I will be the first to admit that I don’t know very much about children. The extent of my knowledge comes from interacting with my little sisters, and observing the children who come into the library. For those of you who don’t know, I work in a library. (I am a mechanic disguised as a librarian—teehee.) All manner of children come into the library. Some of them are shy, some are rambunctious, and some would be better suited for a zoo. Many of them are glued to cell phones, or they just come in to play games on the computers. It is always refreshing to see a child who loves to read. The readers remind me of me when I was little. I grew up around books and always preferred reading over doing anything else. Here I am reading a newspaper:
Some of the parents have to argue with their children to get them to read. They seem to spend a lot of time convincing their child that a certain book is worth their time, or that it’s better than television. These parents seem disappointed when they leave, probably because they know their child won’t actually read the book when they get home.
Some kids come in of their own volition, pick up huge stacks of books, read them in less than a week, and return to find more. One small child was known to cry and throw a fit when she had to give up her books, her mother all the while attempting to explain the act of borrowing, and the fact that there were always more she could read and take home with her.
Some children know the library very well. They are quiet, they know exactly what they’re looking for, and they’re excited when they find it. Admittedly, these children are few and far between.
In the midst of my observations, I saw something that irked me.
As a child, I was encouraged to read everything. I spent most of my time in my grandmother’s living room, reading her books. She had James Michener, Shakespeare, the Collette series, and a number of classics. I loved these books. Many of them were old, and they had that “old book smell” that I adore. I loved cuddling up with them and drifting off into other worlds. I especially loved Shakespeare, even when I was little.
I suppose that’s why it bothers me when I see a parent tell their child, “You can’t read that. It’s too long. It doesn’t have enough pictures. It’s not your reading level. You’re not old enough.” I saw a little girl grab a chapter book in the Junior Fiction section, and her mother immediately snatched it away from her. “You can’t read that. You’re too young.” The material had nothing to do with it; it was like any other Junior Fiction chapter book. The girl’s mother thought it was too long.
That’s fine—maybe it was. Maybe the girl would have grown disinterested and wanted to read something else. Whether or not she would have lost interest wasn’t what had bothered me. What had bothered me was that her mother had said, “You can’t.”
I grew up around books, but most kids are growing up around televisions and video games. Reading isn’t important to them. But when I see that spark of excitement in a child’s face—“Wow! I want to read this book!”—and it is quickly extinguished by a parent who quite possibly doesn’t realize how impactful the word “can’t” is, I am a little discouraged.
“Can’t” is a powerful word. “You can’t do that” is something that a child takes to heart.
“You can’t have a cookie before bedtime.”
“You can’t run in the house.”
“You can’t wear that outfit today.”
“You can’t read that book.”
There are many “you can’t” that a parent tells their child, most of them perfectly understandable. But if you tell a child that she can’t read a book—well, she just might apply that to any book. Tell a child she “can’t”—and she may well believe you.