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    Books & Reading, Other Thoughts

    All Books are Not Created Equal

    June 29, 2006 by Brandy Vencel

    A lot of friends and family members know that we love books and homeschool. This combination means that our children are often given books as gifts. And more often than not, the books are wonderful additions to our ever-expanding library. But every now and then, there comes along a book that sticks out like a sore thumb, as the saying goes. And just like a sore thumb, it is quite painful to read.

    I will give as an example a book called Tommy the Tugboat that Si and I affectionately dubbed Tommy the Union Tugboat. Almost the entire book is about Tommy the Tugboat being on his break. Who in the world writes a book about a worker being on his break? Anyhow, while Tommy is on his break, something breaks that causes a traffic jam. Tommy is depicted with a frustrated look on his face, for he is trying to read and the honking of the car horns is interrupting him. He benevolently puts down his book and tugs whatever it was that was broken, and everyone is happy, and Tommy goes back to his reading for the remainder of his break.

    While I am not anti-break {God, after all, created a Sabbath day for the express purpose of resting}, I found this book troubling to read to my little boy. After all, work is good and to be embraced, and Christians are commanded to do all with excellence and for the glory of God.

    Here is a recap, just for fun:


    • Tommy is on break.


    • Tommy’s break is interrupted by something breaking.



    • Tommy, even though he was created to help in times like these, acts annoyed because this happened on his break.



    • Tommy grudgingly performs his duty.



    • Tommy goes back to break.



    I’m not even going to attempt to discover a moral of this particular story because it doesn’t seem worth the effort.

    Tommy the Tugboat has joined the trashheap of history, so-to-speak. But he is not alone. Over the years, we have received Scooby-Doo books in which the character Shaggy uses the word “like” repeatedly. And then there is my favorite, the Finding Nemo book in which Nemo’s father is totally uncool, and Nemo is disobedient and disrespectful. I realize that in the full-length film there is time spent developing a fairly decent moral to the story, but the movie was castrated in order to make it fit in a child-sized book, so it is lacking many of the redeeming qualities. The book tells the story of a little boy-fish who is not rebuked nor disciplined for publicly and purposefully dishonoring his father.

    Many of the child-rearing “experts” out there will say that a mother should read, read, and read some more to her children. And I completely agree that reading is an integral part of family life, especially if the family is educating the child themselves. But the “experts” rarely differentiate between good books and bad books {though there are awards for “best” books}. In fact, it seems rare to hear of an expert declaring that a book can be bad.

    I am relatively new to the idea of living books, but my father was very good about driving home the idea that there were “classics” and there was Everything Else. It took a lot of pushing on his part to get me to read classic literature {or non-fiction, for that matter}, and yet I must now admit that though all the fluff has faded away, I have vivid memories of my childhood encounters with books like Treasure Island and The Illiad.

    When a parent is choosing books for a child, it is important to discriminate. It is important to seek out the best. And it is important to throw away the trash when decluttering the playroom!

    And the same goes for Mommy. I have spent far too much of my life reading what I think Cindy would call twaddle. The reason I want good, living books for my children is because I want them to grow and learn, and fluff doesn’t exactly stretch the intellect.

    I remember my college PE instructor {a short and feisty old lady, by the way} telling me that she tried to learn at least one new thing every day because the day you stop learning is the day you start to die. I thought she was kooky at the time, but now I’m starting to see her point.

    Not to sound Emergent, but I am a person in the process of Becoming. Everybody is. And I am learning that what I allow into my mind contributes to how I think, and who I become. The other day I told Si I was starting to feel like an alien, and he told me it was because of all that I had been reading for the last year. That response surprised me, and yet in retrospect, I can’t help but agree with him. In fact, I am thinking that rather than being what we eat, it is all the more likely that we become what we behold.


    Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. {Philippians 4:8}


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  • Reply Brandy June 30, 2006 at 9:37 pm

    I must admit that I’ve never read it. Oh, I’ve tried. But I have trouble getting interested in Steinbeck for some reason. I never finish.

    I’d forgotten about the vulgarity! I suppose it’s a bit like the racism in Huck Finn. It’s a realistic depiction of how things were, but still sinful.

    You are, by the way, learning the story of my family as you read it. Did you know that is how we got to California? Dust Bowl, piled-high old truck, the works! And I grew up near the old housing areas for the farmworkers!

  • Reply kristie June 30, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    I’m reading “The Grapes of Wrath.” I somehow missed that one along the way and thought it was time to read it. I’m always surprised when a “classic” has vulgarity in it (as in the dialogue). I understand it’s part of the flavor of the book, but it still takes me aback! =)

  • Reply Rahime June 30, 2006 at 12:36 am

    I’m going to try and re-read 1984. I thought Brave New World was fascinating. One thing that I thought though that was interesting is in the different methods of controlling people. In 1984 it was through fear and punishment, but in Brave New World it was excessive rewards, both kept the citizens in a perpetual childish state. I do think our society tends toward the latter.

    I was reading Amusing Ourselves to Death on the plane, and I think I left it on my seat, so I’ll have to track down another copy.

  • Reply Kimbrah June 29, 2006 at 11:04 pm

    I have read Brave New World and 1984 and I loved juxtaposing them to see the differences. Great idea Brandy!

    We found a great children’s book at the library called Hosni the Dreamer by Ehud Ben-Ezer. It’s about a man who seeks out wisdom over possesions and in the end he gets the girl and everything. It was a really great story.

    On a completely different note, I found the Tide to Go pens at Target for $2.99 apiece. That is the regular non-sale price. So imagine if they have a sale!

  • Reply Brandy June 29, 2006 at 8:34 pm

    I am relieved to hear you read some twaddle, too! 🙂

  • Reply Cindy June 29, 2006 at 7:56 pm

    What a great post!! We love Bill Peet books but we always stop to talk about the environmentalism in the books.

    I read my fair share of twaddle, too.

  • Reply Brandy June 29, 2006 at 5:59 pm

    Have fun getting rid of stuff! I must say that the only thing I love about moving is how much I am able to simplify when I really get a chance to look at everything we own!

    It is so true that when we are grownups, we often end up reading both bad and good books because we don’t have parents to tell us that a book is “bad.” I am trying to learn to stop reading if a book is truly “bad.” I don’t have a lot of time to read, so I want to make sure what I do read is worth my limited time.

    So what did you think of Brave New World?? I am trying to locate a copy of 1984 for a little comparison fun… 🙂

  • Reply Rahime June 29, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    I completely agree about there being good books and bad books….problem is, you often have to read the bad ones to find out that they’re bad. 🙂 It’s good as a parent that you’re able to screen what E. and A. read.

    Speaking of good books, I dug out Brave New World when we got home and reread it.

  • Reply Kimbrah June 29, 2006 at 4:42 pm

    Good post and reminder Brandy! I have been trying to declutter books for a while now. I am hoping our move will help me to finally say goodbye to all the extraneous books we have.

    And that Tommy the Tugboat story sounds hilarious (although not for the kids). I think we have a few of those, too.

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