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Round about Christmas time, Buzzfeed put up a video titled “9 Ways Christmas In The 60s Was Super WTF“. One of those ways was a commercial suggesting Dr Pepper not just as a cold and fizzy drink to enjoy at 10, 2, and 4, but as a hot drink, perhaps perfect for a sophisticated winter dinner party. Here’s a full-length version of the Hot Dr Pepper ad:
When I first saw the ad, I assumed it was an attempt by Dr Pepper, in a time before soda became an all-year, every-meal drink for many Americans, to sell their product during the coldest months of the year. Why not heat it up? Drink it warm? Use Dr Pepper to fight away the chill of a harsh winter night. I laughed at the video, and went about my life. A few weeks later I was trying to settle a bet about whether or not prune juice is one of the famously secret 23 flavors, I happened upon the FAQ on Dr Pepper’s website, and there among the questions was this:
Q: What is hot Dr Pepper?A: Hot Dr Pepper was developed many years ago as a refreshing winter drink. Heat Dr Pepper in a saucepan to 180 degrees, place a thin slice of lemon in the bottom of a coffee mug or insulated cup and pour the heated Dr Pepper over the lemon.
So it wasn’t just a one-time campaign in the 1960s to get people to drink a cold beverage hot to push sales in lean months. This is still a thing. That they still suggest you try. So I figured…why the hell not?
Now, I didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand. Namely, I didn’t have Dr Pepper or a lemon. One might observe that I didn’t have any of the ingredients on hand, and perhaps that’s fair. I did have a 12-pack of Dr Pepper taste-alike Dr. Bob. It’s long been my favorite Dr Pepper clone. As that review states, it’s a little dryer, which I think is what I like about it. I also had orange juice. I also had rum.
Simple recipe. I put just enough orange juice in the bottom of two mugs to cover the bottom, probably not even a tablespoon. I heated the Dr. Bob until it was steaming. Then I poured it over the orange juice. The result is something similar to a toddy, and perhaps an interesting alternative to an evening coffee or tea for someone who, like me, doesn’t like coffee or tea. The flavor was subtly different that Dr Pepper (or Dr. Bob) on its own, thanks to the added citrus. It was fine, but there was something missing.
That’s where the rum came in. I added just a capful, not even a shot. That’s what turned the drink from an interesting experiment into a quite delightful toddy. Something that I actually would serve at a party. Ramp up all the ingredients, put it in a crock pot, and not tell people what they’re drinking until after they’ve decided if they like it or not. Maybe I’ll even try it with the correct ingredients, not just those I happened to have on hand.
So drink up, it’s a cold few months ahead, and this is surprisingly good.
The list of ingredients is simple. It’s mostly rice, ground into a fine powder, and enhanced with vitamin E and iron. Mix it with a little warm milk or water, just enough to turn it into a slurry. Best served on a small spoon with enamel covering.
I’m sorry, I should have specified something from the get go. This particular episode of Eat This is aimed at the 4-6 month olds in my readership. I’ve been meaning to work on broadening my readership appeal. Look for my upcoming board book Mama’s Little Automaton.
We’ve started the little bird on her first bits of solid food. The first experiment was a mashed up banana thinned out with a little milk. We were later informed by our pediatrician that this is Not Recommended, as starting children on sweet foods like bananas can make it harder to introduce foods less interesting to eat. Like grains, vegetables, and basically anything else that isn’t actually sweet. So we backed off that, and started on a daily feeding of rice cereal. We started first at a 4-to-1 milk to powder ratio, and worked our way gradually to a more 1-to-1 mix, offered to her one meal a day just before we have dinner.
For three nights now we’ve offered her a dinner of rice cereal. And for three nights now she’s slept through the night. I’m probably jinxing it, but this is now her longest stretch of through the night sleeping, previously topping out at two nights. This isn’t even pediatric sleeping through the night, defined as midnight until 5am, this is our parental definition, from her bedtime of around 9pm until at least 7am the next morning. The kind of sleeping through the night that also lets us sleep through the night, and that’s a beautiful thing indeed.
