical eye were published before mid-1960 and all display excellence in content and literary merit. I merely used these books for the photograph because I don't personally own the ones I do not recommend. 

64 comments:

  1. I've told my children they can't get any books from the YA section. I wouldn't read most of that smut myself. It is hard to stay ahead of them in reading material... but so important.
    Blessings, Dawn

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    1. It becomes difficult when they surpass the children's section, but are not yet ready for the adult books.

      Sadly, however, the children's section in our library is wrought with inappropriate reading material. Books about the un-dead, books about how to become transgender, books like the two I mentioned above.

      The key is to be a discerning parent and to teach our children to be the same.

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  2. As a former classroom-teacher-turned-homeschooling-parent, thank you for stating out in the open what so many parents need to know. We need to guard their hearts and minds even more than we guard their bodies! Thank you for your encouragement--as always! Love your site!

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    1. It is a bit scary to speak the unpopular. But, the raw truth needs to be said sometimes.

      Thanks for reading.

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  3. And this is why I love your blog so much! Thank you Jamie for your honesty. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the holy one will give you understanding. I agree that taking the time to find edifying reads is VERY important. Eternity is something we as parents shouldn't take lightly.

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    1. Well said! It is our job to be a filter until they are old enough to begin doing that for themselves.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. This is the risk that's run when parents rely too heavily on "expert" opinions and don't take the time to vet things for themselves. The time that we can fully guard our children's hearts is so short, but if we work hard at it, we send them into the world that much better prepared. Great post!

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    Replies
    1. Vetting books...a novel idea. (no pun intended) If only all parents shared that same opinion.

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  6. I agree with all the message of this post, I am the gatekeeper of books for my kids. I have read some of Karen Cushman's books, though, including the mid wife's apprentice, and they are books I would share with my children, in their teen years. I didn't find them objectionable, and I am quite old fashioned.

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    1. I think the objection I have to that particular book is the witch craft woven throughout AND the fact that it is rated as a middle grade fiction...not a teen book. It is placed in the same section as other books for 9 year olds. There are many parents who want to be discerning, but are at a loss for what to select and so they rely on the rating scale and opinions of the experts.

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    2. Yes, I won't be sharing it with my 9 year old! I forgot about it mentioning witchcraft, I don't think it took "witchery" seriously or as something legitimate? Anyways, not wanting to argue, I do appreciate you encouraging parents to carefully choose their children's literature.

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  8. Great food for thought, Jamie. I have always believed that the media we put in our heads should all be judged on the same standards (movies/books/music): Does it make me think/feel/believe Excellent and True things? Does the story redeem the characters—do they grow into better people by the end? Is it a story I could read aloud/watch/listen to with both my mother/father and my children? And is it timeless—something that will not fade with passing thought and fad?
    And this is true of both the stories I choose to read and those I try to write. I wish

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    1. I like your criteria, Beth. Excellent, true, and timeless. Agreed!

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  9. not sure what "I wish" there at the end . . . oops. Can't go back and edit comments. :)

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  10. I've read This One Summer and really found it gritty and honest, and if my teenage daughter wanted to read it, I'd certainly be thrilled to discuss it with her, which I think is key - reading of ANY kind is much more valuable when you're talking about it as a family - but that said, I realize it's not to everyone's taste, and to your point, the "award" status of a book has never been what makes me value it or not!

    The thing that surprised me was that when you are so opposed to that and some of the other books, you used affiliate links to reference them. It seems like if you're that against it, it might be more transparent to provide a non-affiliate link to share information about it, rather than being willing to profit from something with which you have a moral disagreement?

    I hope that's an appropriate point to raise. I very much value your opinion and think it's always great to think about what your family is spending time on!

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    1. Joan, I guess that is where we have to agree to disagree. I personally don't prescribe to the "ends justifies the means" mentality. There are certainly other "honest" books that my children can read. I don't need to introduce them to anything that doesn't filter through my Phil. 4:8 grid to teach them big truths.

      Regarding the link...It was never my intent to profit from these books. I was just merely providing a link so that others might know what book I was referring to without actually having to mention the title for SEO purposes. The affiliate link is just habit when writing about books. I have since corrected that to make them straight links. I do not wish to make a profit in ANY WAY from these books.

