Bad Books for Kids by David Mills

Bad Books for Kids

A Guide to the World of Youth Literature & What You Can Do About It

by David Mills

You may be surprised, if you don’t keep up on these things, and few of us have any reason to, how tawdry and sometimes depraved are the kinds of books being offered to teenagers by the major publishers and bookstores, and even the schools. This is true especially of the books supposed in some way to describe “real life.”

Before I came across a short essay on what’s called “young adult literature” a few years ago, I couldn’t imagine that the books were more than mildly offensive, with a few news-making exceptions. (The popular Face on the Milk Carton describes the main character’s increasing intimacy with her boyfriend, utterly unnecessary to the story, with lines like “She could touch him in places she had never touched another human being.”) I was shocked, and I think of myself as someone who is not easily shocked, by the evidence of commercial depravity.

And these books sell in huge numbers, mostly, judging from the books on the tables at our local chain bookstore, to girls. So many books read by so many will have their effect, and it is not likely to be good.

I went to Barnes & Noble one evening to look at what they offered, and particularly what they were pushing by setting out on the tables in the central aisle, tables you have to pass to get to the children’s section at the back of the store. Of the fifty or sixty books on the two tables, none were overtly Christian and, as far as I could tell, none were implicitly Christian either.

There were no classics, not even modern classics like The Diary of Anne Frank or Animal Farm. The books were all fiction. There were no true-life stories, biographies, autobiographies (though most of the books I looked at were narrated as if they were autobiographies), histories, not even any sports stories.

They were mostly “problem books,” the problems usually being the typical teenage struggles with boyfriends or girlfriends or the lack thereof, cruel teachers, clueless parents, vicious peers, bad skin, bad hair, fat thighs, insecurity, and fear, though they are sometimes serious problems like sexual abuse and drug addiction. A few of the books are obviously “realistic,” of the sort whose cover copy emphasizes the problem it describes, and perhaps uses the words “realistic” or “gritty,” the rest more obviously fictional and apparently lighter.

About one-quarter dealt with supernatural subjects, especially vampires. Of the several hundred books on the shelves, from one-third to almost one-half had supernatural subjects, vampires dominating. Only a few of these were traditional fantasy stories.

“Real Life” Stories

I picked up a representative selection of the books intended to reflect “real life” and found a chair. The twelve books were a mixed bag, morally and otherwise. You could find something to enjoy and some lesson of value in almost all of them, but also something that undermines moral clarity and promotes one or more of several popular sins. They are not all simple-minded celebrations of hedonism, because often the real “real world” intrudes.


David Mills has been editor of Touchstone and executive editor of First Things.

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!


personal subscriptions

Purchase
Online Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives including pdf downloads for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!


RENEW your online subscription

Purchase Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!


RENEW your print/online
subscription

gift subscriptions

GIVE Print &
Online Subscription

Give six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for the reduced rate of $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!


RENEW your gift subscription

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

kindle subscription

OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)

Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.


more from the online archives

28.2—March/April 2015

Man, Woman & the Mystery of Christ

An Evangelical Protestant Perspective by Russell D. Moore

33.2—March/April 2020

The Fairy Tale Wars

Lewis, Chesterton, et al. Against the Frauds, Experts & Revisionists by Vigen Guroian

30.1—Jan/Feb 2017

The Heart of Paradise

The Godly Hierarchies of Love & Marriage by Diane Woerner

00