I don’t know how much it’s a coincidence, whether offering her a meal of solid food at the end of the day is getting her through the nights. However, I cannot overlook the correlation and imply causation. It fills her up better, it’s slower to digest, there’s no reason to think the rice cereal isn’t directly tied to better sleep habits.
Some other highlights since last I spoke of the little bird on the blog:
We’ve found a rather foolproof way to get her to smile, and even laugh on command. It’s a little game called “P-U Stinky Baby!” It’s a rather simple game you can play at home, and really just involves saying “P-U STINKY BABY” in as high pitched a falsetto as you can manage. To mix it up, we’ll sometimes take her to see Other Baby (that weird backwards baby that lives in the mirror) and accuse her of being the “P-U stinky baby.” That makes both of them laugh.
She shows some awareness of her name. One of my favorite places to chart her progress are the milestone charts on babycenter.com. And I don’t mean to brag or anything, but at a week shy of 5 months the little bird has mastered all of the 5 month “most kids” listing, two of the “half of kids,” and is all over two of the “advanced skills.” If she keeps up with blowing these charts out of the water, we should in the next month see her crawling and jabbering. This is all exciting, as most Ivy League universities are now so competitive that a few weeks’ head start on jabbering can only help her future merit scholarship application.
It’s hard to reconcile the little person living in our house now compared to the pink lump we brought home back in September. Every day are new adventures, and clear progress as she moves towards being a fully aware and interactive toddler.
Next time I do “Eat This” I promise an actual Eat This post rather than using the feature to trick you into reading about my baby. As a hint, it involves something in this video:
Our first beehive failed in a spectacular way. Two hives went to war in the late afternoon, the sun catching them as they flew about the back yard. Far more bees than I’d seen in flight at once, each shining like gold. As the commotion died down, we knew we’d witnessed a robbery, and when we went into the hive we found it empty of nectar and pollen. Thus sealed the fate of Queen Victoria Queen Victoria Queen Victoria.
Our second beehive failed much more quietly. We’d combined the hives after the robbing event under advice from our mentors and several apiarist websites. We’d kept them fed with sugar water, artificial pollen, and bee candy as the weather turned colder. However, even on the balmiest of days we saw no activity from the hive, no bees wandering off to see what food they could find to add to the stores. We knew the hive was likely dead for a while. I’ve since confirmed it.
One hive failed for very obvious reasons. The other is more of a mystery. There are frames absolutely heavy with honey and concentrated sugar water. The hive just…failed. There were fewer dead bees than I expected. Some were forced out at the beginning of winter, others will flee a hive on the verge of failure. I wasn’t able to identity Reina Kickass, but I’m sure she’s there.
We picked a rough year to start beekeeping. Hives failed at an alarming rate all through the Northern Virginia region. Even in the best of years, hives fail, sometimes at up to a 50% rate. Even well-intentioned new beekeepers will often lose all their hives the first year. We’re trying not to be discouraged, especially when we see reports from far more experienced beekeepers who lost most or all of their suburban hives. We’ll clean out the hives, save what honey we can, and give it another go next year.
It’s a bummer. I’m surprised I cared nearly so much about insects, but they were our insects. They weren’t quite like a pet, they were self-sustaining, we were largely giving them a place to live. But they were still living things under our care who failed to keep living. So, yeah, perhaps I’m a little bummed about the hive failure.
On the plus side, all our neighbors who knew about the bees reported increased fruit and vegetable yields this year. And that’s what beekeeping is about: helping the pollinators. And, eventually, making mead.
I get it now. I really do. I understand all the hype. I get all the talk about “hatching” about how those first few months pay off dividends as early as three months.
Today the Little Bird is three months old. She is celebrating this quarter birthday by attending her second day of day care. Unfortunately my wife and I have wrung out every last drop of family leave we could manage, her through long-term disability and me through my bank of off time and a company willing to let me take two weeks to just be a stay-at-home dad. In massive swaths of the country, we could probably get by on just my salary, or just my wife’s. But we live in Fairfax County where double income is the price of having a house and food. Really, if we just didn’t need to eat, everything would be so much easier.