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  11. I came from a house where books and reading were always encouraged. When we went to the bookstore I knew my dad would be buying me a book. I read some very adult books in middle and high school with subjects such as sex, abuse, murder, drugs and other unsavory things. I feel like I gained some knowledge and understanding on these subjects by reading about them. I get that its a parent's job to teach their children about these things and they should and books can help a person understand them better. Right now we get books from the children's section which is the opposite side of the library from the adult and YA section. If they happen to get a book with something that we have not discussed and they bring it up with me then guess what we get to discuss it. I understand guarding a child's heart I know I am doing my best (homeschool, no cable or satellite and church) but at some point I feel we need to step back and let them explore and acquire the knowledge they desire. If we have guided them properly then if they do come across something that is difficult they will have the tools to help them with it or find the guidance they need to handle it.

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    1. I think it IS important to help our children learn to filter and discern good. On that, we definitely agree. That being said, however, if you take your argument to its fullest length, then you are also saying my son can read Hustler magazine as long as he discusses it with me afterward. I think there are other, better ways to learn these real life lessons. My absolute moral truth comes from Scripture and I hope to teach that to my children as well.

      Thank you for chiming in. It is not my intent to persuade anyone, merely to educate and cause people to examine their firmly held beliefs.

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  12. Thank you for this post. It is sad that books for our young adults are now going down the same road that television shows and movies have gone. Or did books go there first. All reading is not created equal and I very carefully read or get a recommendation from other moms that I trust completely. Parents need to teach there children well.

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  13. I wish that every book that was published was rated like a movie and that the content was easily available. A book version of Plugged In...but for every book. Completely impossible..but I can wish!

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    1. I wish for that too! This book is a wonderful resource. It's called Read for the Heart: Whole Books for WholeHearted Families. I reference it often when choosing wholesome books for my kiddos.
      http://www.amazon.com/Read-Heart-Whole-WholeHearted-Families-ebook/dp/B007IX6REA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1423513915&sr=8-2&keywords=wholehearted+books+children+clarkson

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    2. I think Plugged In does have a book section. Several readers have suggested using this site, but I am not familiar with it, so I can't vouch for its thoroughness or accuracy.
      https://www.commonsensemedia.org/

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    3. Common Sense Media can be somewhat helpful as far as information about some of the things in a book, movie, TV show, or game, but its recommendations are not always reliable. We read their reviews for the movie Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day -- they very excitedly gave it their "Seal of Approval" as a family movie. However, it had some VERY objectionable things in it, and I was quite disappointed in the "family" rating they gave it.

      If other review sites haven't covered a book you're interested in, Common Sense Media can be a starting place, kind of an initial filter, maybe, but I wouldn't make a decision solely based on their information.

      --Carole

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    4. I just started reading your blog tonight. I'm new to homeschooling. Thanks for all the info. I wanted to comment on Common Sense Media. I have used that site for years and I would agree with Carole. What is nice about the site is that you can look under sections like "violence", "sex", "language", etc. And it will tell you exactly what is said or seen in a movie for example (and I imagine books, games, etc. As well). I've found it most helpful for when my kids are at aunty or grandma/grandpa's house and they are wanting to know if they can watch a certain movie I'm not incredibly familiar with. However, I'd agree that it's not fail proof. Often times I've wondered why they said a movie was okay for a certain age when the more detailed info didn't seem to align with that. They've also frequently missed the listing of things in movies (for example, they may list a few situations of violence that are seen in a movie but not list a fourth and very obvious one in the same movie). I would recommend using it alongside dove.org as it seems to be a bit more conservative, is Christian based and doesn't seem to miss things as often.

      On another note, I agree whole heartedly about protecting our children (there was another post on here from someone about over guarding our kids). When my almost 9 year old expresses frustration about something I won't let him watch or see/read, etc. that his friends or cousins are allowed to, I will tell him this...God has entrusted you to me and Its my job to protect your mind, eyes, heart and body....you may not always agree with me, but I have your best interests in mind and I need you to trust me. He seems to get it (although I do sometimes get the eye roll and I know I know mom, I get it....gotta love the pre-pubescent stage HAHA). I do feel that he has naturally been exposed to topics in life (particularly in public school and in our being foster parents) where I probably would've "sheltered" him from those things longer had I been able to. But, we've had great learning opportunities and discussions from them. And I think that's the biggest thing. Being available for and proactive with our children in having those conversations. But thrusting children into experiences they are not ready to handle, nor should they have to, is foolish. It's definitely our job to protect and guide. Life lessons will always come, it's inevitable. I agree with your statement about the hustler magazine Jamie. Lines have to be drawn somewhere for sure!

