School is almost over for the year, and kids and parents will soon be looking for some good summer reading to pass the lazy days of summer. With all of the many books available in stores and online, how can young readers decipher what is appropriate reading material for them? What questions can readers ask themselves as they read? It can be difficult to know what is wholesome reading. Books that may seem innocent enough while on the shelves may soon become dark or unsettling once they are begun. Sometimes you just don't know until you have started the book. Not too long ago, Cheryl Dickow of Bezalel Books asked me this very question, and, as a Catholic children's author, I was happy to create some thought-provoking questions readers can ask themselves as they read. My questions are more like warning signs, red flags that may arise as they read, and it's important to keep watch for them.
1. Does the book I am reading seem to say that I don't need God in my life? If so, this is a danger sign leading to atheism. Steer clear of any book that has an anti-God message, or one that mocks God.
2. Does the book I am reading tell me that I have power and energy outside of God? This smacks of the occult, new-age thinking, and the belief that humans are all-powerful. Even if the author tries to put Jesus into the picture, it is false. Of course, the saints had powerful things happen to them, but the difference is that it was always, always to lead souls to Christ, never for their own glory, self-love, or ideas of grandeur.
3. Is Christianity mocked by the author or the characters? As you read, use your intelligence to try to read between the lines to see what the author might be trying to subtly get across to readers. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it isn't. If the author makes a particularly religious character look like a bumbling idiot, have unintelligent dialogue, and makes fun of Christianity, you know there is a hidden message inside: that religious people are dumb, ignorant, and old-fashioned. Keep your antenna up for stereotypes such as these.
4. Do the characters' actions make you uncomfortable? Is a character in the book doing something you know is morally wrong, but does not seem to be learning from his or her mistakes and feel remorse, trying to live a better life? It's quite okay (and preferable for a great story!) to have characters make mistakes, but again, read between the lines: Is the author celebrating choices and actions that you know are morally wrong?
5. Does the dialogue of the characters consistently make you uncomfortable? Do the characters (or the author) use words that you would not use in front of your parents, or that make you blush?
6. Deep down, do you know your mom, dad, grandparents, parish priest, and/or teachers would not approve of the book you are reading? Is this a book you can leave on the coffee table in the family room, or is it one that you feel you would like to hide in your bedroom? Why or why not? What do you think God thinks about the book you are reading?
7. Are parents, teachers, priests, sisters, and other adults made to look like fools? Does the author consistently have the adults in the children's or teens' lives do stupid things, make dumb remarks, and in general be out of touch with the kids in the book? This is a technique used to devalue well-meaning parental love and authority. Watch for it.
8. Lastly, use the heart and mind that God gave you as you read. It's called a "gut instinct," and God gave it to each of us so we can decipher what is good and what is bad for us. Is there a general sense of darkness or evil throughout the book? If something just doesn't "feel right" as you read, even if you don't quite know exactly what it is, that is a warning sign that it is time to stop reading and find a new book that will lead your soul to Christ. Ask your guardian angel and/or favorite saint to pray for you to find fun, wholesome books to read.