So yeah, I got to spend the last two weeks entertaining the baby at home, and I learned two important things. First, it is possible for me to write with a newborn in the house, just not much. Second, I am unsuited to being a stay-at-home dad of a newborn. This isn’t entirely fair, if I was actually a full-time 100% stay-at-home dad, I would be participating in all those little things that help stay-at-home parents stay sane. Play groups, special early morning “we’ll keep the lights on and it’s okay if your baby is screaming” matinees every Monday at the local movie theater, labor camps, things designed to allow a parent to do something other than sit and wait for the next feeding. Fortunately the best option for day care, the one that combined a reasonable price with a fantastic environment, is right in our neighborhood. Win-win.
The baby. Oh my goodness the baby. When babies are born they really exist in one of three states: sleeping, eating, or crying. Sometimes they multitask. I’ve heard of some who could simultaneously do all three. But at three months old? They can hold their heads up, they can play, they can make cooing noises, they can laugh. My god, can I even tell you what it’s like the first time they give an honest to goodness laugh? She still has her bad moments, and she will for…well, in different forms, but for the next 18+ years. She also has her great moments. That moment when she listened to me telling her a story about the history of Rome, not understanding, but listening intently. Sleeping through the night Sunday into Monday, going down at 10pm and not getting up until after 7pm. Babbling so much that she gets frustrated that we can’t understand each other. This sometimes drives her to tears, but these are some of the few tears I really love because of what brought them on.
There are still so many milestones ahead. But I can’t help look back on that baby that we brought home from the hospital, spent sleepless nights with, went through days of wondering when she’d start crying. Or stop crying. Somehow, in just three months, she’s become something so different and wonderful. We’re now calling her the “trap baby.” The one who will sucker us into the notion that child rearing is easy and get us to have the second baby to make sure that we are providing replacement level breeding for the species. She’s wily that way, but it’s not working yet.
And I still can’t help wonder when her real parents will come to pick her up.
Yesterday my daughter got her first batch of vaccinations, because we’re strong believers in the power of herd immunity. Go vaccines! When all the shots were done my wife was told the baby might suffer some discomfort or feverishness, and if she did to give her some Acetaminophen (aka Tylenol). We got a handy little chart showing recommended dosages for two available concentrations of Acetaminophen, 32 mg/1 ml and 160 mg/5 ml. The dosages for the former are in milliliters, for the latter in teaspoons.
I hadn’t seen this chart before I hit the first pharmacy yesterday. I was acting only on a text from my wife asking me to pick up some children’s liquid Acetaminophen. So I go to Target, get the box marked “infant” rather than “2-11 years” and pick the grape flavor because they all taste the same flavor of chemical sweet yuck anyway. I bring this box home, show it to my wife, and get sent immediately back out because the chart lacked 0-5 month dosing information for the 160/5 concentration, suggesting only only get the 32/1 concentration.
Some people already know where this story is going.
Out I go. First stop is CVS, the nearest drug store to the house. My logic is that they would have a better selection of children’s medications than a grocery store. And they do. They, in fact, have children’s Acetaminophen in two locations in the store, but only in the 160/5 concentration. Nowhere do they have 32/1. At this point I bail and head towards Babies R Us. Surely they would have a full selection of medications in any and all concentrations. Again, no 32/1, only 160/5.
Now I’m in a panic, but I finally examine the chart more closely. Looking at the different dosages, specifically down the chart where it says children ## months and up should get 5 ml of 32/1 or 1 tsp of 160/5. I pull up the calculator on my phone. The nI pull up the unit converter. And then I go home after an hour of panicked wild goose chasing. So if I can offer two quick bits of parenting advice so that you can learn from my mistakes:
1 tsp ≈ 5ml.
Right down the chart it gave dosages in two different units that are a rounding error apart. For two concentrations that were actually the same concentration, just one with the fraction reduced. Sadly, I was in a panic because I was certain my baby was in pain, and the math portion of my brain utterly failed me. But…that’s fatherhood, I suppose.