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    5. Welcome! Glad you stumbled upon my blog. I completely agree, being available and proactive in parenting is essential. Thanks for weighing in with some good media review tools. I know those recommendations will be helpful to other mommas.

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  14. Great post, Jamie! I don't buy award winning books simply because they're mostly twaddle anyway. You've shown me other reasons for avoiding this garbage. Sharing your post everywhere!

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    1. Thanks, Michelle. I appreciate it. I agree about the twaddle. So many modern award winners are just fluff.

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  15. Fabulous article!!!! And so well said. It's hard to screen everything that comes into our house and so easy to just assume that since it won an award it must be safe and of excellent quality. Thanks for reminding us to be diligent.

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  16. Sometimes you have to speak the plain and gritty truth and I appreciate you doing it here. We need to be reminded it's not just video and music we should be screening for our children. Our values are being attacked in every medium and we better stay on our toes as moms if we intend to protect them. Anyway, great read!

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    1. Protection is a great word for it. It is a high calling and a difficult task, at times. But, oh.so.worth.it in the end.

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  17. I'm sorry, but when did the word scrotum become inappropriate? Using the anatomically correct term for a part of the human body is hardly "sexually charged." Are you saying you would rather have your preteen or teen not have knowledge about the human body? Do you also avoid this horrible word in science? And "witchcraft," whether you like it or not, exists and was an important aspect of how culture viewed and took certain actions throughout history. Or do you whitewash history with your children as well?

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    1. In this particular case, this book does not just refer to anatomical terms.

      And, I actually have no problem teaching my kids accurate history, but at an appropriate age level. I really don't think a nine year old needs to read about the scary practices of witchcraft nor the terrifying things that often happen during childbirth when babies and mothers die. But, that's just my opinion. You are entitled to yours.

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  18. yep, couldn't agree more.

    and question for ya -- i linked over to your list for lower to mid elementary (& i LOVE honey for a child's heart!!), but wondering if you happen to have (or have come across any) suggested reading lists for say, 4th-6th grade (& on?)? i'm particularly partial to literary classics. you know, the good old fashioned ones with good old fashioned values.

    thanks!!

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    1. Here is a great resource that has books listed by age order. I've only come upon a couple of books in the list that I don't like.
      http://www.classical-homeschooling.org/celoop/1000.html

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  19. Interestingly, my 16yo did research on violence in video games last year for a speech. It was so well done, he won third place in the state for his age category. The results were surprising in a few ways, but one of them was that of those affected by the games (the number was actually fairly low) they were MORE affected by movies and the MOST affected by books! It is important to be discerning!

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    1. Wow. Interesting. Thanks for sharing. That really puts all of this in an even more important light.

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  20. Thank you for this article. I get a lot of my books by the lists through Sonlight and from other homeschoolers. I have noticed a lot of them do have awards so I have been keeping an eye out for those. However, I did not notice the date difference. I guess I assumed the seal meant good quality/substance. I should have known better, since morality has taken a nose dive in everything else. I don't know what I was thinking. Fortunately, I haven't purchased any of the newer ones, probably because I haven't seen them on the lists. Thank you for alerting me to this!

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    1. You're welcome, Tammy. I think most parents...even homeschooling parents...are in the same boat. It's easy to see an award and think that the book MUST be great. Thanks for your candidness.

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  21. Yep, we agree with you whole-heartedly!

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  22. I whole-heartedly agree. I would love to know how you monitor what your children read. I homeschool and my girls read way more than I can preview first (we borrowed 1100 books from the library last year). As they get older I try to look up reviews, but I know things like this aren't mentioned. Would love to know if you have any suggestions.

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  23. Aww The Midwife's Apprentice is one of my favorite books ever and is part of what got me into herbalism and homebirth and midwifery.

    Sure, I do not buy books for my children simply because they won an award or have amazing illustrations, but I do feverently buy books that I loved and devoured as a child. Perhaps some do have *some* "inappropriate" content but obviously not enough for me to remember being effected by it.

