Ignorance is Not Innocence

pumpkin dh carved
My 21st century literature chops stay honed by talking with friends like Dr. Donna Johnson. Last night she spoke to our PMEU group via Skype about "Youth Fiction  - 2011".  She keeps up with the newer titles  for her Children's Lit class that she instructs at Dakota Wesleyan University. Donna was very positive and when she finds a recently published, well-written book, she says it's like finding a treasure! I'm sure that many of you can relate when I say that we could have talked for many hours on this topic.  What's more fun than walking away from a chat with a list of books to hunt down?

We talked about Mason's quote where she says, "...the decisions of life are not simple, and to taboo knowledge is not to secure innocence. We must remember that ignorance is not innocence, and also that ignorance is the parent of insatiable curiosity."  True. Wise parents will know when to expose their students to certain things and we must NEVER damage their spirit (Luke 17:2).

It appears that when talking about youth fiction in today's day and age (and many people I know just don't want to go there), there is plenty to avoid entirely.  Even the better stories will  be rife with broken families, ADHD, the 1960s and other subjects that may be jarring to you, especially if you've only used literature from the 19th century in your school.  Then again, maybe not.
porch in fall

On a practical note, Donna shared a few websites that can help you determine the type of contents in a book.  If you've ever had a teen walk up to you with book in hand and asking, "Mom, can I read this one?", but you don't have time to read it yourself, these sites may help.  The first site is Thriving Family and the second is Common Sense Media.  I suppose you might use these like those movie ratings sites for families.

So, while Donna recommended some titles (hold on, I'm getting there!), we acknowledged that over the past 25 years, one would be hard-pressed to find youth fiction titles that we would use in our school.  By that I mean titles that we would read, narrate and live with over 12 weeks that are full of moving characters and ideas.  Do you know of any? Perhaps I am expecting this genre to be something it is not. 

On the other hand, we have read some of these in our free time. Many have been the catalyst for some great discussions.  Others I have just simply enjoyed.  Or maybe we need to nurture and encourage some young writers in our schools who will grow up to write beautiful, perhaps culture-changing classics.

Here are some of the titles that were recommended.  Please read first to see if these are suitable for your child!  Do you have any titles to add?

1.  The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt - one of the few written about the Vietnam-era and a boy's middle school encounter with Shakespeare.  Personally, it made me laugh out loud.

2.  Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt - again, the 60s, with a back story of Audobon prints, Jane Eyre and dysfunctional families.

3.  The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick - unique, graphic-novel mix inspired by a real inventor.

4.  When Your Reach Me by Rebecca Stead - NYC in 1979, A Wrinkle In Time plays a part.

5.  The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron - quirky and just what is the "higher power"?

6.  The Lightning Thief by Ric Riordan - modern-day Percy get mixed up with the Greek gods in his mythology textbook.

7.  Anything But Typical by Nora Baskin - from the point of view of an autistic boy.


  1. Thanks so much Nancy. I do find it frustrating going to the local library and trying to find decent books for the girls to read. I cannot keep up with all of them now, I just don't have the time, and the library doesn't have most of the books from recommended lists like Ambleside. I will look up these titles in my library's catalogue!

  2. Thanks especially for the links, Nancy. We've used Plugged In online (Focus' movie reviews), but I didn't even realize they had a book review site!

  3. Thanks for the recommendations. I can't resist book recommendations from a trusted source!

    I am sitting here trying to think of some new YA fiction I've read that I could recommend, and I'm coming up empty. :(

    Great pumpkin carving!!

  4. Nancy,

    Don't forget The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill. That is a solid, 100%, you-don't-have-to-check-it-out recommendation. Of the books we talked about on Tuesday, it is the one I would consider a possibility for narration by younger listeners or older independent readers. I read it to my university students over a period of two months. I wanted them to have time to reflect on Miss Agnes's teaching methods. The books-within-a-book that I couldn't think of on Tuesday include Robin Hood, Kidnapped, King Arthur, and Sherlock Holmes. Not to mention geography, history, and disability. And more.

    The Higher Power and When You Reach Me should both be read first by an adult and then if children read them, discussed together. Don't get me in trouble here :o)

    I'm starting Moon Over Manifest, another recent Newbery. I'll let you know . . .


  5. Yes, Donna, thanks for reminding me! (LizzieBee is cuddled up on the couch this minute reading Miss Agnes! Do you think I can pry it from her hands before bed?)

    We would all love any book updates. I think the readers here on my blog are all book lovers.

    Thanks again for the great talk at our meeting. Skype is a wonderful thing, isn't it?

  6. Thanks for the links. Also check out the bookfinder at SimplyCharlotteMason.com. I haven't used it as a resource for teen literature yet, but I've found it an excellent tool. It even links you up to your library to check availability in your area.

  7. Our children are growing so fast that this is a subject I like to keep up on. Thank you for the recommendations. Have you read "The Lightning Thief?"

    My recommendation is "Little Leap Forward" - Chinese flautist Guo Yue's story of his childhood in Beijing set in the summer of 1966. I've read it twice and loved it.

    Guo Yue worked on the soundtracks of "The Last Emporor" and "The Killing Fields." He also has published a memoir (adult) titled "Music, Food, and Love" that is 1/3 recipes which I haven't read but have heard his album of Chinese flute music by the same name.

    What a carved pumpkin - you've got yourself quite the Renaissance man! A great big Midwest hello to you all from the East coast :)

  8. Hattie Big Sky is an excellent story about a girl who strikes out on her own on the prairie in the early 1900s. I reviewed it here:

    What about the Penderwicks?




    I read and review lots of new children's literature for my blog, and I find a few gems along the way. Thank you for posting the links to the review sites. I had a friend ask me for just such a resource and I drew a blank.

  9. Amy - Thanks for the links to your reviews!

  10. Our family enjoyed 'The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic', which was published very recently. I don't remember the author's name. I thought it was well-written (though long) and I'm quite fussy. :)
    I read one of the Penderwick books to see if it would be suitable for my daughter, and thought there was too much about dating and boys for her age (9).

    1. Thanks, Johanna. These little tid-bits of information help everyone make suitable decisions for their children. I'm going to look into the title you suggested.

      From joy to joy,

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