Next week I start two weeks of stay-at-home fatherhood as I bridge the gap between my wife’s maternity leave and the baby starting day care. I’m hoping to get some work done on two short stories during her various naps, and perhaps start in on a secret project running around the back of my head. It involves the World Building Earth series, which is the most I’m comfortable saying right now as it may not even happen.
…To Crash Course World History
Dear Crash Course World History,
Why you gotta end?
I suppose I understand when presenting history as a narrative, eventually you’ll get to the modern day and have nowhere to go. Sure, you could fill in subjects you missed, like the Vikings. Which I guess would be fun and all. But the appeal of your videos is that you presented history as a story, something that has characters and settings, not figures and geography. Perhaps that’s what happens when it’s taught by a novelist rather than my school teachers.
I’m gonna be honest with you. I didn’t like history much in school, largely because every school would focus on this person did this thing on this day and you have to regurgitate all those things for the test next week then fill in a map showing where Anatolia and the North Sea are. There was no emphasis on making history interesting or accessible. So I went through life knowing that Rome was a thing, that the Renaissance saved civilization, and George Washington made America. Go team Western Civilization! Then I found the videos, as I suspect most did, through Vlogbrothers and Swoodilypooper football. However, I was not expecting to get so swept in. Not to a point that I would watch each episodes multiple times to make sure that I got them, or that I would do a massive watch of the whole thing to lead up to the last episode so that I could see the overall narrative.
And I certainly didn’t expect what happened about halfway through. I started looking for more history. Craving it. I’ve now sat through Columbia University courses on World History, University of Houston courses on the Crusade, NYU courses on ancient Israel, all things available on YouTube. I’m listening to a podcast series on The History of Rome on my commute every morning, and have lined up two different podcast histories of the Byzantine Also-Roman Empire. Now, I don’t know if I found Crash Course World History at a time I was particular open to rediscovering history, or if you caused it, but either way you’ve been an instrumental jumping off point. Through you I discovered the eras that I wanted to know more about, and I went out and found more. Then I shared you with my wife, and hope to one day show your videos to my daughter, currently 9 weeks old.
So here, at the end of this 42 week journey, I just wanted to voice my thanks to John Green and his high school history teacher Raoul Meyer. To producer and director Stan Muller. To script supervisor turned associate producer Danica Johnson. To intern turned script supervisor Meredith Danko. To the graphics team at Thought Bubble. And, really, to everyone else that had anything to do with the production of the series for awakening in me a love of the subject.
Next week I see you start Crash Course Literature, another subject that I didn’t enjoy much in school. Stupid teachers never wanting to teach the books I wanted to read. I’m with you for that journey, too.
I’m just worried that one might involve more homework.
Oh, and for those reading this letter who haven’t watch the series, it starts here.
Today my daughter is two months and one day old. Somehow all three of us are still alive, still sane, and even thinking that this might just have been a good idea. Especially as the little bird becomes more and more aware of the world around her. In the first weeks home there were really three states that she would exist in: sleeping, eating, or crying. Sometimes she could multitask, eating or crying while sleeping. But there wasn’t really a state of being awake, not actively eating, and not crying either. You know, that state that most of you reading this blog exist in for vast swaths of the day. I’m doing it right now.
The purpose of life can boil down to just one question: what do we do during these periods where we’re not eating, sleeping, or crying? It’s when we work, when we engage in recreational activities, and when we strive to obtain what we’re going to eat the next time we eat. The world exists to bombard us with ways to occupy this time. It always has. It always will. But what if you’re a baby?
I’m in awe of what the little bird can find interesting. Everything she sees is novel. What sort of miracle is a wall? They’re absolutely massive and provide so many things to look at. Oh, sure, that one spot just three inches to the left of your monitor might look identical to the spot a foot above. It’s the same color, the same texture. But, my god, it’s the same color and the same texture! What sort of witchcraft is that? There are times that she can keep herself awake just looking at things.