    YA with all the dystopia coming out, is still my go to genre, especially because I can pick it up and put it down without too much hassle regarding remembering what is happening. (I have six kids, I rarely get to really focus on what I am reading anymore)

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  24. As someone, a female no less, who started her addiction to sexual immorality/porn at age 9 with YA books and romance novels (I have always been addicted to disappearing into books from the time I learned to read), thank you for this blog post and warning. This is a foothold for the devil and it took me DECADES to rip these chains off. It also contributed to my sexual abuse, bc why not, my favorite characters were doing it. Mamas protect your children, do your due diligence PLEASE!

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    1. Thank you so much for your candidness and vulnerability in sharing that, Jamie. God extends grace and healing. The devil would like nothing more than for you to feel guilt or shame over both of these things. God is bigger than guilt and shame. He can take your burdens if you give it to Him.

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  25. Thank you so much for this post! I would have never known this information about award winner books. It is so sad that our society is coming to this, even in children's literature. We enjoy reading your blog and it encourages our own family in our homeschool journey.
    http://cchlearning.wordpress.com/

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    1. Thank you for reading. I'm glad to have a platform where I can tell the world of this very sad look at society.

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  26. Loved your post! Personally I don't even take my children to the library. I just don't have the time to waste. We have well stocked bookshelves in the house as it is, with plenty of great literature. If I find a good book I purchase it. I have heard a great deal about the falling standards of YA books in recent years. I'm doing my best to get by without them, aiming more or less at the classics instead.

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  27. Have you checked out the new series by Katie Lea Yates? The Provider is the first book, and the Prior is the second. These are cleanly written without any references to profanity, sex, or drugs. The story is centered on a girl who discovers the supernatural ability of "jumping" into drawings she has made and becoming a character in that imaginary world. These were written by a former student of mine, and they are cleverly done! I don't think you will be disappointed in this new author.

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  28. Great post! Thank you so much for sharing. I am not quite to the "middle school" years yet, but I had no idea about the awards books not always being "great." I usually get my reading lists from Sunlight anyway, but now I know that even if I find one on my own with an award, I need to check reviews. Thanks!

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  29. Good points, Jamie! While as a "retired" homeschool teacher, I no longer have to worry about this, I was very careful when my boys were still at home. I always wanted to fill their minds with things that were good and upright. As they grew older, I gave them more choice in reading matter, but still kept an eye on what they read. (I prefer to read uplifting books myself!)

    Now, as a writer for children, I still want to provide material that is uplifting. I have sometimes mentioned this on loops for children's writers, only to be berated for wanting good values in my books. Others said we should write whatever we felt like and leave it up to the parents to censor what their own children read. I'm afraid I just can't agree with that. But all I can control is my own writing, so I do what I can. :-)

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    1. Glad to know there are still writers out there who care about kids.

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  30. I just read this post - a bit late to the party I know, and I haven't read all the comments, but I you kinda single out the Caldecott award and then state a list of all things in this years winner (I am assuming that by winner you are talking about all awards - winner and honor) and list all the things wrong with this years book. I want to clarify something , because it really reads as though you have a problem with this years Caldecott specifically - is it a Caldecott book that contains those words you list? I haven't had the chance to read this years books, but to award a book for illustrations (and we all know picture books really appeal to the younger crowd of kids) that contains words such as those (words I would feel uncomfortable using in front of my own husband), would be horrific. How can such a book be in the same league as Knuffle Bunny, or the many other actually excellent and worthy award winners?

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    1. Yes, Tanya. The book I am referring to is a Caldecott winner.

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  34. AMEN!!! Rarely have I found another mother who concerned herself with her kids' reading material as I do. I was a voracious reader as a child, and I know for a fact that my mother read every single book I was interested in before I did. It's just the way our family worked, and I had no problems with it. I was exposed to excellent literature and learned to develop a taste for all that is good without having to wade through anything rotten. I appreciate what my mother did for me and now do the same for my own children.

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  35. I appreciate you mentioning that older books that are award winners are better options. I look for older books whether they are award winners or not.
    I have told my 6 year old that some books we start reading and realize they are not good for our minds, so we stop reading them and return them to the library. She picks out a lot of books on her own, and if I didn't inspect them at the library, but see they are twaddle or objectionable for some other reason, we discuss why the book is not worth reading or finishing. I have looked at some of the newer award winners and not been able to figure out how they received the award.
    Thanks for sharing a post about parental discernment in books for kids.

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    1. Discernment is key! It sounds like you already know that though. Good for you for helping your kids learn that skill early.

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