Fiction is good. It's not just lies—lies are the dishonest things we tell other people out of selfishness, while fiction is (or should be) those stories used to reveal truth. Not that all stories have to be tied up with a neat moral at the end. Truth wears many faces, and our favorite stories are as varied, and often as unresolved, as life itself.
A good book always has something to say, however. Even if the message is as simple as "it's good to have friends" or "growing up is difficult no matter who you are," there is a message and it can be understood. There are books that are all plot....but they aren't good books. There are books that are all blatant morality and character-building....also not good books, at least in the sense we mean here.
For those of you about to stop reading, know this: we aren't promoting immoral books. Just because there isn't an obvious "and Johnny was happy because he knew that stealing was bad" ending doesn't mean we support kids reading about worldly characters doing worldly things as though this was normal and healthy. But we also don't think Pathway Readers are the only appropriate fiction available to children.
What we mean by "good book" is one which accurately depicts human nature, demonstrates an engaging style, displays a consistent worldview, and doesn't use cheap tricks to get readers interested. That excludes a lot of books. It also includes a lot of books, and they typically aren't the ones filling the new release racks at Barnes & Noble.
We emphasize classic fiction at Exodus Books. That's not to say we shun all modern fiction, but typically good writing survives for years and years and years on its own merits, and those books that fit that description can be trusted more than those still in their infancy. Genres we find particularly problematic are those built around cheap formulas and plots with little to say (fantasy, sci-fi and mystery series come immediately to mind).
Books that rely on non-stop action and thrills are also avoided by our charming and discerning book-buying staff. Kids need to learn to enjoy reading because it's good for them and offers new ways to look at the world, not simply for a book's entertainment value. It's not enough just to read—if you read a steady diet of trash or sub-standard fiction you're really no better off than watching hours of television.
There is a difference between children's and adult literature. Kids shouldn't be sheltered, but they also aren't prepared to deal with the themes and darker elements adults must confront. Most of the titles in this section are "safe"—not a lot of extreme violence, sexual content, profanity, etc. here (though there is some overlap with the adult and children's genres).
Along the same lines, we don't encourage letting kids read abridged versions of classics or advanced material. Everything we offer is unabridged unless explicitly stated—it's far better to have kids read stories at their level than to have them read edited and often misrepresented versions of books not intended for children. If they read Charlotte's Web and Rufus M. as kids, they'll be ready for Great Expectations when they're older.
Nowhere in the Bible does God say "Read fiction. It'll make you a better person." But neither does He say "Have a time set aside for daily devotions. It's the only path to true spirituality." Simply because there's no command in Scripture doesn't mean a particular activity isn't a really good idea. Not that reading the Bible and reading fiction are in any way on the same level. Reading God helps us understand Him better—reading fiction helps us understand ourselves.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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