She’s starting to understand that the world around her isn’t just random splotches of color. There are things in the world. The challenge now is determining which of these things is another person. In doing so she has derived, from scratch and with no prompting, the scientific method. Test, observe, retest, correlate results. The test involves smiling at things, something she’s getting very good at. The smiles are fleeting, I haven’t gotten one on camera, but they’re amazing. Her hypothesis: the blotches of colors that are there to help her will smile back. So she’ll smile at us. She’ll smile at the cats. She’ll smile at the walls. She’ll smile at random spots in the middle distance. She correlates all those results, then keep smiling at the things that react to her smiles. It’s a brilliant little survival mechanism. Be cute, and continue being cute to the things that respond positively to it.
At its heart, that’s also the scientific method. And it really drives home how elegantly simple the scientific method is. Now, we create more robust and complicated hypotheses that are then worried over by tests far more rigorous than being cute at things (though that would make the Higgs boson hunt more interesting), but at the base level it’s the same. Interact, observe, then do it again until the results are significant. What’s spectacular is not the method’s simplicity, it’s that it took so long to codify it. Sure, we’ve been using this method since the 17th century, but we also didn’t fully utilize it out until the 17th century! When every baby ever born knew it innately, but then forgets it. Think of it. All of modern science built out of a childlike sense of wonder, a wonder I hope my daughter never loses. Never entirely. Just like I hope she never gets tired of smiling at me.
What do you mean it’s the second?
2012 Goal: Query Nickajack. Last night started a new phase for Nickajack that will see my wife and I find a half hour, even if it’s in two fifteen minute chunks, to read at least one scene of Nickajack out loud a night. It’s a great way to hear the adjectives, the filtering, and the misworded dialogue. The intent is to fix these on the fly and to identify spots where props appear or disappear, character motivations aren’t as strong as they could be, and other plot weaknesses that we can then go back and fix up. This is the novel moving forward in a substantive way for the first time since the birth of our daughter, and it feels good to be back into it. If we push hard and have a good product on our hands, we hope to be ready for the first round of alpha readers by January. No later than March is my hope.
The ultimate plan is two rounds of external readers, the first likely drawn from those who have seen the novel as we’ve crafted it, and the second drawn from those who have no knowledge of the plot or the twists. Each will be followed by a round of editing based on comments. After both rounds are done, then we’ll be querying this bad boy. We likely wouldn’t have made the 2012 query goal even if we hadn’t had a kid, even if we did work straight through, but I’m still glad I set the goal so high. Occasionally you need something completely out of your grasp to keep you jumping.
If you fall into either of the camps that we’re looking to draw readers from, keep an eye out. I’m not looking for volunteers yet, but I will be soon.
In other writing news, I’ve accepted final edits of my story for Old Weird South, and the publisher is hoping that the anthology is out by December 1. I know that dates like this frequently slide, we’ll see about when it will actually come out. If it does hit that date, or up to 30 days later, that will be three short stories published in 2012. Which is awesome. I’ll need to get my ass in gear if I want to match or top that in 2013, and set my sights on some professional rate sales.
State of the author’s beer. Man…I’ve got to bottle that stuff. It’s okay to hang out in the fermenter, but yeah, I’ve got to get that bottled. Maybe that’s a this weekend thing.
State of the author’s bees. They survived the storm in one piece, and now we’re focusing on winterizing them. This means keeping them fed with sugar syrup and pollen so they have reserves to make it through the hard months ahead. That’ll probably be its own post in the next month or two.
State of the author’s baby. Eight weeks old now and super cute. She should start “hatching” over the next few weeks, but she already looks at us and smiles. This is all part of the process by which she’ll learn what is and isn’t a face, and what is and isn’t a person. So while she smiles at us, she’ll also smile at the cats, the wall, and random spots in the middle distance. Still, any smiling is smiling, and it’s awesome to see.
This month is Nanowrimo. The editing I mentioned above is my primary project, but I think I’m going to pick two other goals.
- Redraft Vampire of Mars
- Finish draft of Antioch, 1098
That’ll be a great start if I am going to try to top this year’s three published stories. Jen Brinn, sage leader of the Cat Vacuuming Society, always cautions to not make sales a goal since they’re beyond the writer’s control…but it would still be nice to at least match this year’s output.
If you’re doing Nanowrimo, best of luck with your projects!
Update: Earlier version of this post stated my baby was eight months not eight weeks old. They grow up fast, but not that fast.
