What to do when you hate the books your kid is reading ...

www.jeffvrabel.comMay 7, 2013 

20100312 Reading

What do you do when you hate the books your child is reading?

NEASE — MCT

First, the good news: The 9-year-old loves books. Always with the books. He's a big reader -- at bedtime, in the backseat and at the breakfast table, which is why many of his favorites are frequently drenched in syrup. There are certainly worse things to be into, such as firecrackers or the Disney Channel or almost literally anything else, so I understand that complaining that your kid reads too much is a little like whining how you can't get him to put the carrots down long enough to shovel a Baconator in there.

But the problem isn't that he's reading too much, it's that his current favorites -- a series of adventures starring a mouse in some sort of mystical dragonworld -- are, to borrow a phrase from the world of literary criticism, rhinoceros poop.

These are such terrible books. They have terrible titles and terrible art, and they use terrible words. They have no discernible storyline, characters arrive and vanish for no reason (one turtle just up and leaves, which is odd, as turtles aren't known for their speedy departures) and each chapter is about two pages long.

About every 10 pages there's a map of some new and unexplained kingdom, but that's kind of OK because it means those pages don't have words on them. It's the sort of book where ogres have names such as "Footstink" or "Grossteeth." I think one of them is just named "Ogre," actually. It's depressing.

But the worst part, and this truly is the worst part, and I want you to hold onto something sturdy for how awful this is -- is sometimes the words change into a different zany font, like a shivering red typeface for the word "SCARED," a bulbous and orange one for the word "ENORMOUS" and so forth. One page will have nine fonts on it. It's like my high school yearbook became a children's novel.

(Incidentally, I'm not naming the books because if the writer is like all writers they've got a Google Alert on their name, and if I wrote a terrible series of children's books I wouldn't want my morning interrupted by emails telling me some clown in South Carolina thinks my work is an unsalvageable landfill of elementary-level plot construction and cheese puns. )

But as a parent, this situation puts you in a bind, and you feel yourself pulled between "I'm heartened that my child is expressing a love of reading!" and "Do you think he'd notice if I stole these books while he was sleeping and burned them in the fire pit?"

But I can't get over that with a world of enduring children's literature available we continue to go back to the well of this idiot mouse and his dragon friend and a frog that talks and take notes for some reason? There's also enough side-magic that I can't believe the Harry Potter people haven't massed an army of decidedly non-magical lawyers to come shut this entire rodent enterprise down. Maybe they figured it wasn't worth their time, having assessed the font situation and everything.

It's not like we haven't done adventure books; he and Mom have polished off Harry Potter, made some progress into the 39 Clues and are currently investigating Percy Jackson. As I understand it the first chapter of Percy Jackson involves the vaporization of a math teacher, so I'm not entirely sure what the message is there, but I'm told he's a demigod, and I'm guessing they can unvaporize people too.

So here's my question: Since we're near a number of places that offer a more worthwhile selection of children's literature, such as the bookstore and the library and pretty much any random pile of books on the ground, should I be redirecting Short Pants' attention to something with more value, or at least one consistent typeface? Or do I thank my lucky stars that he's into reading anything, even if it contains a stupid frog sidekick? Actually looking for advice here. Please, if possible, phrase your answer in the form of a cheese pun.

Jeff Vrabel's middle name is "Ogre." Follow him at twitter.com/JeffVrabel and read more at www.jeffvrabel.com.

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