I woke up the other morning with an intense craving for a donut. Hot, crisp, sweet, chewy goodness. I didn’t want to make it myself, so I went out on a quest… and came up with the goods. As I was driving home with that pretty white bakery box on the seat next to me, I was musing on donuts. I don’t eat them every day. Actually, in the last year I could count the number of donuts I’ve eaten on the fingers of one hand. On the other hand… I’d need a lot of fingers. It would start to resemble a sea anemone. That would be scary… I bake. I love sweet stuff. I try to keep it in moderation, but there are times you just want a donut, or a piece of pie, or a cake, or a cookie.
This last week on my blog I turned it into an impromptu young adults reading week. I wrote about books for teen boys, how there seem to be very few (relative to romance plots aimed at girls) published by the big five, and there were three lists I published of books for teens. Those were generated by the collective minds of readers on social media, and there are some great suggestions. There were a few books recommended that raised an eyebrow on my part. It got me thinking. Some books are donuts, and some are spinach. Or broccoli, or brussels sprouts – pick your poison.
Anyone who has dealt with young kids knows that most of them have something they just won’t eat. For my dad it was peas. For my kids right now it’s tomatoes (in any form, even pizza sauce) and one of my daughters won’t eat ham. Go figure. I never would fix a special meal for picky eaters, but I made sure that there was enough variety on the table that no-one went hungry. After all, you can make pizza with white sauce, or garlic sauce… And if you force a kid to eat something, issues arise. My Grampa Ron will not eat butter – anything dairy, really – to this day, because as a child he lived on a dairy farm and they ate so much of it he can’t stand it. My Dad won’t eat peas (shelled) because he was forced to eat them, sometimes spending hours at the table staring at peas until he could finally force them down.
Now imagine this is reading. Books that wind up on recommended reading lists are, more often than not, broccoli and spinach. Might be ‘healthy’ and certainly never a donut. When I was getting recommendations for the lists, and ranking them according to votes, I weighted kid-recommended with a +1, and any book found on school recommended reading lists with a -1. It isn’t that I automatically assume that any book found educationally beneficial is bad – it’s that I know who makes those lists, and they aren’t the ones who are going to be reading them.
Forcing kids onto a diet works as well as forcing them to read only the ‘right’ books. In nutritional terms, a diet that an adult can live on (like veganism) will severely handicap a growing child. I’m not exaggerating – nutritionally deficient diets like vegetarian and vegan will retard the development of the human brain. The earlier the child is on that diet, the worse the overall effect. The right kind of books, and nothing but… do the same thing. Children and teens need the pleasure reading as much as they need fats in their diet. Without it, they will associate reading with unpleasant ‘flavor’ and will resist doing it unless they are forced to do so.
Now, what’s a donut book? Really, that’s going to be individual to each kid. In the responses to my call for good modern books for teens (especially boys), I had people who told me they had chosen to read some very heavy literature at a young age. This isn’t a surprise – I don’t remember when I started reading adult literature for pleasure, and I never shied away from big books. But then, I’m not normal and neither are all of my friends (I love you weirdos, you know that). For me as a teen a donut book might have been, say, Mom’s Grace Livingston Hill books. Or the Zane Grey novels. As I said, I was weird.
It doesn’t matter. Later in life I joked that the cheap paperbacks I picked up at the thrift shop (anything but Harlequin romances, which were too… too.) for a dime were ‘bon-bon’ books. As in, Mama got into the tub and had her bon-bon to relax after a long day. Mental candy. It wasn’t that they were all I was reading, it was simply that I needed something light. I didn’t need or want a book I had to work to get into. And I didn’t want a book I would drop in the water on falling asleep and be sad I’d destroyed. Kids need this kind of reading, too. Something that they associate with sweet treats.
Not all easy reads are donuts. Some are really like the German sour cream apple cake I recently made – there’s serious nutrition in there, but it’s also sweet and easy to enjoy. The skill to do this in a book surpasses the skill needed to do the cake in the kitchen. Books like that are what wound up on my lists this last week. The reads that stick with you, but you remember with a deep and abiding pleasure.
Hey, kid. Want a donut?
12-year-old Linnea Vulkane is looking forward to a long, lazy summer on Grandpa Heph’s farm, watching newborn kittens grow up and helping out with chores. That all goes out the window the night Mars, god of war, demands her grandfather abandon her and return to Olympus for the brewing war.
Now Old Vulcan is racing around the world and across higher planes with Sehkmet to gather allies, leaving Linn and an old immortal friend to protect the farm and the very special litter. But even the best wards won’t last forever, and when the farm goes up in flames, she is on the run with a daypack, a strange horse, a sword, and an armful of kittens. Linn needs to grow up fast and master her powers, before the war finds the unlikely refugees…