The Little Bird is fussy lately. I’m told that’s to be expected. Largely by my wife who is devouring books on what to expect during the first few months of a baby’s life, and I have absolutely no reason to doubt her. Six weeks is when a newborn’s fussiness typically peaks, and it has done just that since Friday. Even if we’d planned to attend Capclave, the sleepless night she gave us on Friday put us in no condition to wake up at 8am and drive to Maryland. It was for the best that we’d decided to not go several hours earlier so we weren’t saddling her with ruining those plans. It would have unfairly added to the stress of the evening.
Today she is six weeks old. Halfway to three months. One of the books my wife read calls three months “hatching.” It’s when a newborn, a wiggly thing with limited control over their own limbs and limited stimulus-response actions, becomes a baby. It’s when then might recognize mommy and daddy’s faces, mimic facial expressions, even smile or laugh. It’s when parents can really engage their children, distract them, interact with them meaningfully for the first time. After she told me about hatching, I held an idea in my head I called the “fourth trimester.” It wasn’t until I hit Google a little later that I discovered this is a common term for these first three months.
Here’s the thing with humans. We’re born premature. All of us. You, me, your children, your parents, people you interact with every day. Even if we make it to 40 weeks or beyond, we’re all born shockingly premature. Oh, certainly, predators throughout the animal kingdom take advantage of being born a little early then developing more outside the womb. It’s one of the four main birth survival strategies: (1) have so many kids that some will reach adulthood just through sheer odds (2) have kids born capable of running from predators within an hour of birth (3) taking care of helpless newborns or (4) be a marsupial.
Marsupials, man. Ever see a newborn Joey? Even if you haven’t, I wouldn’t recommend clicking this link for a video.
We humans have taken strategy three there and run with it. Sprint with it, even. We’re born shocking premature, and helpless even for an apex predator. If one wants to look at the period between birth and hatching as a fourth trimester, we’re all three month premature. Compared to the level of development seen in newborn chimpanzees, our closest relatives? Some research suggests we’re born, comparatively, nearly a year premature. Why? From that io9 link:
One longstanding theory among evolutionary biologists says human babies are so completely dependant after birth, as a consequence of our bipedal architecture. Our upright stance limits the width of the birth canal, and thus the size of the baby’s head that can pass through it. But now, new research has thrown this idea into question by suggesting that there’s a more important limiting factor involved — namely, the mother’s metabolic rate. According to this idea, a fetus can only grow so large and consume so much energy before it needs to make a hasty exit.
Mom can’t take it anymore, and that’s perfectly reasonable. There are a lot of metabolic requirements to gestation, and humans just reach the end of what they can sustain and give birth. In the end, maybe we’re more like those marsupials than I ever thought. We don’t have pouches, but the only newborns in the animal kingdom more helpless than a little baby human is that tiny pink joey climbing towards the pouch. Hell, we’ve even invented a wide variety of pouches over the millennia, from papooses to modern Baby Bjorns carriers.
I come up with weird theories when I’m spit balling a blog post. “Humans are pouchless marsupials” was not my intended thesis going into this, I swear.
We’re holding on, as best we can. Some nights are rougher than others, and I really have to say my wife has been just awesome as all hell through this. Baby, I know you look in here occasionally, I love the hell out of you for everything you’ve managed to do these last 6 weeks…and 46 weeks…and, really, everything since I’ve met you and probably most things before, too.
Alright, enough baby talk and sentimentality for this week. Later in the week, look for some talk of Flashathon (NEXT WEEKEND!), a new Writer Reviews, and hopefully a new Ace Double review I’ve been not writing for a few weeks.
It’s once again Banned Books Week, a week designated to celebrate the freedom to read. I make it a point to talk about this week every year, whether here or over on Unleaded, because I love books. Really, it’s nothing more complicated than that. I love books, I’ve always loved books, so I support and defend them. However, Banned Books Week this year arrives with me now the father of a one month old daughter, and on the heels of my wife and I having our first conversations about her future media consumption.
