Define ‘Inappropriate’, Part 2: Danny and the Library Book

12 Oct

I’m not trying to brag, but Danny is smart. Really, really smart. He taught himself to read at an early age. He devours books. I love coming into his room and seeing him holed up under the covers with a chapter book. He reads anything and everything. He really likes the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, the Boxcar Children series (which is how Benny got his name), and the “Stink” books (all about Judy Moody’s kid brother).

And it’s a challenge, finding age-appropriate, but challenging, material for him. I want to expand his horizons, expose him to new things, but I also have to be wary of how sensitive he is. He feels things very deeply, he’s very empathetic, and he internalizes things that others wouldn’t. He’ll watch something, or read something, and seem fine, only to have nightmares a week later. For the most part, he lives in his own little world. He has an imaginary Formula One race going on his head and he gives me updates on the standings every morning. He has written several imaginary tv shows in his head, including their theme songs. (My current favorite is “Pillow House.”) He’s a sweet, sensitive, brilliant little boy, and I’d like him to keep that innocence for as long as he can.

And every once in a while, he does something that just really creeps me out. This week, it was his library book selections at school. I reached into his bookbag and pulled out Curious George. “Aw, come on Danny, you can do better than that,” I thought. And then I pulled out this:

Don't worry, they're... laughing?

Totes appropriate.

What is this I don’t even whaaaaaaat?

I asked him about it. He said he wanted a book about war. Well, I’d say he got one. I wanted him to challenge himself, read a book above his current level, but this?

I texted the picture to my sister, his godmother, who understands him. She called back right away with concern. “Maybe you shouldn’t let my sweet little Dan read that. Isn’t that going to give him nightmares?”

Yes, probably. But… I don’t want to discourage him. I’m proud of him for going beyond his comfort zone. Still, I think this is waaaay too far out of the comfort zone. I did a quick skim of the book last night – it’s long, wordy, and full of horrible death and dying. I want to let him make his own choices, but I don’t want to deal with the nightmares that will result.

My current approach is to read it with him and talk about it. We read about 20 pages last night, and stopped right when the British lost the naval battle and the captain chose to go down with the ship. He didn’t seem too upset, and he didn’t have any nightmares, though that doesn’t mean they aren’t coming eventually. He didn’t seem too perturbed by it at all, which I guess is a good thing. My hope is that, by reading it together, he can process the concepts in a safe and encouraging way, while continuing to expand his vocabulary and knowledge.

Still… wtf? Why did he pick this book? And why didn’t the librarian say something when he checked it out, like, I don’t know, JESUS CHRIST WHAT THE HELL, FIRST GRADER.

But that’s the thing about Danny. He zigs when you expect him to zag. He is full of surprises. He pulls out a Curious George, then a book about death and destruction. He is a paradox.

For example, one day we were driving and he was chattering away in the backseat. Usually he talks about his imaginary Formula 1 drivers, so I figured it was safe to tune out. My ears perked up right away though, when I heard, “It’s simple really. All you need is a dead body, a pocketknife, and an ostrich.

I nearly crashed the car. When pressed for an explanation, he stated that he learned that ostriches have very small brains. “True,” I said. “They’re smaller than their eyes,” he said. “Ok…” I replied. “Maybe that’s why they act so crazy,” he says. “Their brains are so small, they can’t help it.” [There was an incident at a petting zoo when he was 4.] “Probably true,” I conceded. “So they just need a bigger brain,” Danny continued. “You can take one from a dead body, and give it to the ostrich.” I explained, “But that won’t work. Your brain stops working when you die. And it would kill the ostrich to take his brain out.” Danny thought about that for a minute. “Oh… well.. in that case, I guess I could just teach an ostrich some tricks to make him smarter.”

I was relieved. I went from fearing I was raising Dexter, to fearing I was raising Dr. Frankenstein, to realizing I was actually raising Dr. Doolittle.

Still, I’m keeping a close eye on him. And hiding my World War II movies. And I might have a chat with the school librarian.

p.s. Assuming he does really want to learn about WWII, are there any kid-friendly books you’d recommend?


2 Responses to “Define ‘Inappropriate’, Part 2: Danny and the Library Book”

  1. Vicki October 12, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    Here are some suggestions:

    The Lion and the Unicorn (the one by Shirley Hughes)

    I Will Come Back for You: A Family in Hiding During World War II

    War Boy, by Michael Foreman

    Rose Blanche is poignant and sad, but definitely less so than the book he chose (still might be a bit too mature for him – up to you!) It’s about a girl whose town is occupied by the Germans, and she sneaks out and follows them and brings food to the prisoners in the concentration camps. The day the camps are liberated, she gets caught and killed by the troops. Hard lesson, but I’m not sure you can really talk about World War II without talking about the topic of death and the atrocities that happened, in some way. It might be a good discussion piece. Depends on your comfort level and his.

    There’s a book called “The Big Book of World War II” that I think has a lot of maps and things like that. Nonfiction. That might interest him.

  2. sohobbes October 12, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    OMG, I totally read Rose Blanche when I was little and cried for days. The part where her mother goes looking for her…. I don’t think I could handle reading it again!

    Maybe I’ll try “Number the Stars.” It doesn’t have any pictures, but it is a good, kid-friendly WW2 book. Plus it’s set in Denmark, hollllaaaaa.

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