Do you remember the kids’ book, The Monster at the End of This Book? In full Sesame Street humor, Grover gives fair warning to the trouble brewing. Middle grade novels need a Grover. Dangers more seditious than a blue monster hide among the pages, waiting to waylay our kids. The subtle introduction and then acceptance of profanity, immorality, prejudice, and disrespect are veritable fiends. However, the beast, the true crafty foe of foes in literature is The Blurring.
The Blurring smears the line between good and evil, sometimes erasing the distinction altogether. Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” Children, even Christian children, exposed to The Blurring are in danger of falling for the lie that moral truths shift based on situation. Once the child identifies with the main character in the story, right judgments of the hero’s actions can be overshadowed by emotions. This clouding of morality can unfortunately transcend to real life where the culture around us reinforces the idea that feelings trump truth.
Not long ago, I read Suzanne Collins’, The Hunger Games. The first book in the original trilogy was promising. I connected with the main character who was touted as the conquering underdog. Katniss showed compassion, bravery: a true heroine. The good characters were clearly good, the bad characters clearly evil, and good won in the end. However, a disturbing shift occurred by the third book. Katniss, who we still identified with as the heroine of the story, began to make ever increasingly immoral decisions, to the point of her ordering the death of several innocent children. I talked to a few younger youth who had also read the novel. Their response when I mentioned my disappointment regarding the outcome of the character and series in general showed that they did not share my sentiments. Instead of recognizing Katniss’ moral failures at the end, they justified her actions. They were not willing to let go of their attachment to her as a ‘good guy’ and in doing so, unknowingly compromised their affirmation of a moral absolute.
I’m not saying that the main character must act in moral ways throughout the entire story. Our heroes need real flaws, and their mistakes make way for valuable lessons. However, there needs to be a clear message that the “mistake” was a transgression that has consequences. The Blurring strikes when the wrongdoing of the protagonist is justified.
There are some kids who will be impervious to The Blurring, either because their moral compass is firmly set or they’re just not deep thinkers and unaffected by stories in general. However, are you so confident in your judgment of your child’s moral fortitude that you’re willing to grant them freedom in literature? Is that a chance you’re willing to take? We adhere to every imaginable safety warning for our loved ones from making sure they wear bike helmets to limiting their screen time. So why be lackadaisical on a matter that could poke holes in their spiritual foundation?
So, you agree, The Blurring is dangerous, but how can you be expected to preview every book? If your child has a voracious appetite for books, then you’re out of luck keeping up by about 5th grade. Then, you probably resort to a few recommendations from friends, maybe book lists from places you hope share your Christian values but, in the end, the well runs dry. You’re tempted to trust the Amazon review page, resolve to read it along with your kids when things slow down, and hope for the best.
Before you resort to hail Mary hopes in blind book buying, here are a few suggestions to help. First, and by far the most important, talk to your kids about the sin of calling what’s evil, good. Give them examples and help them be aware of The Blurring. That way, even if you make a mistake and fail to recognize the situation, they are armed to detect the danger. Second, find a way to study the book before handing it over to your child. That may mean purchasing the book with the understanding that you will return it if it’s unsuitable. To detect The Blurring, read the first few pages (usually within the first 10 pages) and answer the following questions.
1. Who is the main character?
2. What is their struggle and who are they against?
Read the last chapter if it’s long, the last two chapters if one is super short.
1. How was the problem resolved?
2. Has the main character grown as a result of the conflict?
From these general questions, you have a good chance of recognizing if the story is a clearly good versus evil, good wins scenario. (Higher level books and series are more difficult and require more reading on your part to answer the above questions.) If there is any hint of deviation, send it back or hide it away until you have time to read the entire book. And don’t forget to talk to your kids after they read the book. Ask them the questions above and hear their take on the story. Any effects of The Blurring can be negated, or at least eased, by a good follow-up discussion.
There are a few online resources to help Christian parents choose solid books. First, ratings and detailed reviews of popular middle grade fiction books are soon to be offered on my website, www.talesthatgrow.com. Don’t forget to subscribe for updates. Second, www.pluggedin.com is a Christian resource that has several books summarized and reviewed. However, their selection is limited, and you might have difficulty finding the book you’re interested in. Beware of commonsensemedia.com, which is a children’s advocacy site. There are many offerings, and they do a good job screening profanity, violence, etc. but the reviews are not from a Christian point of view. This poses a serious problem for identifying The Blurring. What the writers here judge as good and evil may be entirely different than your views as a conscientious Christian parent.
Don’t let The Blurring monster catch you or your kids off guard. Pray for wisdom and protection as you seek to provide positive reading opportunities. And above all, in everything, seek Him first, even in book choices, and He will honor and bless your family.