In a world of Soccer Moms and Pageant Moms, my mother was a Book Mom. As a baby, Kipling and Frost were my lullabies, and I recited their words from memory while my peers listened to Karen Katz and Shel Silverstein. Wrinkling her nose at YA and middle grade novels, I was handed “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Ethan Frome” instead of “Sweet Valley High” and “The Babysitter’s Club.” Raised by way of Sherlock Holmes and Jane Austen, my mother was certain that the only books worth reading were those that had withstood the test of time and retained their value, and that every teachable moment and life lesson that I would need in life could be found within their enduring pages.
Growing up, I loved and identified with these beautiful stories and had no idea what I was missing. I fantasized about love a la Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre. I recognized the danger in blindly following the opinions of the masses as per “Julius Caesar” and “An Enemy of the People,” and I had a very structured, proper, and “by the book” childhood (pun intended) without ever thinking more deeply into the complexities and intricacies that specifically affect children and young adults.
I was, however, as a result of my literary upbringing, thoughtful, self-confident, introspective, responsible, articulate, and, in many ways, living with one foot firmly planted in adulthood, while the rest of my body (and mind) gradually caught up.
Two small children, a degree in English, and a career in publishing later, I’m proud to follow in my mother’s footsteps as a Book Mom, but I’m eager to be a bit more progressive in my execution. Yes, I proudly upheld my family’s tradition and recited “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” to my newborn in her crib. Yes, I will excitedly teach my son to recite lines from Kipling’s “If” from memory, and I hope that he, like me, stands out among his peers as knowing these important verses by heart at such an early age.
But when my 2-year-old starts reading, and has to choose between “Emma” and “Eleanor and Park,” I genuinely hope that she chooses the latter. She’ll have her whole academic and professional life to enjoy the classics and appreciate their timeless and universal themes, but I see laughing, crying, and talking through John Green as more of a character-building experience for a youngster than plowing through Shakespeare.
In my 20s, I dove into the world of YA and middle grade literature for the first time, strongly identifying with iconic tones like “Ender’s Game,” “Uglies,” “Twilight,” “I Am Number Four,” and more obscure titles like “One Man Guy” and “This Song Will Save Your Life.” I found pieces of myself in those stories that I never recognized in the loftier works that guided my youth. Mia’s relationship with Adam in “If I Stay,” Lilly’s afflictions in “Trial by Fire,” and even the Faction system described in “Divergent” would have been extremely valuable food for thought as I navigated my teenage years. The complexities of modern relationships were somewhat lost on me in my traditional literary education, and I think that the fantastic worlds depicted in novels designed for young adults will help my children better recognize their choices and realities while they’re still in the molding stage of their upbringing.
I’m sure that by the time my kids are reading, even newer novels will grab their attention, and I won’t limit them to the books that have been meaningful to me, but when I see my son excitedly flip through “The Hunt” and beg me to take him to the bookstore and pick up the next volume in the series, I’ll beam with pride, knowing that he’ll end up looking at life just a little bit differently as a result of his having absorbed that story. That way, when he gets to “Great Expectations,” he can still appreciate the beauty of the language and the intricacy of the plot, but his literary journey will be reflective of his personal journey in a way that mine wasn’t. Book Mom 2.0 for the win.