Books are only a part of this. I can only hope they will be a big part. I’m already collecting books appropriate across a wide range of ages, starting with Bob Shea’s Dinosaur Vs books that are excuses for daddy to make a lot of silly roaring noises, though YA classics like the copy of Wizard of Oz I grabbed at the Arlington Central Library booksale this weekend, to modern YA by authors I admire, like the first two books of Cat Valente’s Fairyland series. I plan to complete my collection of Lemony Snicket books, because it’s important to know that sometimes book series don’t end well. These are books and writers that I love dearly, and they are books and writers I hope my Little Bird will love as well.
My wife and I plan to curate her reading. We want to go into books knowing what she’ll encounter, knowing what we might want to talk about, and knowing if a book isn’t yet age appropriate for her. We hope to do this with all her media consumption. We plan to limit television and video game times, we plan to supervise her when she is around any of these glowing rectangles that fill our lives and my house. This is what my wife and I view as responsible parenting, being aware of what our child is exposed to and choosing proper media experiences.
There’s a line, however, between parents curating their child’s experiences, and parents attempting to use the government to curate other children’s experiences. This is the line that Banned Books Week shines a light on. I’m not going to pretend that all media, whether books, television, games, or movies, is appropriate for all audiences. I’m certainly not going to read my Little Bird 50 Shades of Grey when she’s six years old, just as I wouldn’t sit her down to watch The Host or let her play, or watch me play, Assassin’s Creed. Some lines are harder to draw. What’s the right point for the first Harry Potter book…or the fourth one, or the last one? What’s the right age for Star Wars? Or The Hobbit (movies or book)? There will be an ongoing series of these decisions that my wife and I will make, and have been empowered to make by the fact that the hospital handed us this squirming baby to take home one month ago, and society has now tasked us with turning her into a productive adult.
Some will be tough decisions, and some may involve a lot of discussion between my wife and myself, and potentially some sit downs with our Little Bird as she gets older. But these decisions will be made, and they will apply to her.
And only to her.
Age appropriateness is one of the common complaints when books are challenged within school libraries. And it’s the only complaint that comes up that I can understand. It is the job of a school library to properly curate its collection for the children. Just as I wouldn’t read 50 Shades to her, I also wouldn’t expect to see it in her elementary school library. This is an obvious line to draw, and I’m using 50 Shades in part as an extreme example. However, there are books that rest on the line of questionability, books that some parents may allow and others may not depending on the reading and maturity levels of their children. These are the cases where I would be more likely to side with librarians. What can I say? My mother worked in a school library for two decades, so I tend to side with school librarians.
However, age appropriateness is not the only challenge that comes up for books, if it was we wouldn’t need Banned Books Week to bring our attention to them. Of the top ten most frequently challenged books of 2012, only three list age appropriateness as a reason, and never as the only reason. Books are also challenged for their religious viewpoints. For their attitudes towards human sexuality, especially positive portrayal (or even daring to mention the existence of) non-heterosexual characters. For their morality. Now we get into territory where parents are not curating what their own children are reading, but are seeking to actively control what other children have access to. In some cases, the complaints aren’t even from parents, but from individuals who aren’t stakeholders in the situation. In some cases they aren’t complaints but individuals taking directed action, secreting books from their library shelves and destroying them. In some cases we’re talking public libraries, not school libraries.
People challenge these books because these books challenge them. Which is a damned shame. Books should challenge us. They should present us with a world that is not our own, make us ask questions of ourselves and society. Oh, perhaps not all of them, escapism is a wonderful pastime. But we can’t, and shouldn’t, get rid of books just because they make us uncomfortable. I hope my daughter starts reading books that make us sit down and have a conversation. And I’ll be right there reading them along with her, so I know what questions she may ask so I know what answers to give. That’s called parenting. But if I don’t like the questions, or the answers I may have to give, I’m not going to complain and demand that no one be able to read the book.
That’s called censorship.
I guess this all boils down to…parent your children. Know what media he or she is consuming. Especially books, because they’re the hardest media to monitor as both the quietest and most portable. If you don’t agree with the message a book gives, you’re within your right to say your child can’t read it. But you’re crossing the line if you say my child can’t read it. And look…I’ll do the same for you.