Books, For Readers

That “Other Stuff” We Learn from Books…

 

Recently, my four kids and I were on a forty-five minute jaunt up to my sister’s place for a visit. It had been a peaceful trip — no arguing about what music to play, no incessant poking, no — I’m not whining!  You just did.  No, I didn’t, and so on.  It was one of those moments where I was perfectly happy and content to be a mother, and then…,

“THERE’S NO SANTA??!!” 

Screech!  This eruption (coming from my second-grader in the backseat) swooped down and annihilated all prior forms of contentment, setting off a chaotic chain of events ranging from hysteria to frenzy; me, swerving toward the sidewalk, my kindergartener screaming, “What?!  What did he say about Santa?”  Tears were flowing, teeth were gnashing, and at least one person (me?) started to hyperventilate. 

I righted the car and collected my thoughts, trying to decide if it was time to just ‘fess up.  Let’s see — no more special wrapping paper, no more checking NORAD for updates on Santa’s whereabouts, and no more tip-toeing around after the kids go to bed on Christmas Eve?  Hmmm…..?  My older daughters made the decision for me.

  “It’s just a book, buddy.” 
 “Yeah, don’t worry about it.” 

 

And, with those two sentences from two girls too old to believe, peace was restored just as we pulled into my sister’s driveway. 

Still, I couldn’t dismiss the fact that a book was the culprit for this outburst.  I glanced in my rearview mirror hoping to spy what evil piece of literature was tainting my seven-year-old’s innocence.  I expected to see a cover depicting a half-dressed floozy with eyes half-shut.  Instead, I saw a worn and familiar favorite — Superfudge, by Judy Blume.  My son had recently discovered, “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,” and (until now) had been laughing his way through the rest of the “Fudge” books.  I had been so pleased that he was loving a book that I had loved, that, oops —  forgot about that Santa part.   

This is how it happens for many kids, I think.  They read a book, and discover something that maybe they’re not ready to learn, or, more accurately, that their parents aren’t ready for them to learn, yet.   Besides the usual mixture of knowledge that we gain from books, there’s a lot of that “other” stuff, too — “worldly” knowledge, I’ll call it.  The “Santa revelation” is one of the tamest examples.  

I know that I found out most of that “other stuff” from book pages rather than from my parents.  In my happy, Catholic, middle-class home, worldly discussions consisted of my mom saying, “If you ever do that, it will kill me!” as she pointed to the TV screen when her favorite soap opera was on.  Yes, I found out a lot of things from books.

I learned about bust increasing exercises and periods from Are you There God, It’s me Margaret?  (again, by Miss Blume).  About incest, and all things icky from Flowers in the Attic, and other works by V.C. Andrews.  About various undisclosed “activities” from a smartly funny and naughty book, Virgins (Caryl Rivers).  About drugs, and money, and the privileged life in Bret Easton Ellis’s, Less Than Zero.   And, probably the most important piece of worldly knowledge — that there is ALWAYS a smart twin and fun twin, and they’re always smokin’ hot (Sweet Valley High books).

Whether you agree with the whole Santa charade or not, I think most would concede that sometimes information gets into hands that aren’t quite mature enough to hold it.  Still, I would never begrudge that time of discovery, or a voracious appetite to read, and learn, and digest.  And, after the shock wears off, we are enriched, indeed.

*Find me on Twitter @amandahoving

17 thoughts on “That “Other Stuff” We Learn from Books…”

  1. I forgot how much I learned from Judy Blume(and V.C. Andrews for that matter). Thanks for reminding me! Luckily we are still on parental picks from the picture book section, or Rainbow Magic Fairy books. It’s something to keep in mind for next year though, I suppose:).

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  2. Thanks for this blog post! It reminds me of my own realizations about “Santa” — I grew up in a multicultural household, and my parents created a very confusing hodgepodge holiday that couldn’t withstand the analytical questions of 4-year old me.

    “Why does Santa come on the 6th, and he’s dressed like a Bishop, and then again on the 24th as an American although my American friends have to wait until the 25th?”

    I believe the answer was “Do you, or do you not want the presents from both Santas?”

    That shut me up, and to this day, I do not question it.

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  3. Great blog!

    I really do know little to nothing of children lit./middle age books. And maybe that’s why I don’t appreciate as much. Or maybe it’s because I don’t have kids of my own. But when I read posts like this I understand a little better as to why books are so important to children. And this great importance reflects upon what a major responsibilities authors have.

    Thanks for sharing this 🙂

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  4. Thanks, junebugger! I never really stopped reading middle-grade/YA novels, so it’s fun to re-visit some of my old favorites now that my kids are getting into them, too.

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  5. Very funny post!! The Santa issue is a very delicate one and I wouldn’t want to be the author responsible for shattering a little kid’s world. No way.
    My son and I still pretend we believe. Milk and cookies for Santa. Hay and water for the reindeer. Every year.

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  6. Thanks milkfever 🙂 My mother still gets upset if I say anything in contradiction to Santa’s existence. It’s best to just smile, and go with the flow!

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  7. Books truly do teach little bits of information that we might not have been told. Sometimes its a good thing, and sometimes is can seem a near-traumatisizing event at the time.

    We all still pretend we believe in Santa at my house, too. It’s more fun that way.

    Glad I came across your blog!

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  8. Just wait until he reads “Then Again, Maybe I Won’t”. I’m starting to think of Judy Blume as quite the upstart! 😉 As far as revelatory books go, “Go Ask Alice” was the biggest one for me….wow, that book covers it all.

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  9. Thanks for stopping by my blog! I totally agree — Judy Blume was a hugely influential part of my adolescence… she definitely helped dispel a few myths…

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  10. I remember them well – Go Ask Alice, Deenie (I was terrified of getting a back brace), Flowers in the Attic and of course all of the sequels. Eye opening books for sure.

    When we were supposed to have “the talk” with our 5th grader this year, we weren’t sure what to expect because he reads so much. We were just glad he didn’t correct us or give us more information from a book he had read.

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  11. Your response to his knowledge makes me happy: “I would never begrudge that time of discovery, or a voracious appetite to read, and learn, and digest. And, after the shock wears off, we are enriched, indeed.”

    Seriously, seriously happy. New follower here!

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