This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, March 31, 1993

March 31, 1993 - Controversial books for kids

After three years of renting, my wife and I have bought a house. In just a few weeks, we'll be resettling in Castle Rock.

Along about now, most people would start packing. But my wife and I are librarians. So what's our top priority? -- Check out some books on moving.

I don't mean the kind of books that guide you through the mechanics of relocation, although the library certainly has plenty of books on the subject.

The kind of books we're piling up concern something far more important: how to talk about moving with your child.

We could tell Maddy was a little worried about it. Being librarians, we are of the firm and united opinion that whenever Maddy is working through something, there are some five hundred books that will give Maddy a way to think about, talk about, and otherwise imaginatively anticipate change. So we start showering her with books, and spend as many evenings as it takes to poke through them with her.

You know what? It works. After reading that one of the Berenstain Bears had trouble getting used to the idea of leaving the family cave in the mountains, Maddy felt freer to talk about her own feelings. A score of other titles later, she was able to articulate her concerns: would we take all of our stuff with us? Would we still be able to visit friends in the old neighborhood? What if it was noisy at the new house? What if she couldn't find new friends?

So okay, our stuff isn't ready. But our daughter is. You have to pack your family first.

There's a word for the use of books to counsel your children. It's called "bibliotherapy."

Bibliotherapy is based on a few simple premises. First, there is nothing so strange that millions of other people haven't gone through exactly the same thing. Second, the more you know about something, the less power it has over you, and the more likely you are to survive it. Third, sharing books not only helps provide liberating information, it can also pull families together.

Here's just a sample of books for younger (elementary age) children, all available from the Douglas Public Library District, about all kinds of potential or actual traumas.

For instance, are you worried that your child might become one of the approximately 1.8 million children who disappear annually in the United States? Then take a look at Who Is A Stranger and What Should I Do? by Linda Walvoord Girard for some very practical, down-to-earth advice.

Is your daughter coming to grips with a divorce? Try Linda Girard's At Daddy's on Saturdays for an insight into the things that matter to a child -- and what grown-ups ought to do about it.

I know a woman in Douglas County whose husband left her -- for another man. When she was trying to help her young children understand the situation, she asked us to get a book called Daddy's Roommate, by Michael Willhoite. We did, and she says it helped.

My Sister, Then and Now, by Virginia L. Kroll, concerns a girl whose older sister is schizophrenic, another traumatic family situation that children can find hard to talk about.

The Auction, by Jan Andrews, is a sad but lovely book that describes the auction of a farm, and the efforts of a young boy to help his grandfather come to terms with it.

Another book dealing with partings is Saying Good-bye to Grandma, by Jane Resh Thomas. It's the story of seven-year-old Suzie, who goes back with her parents to attend her grandmother's funeral.

There are many titles about tough family situations, such as Tight Times, by Barbara Shook Hazen, which concerns a poor family whose husband loses his job. Judith Vigna's I Wish Daddy Didn't Drink So Much is an uncompromising look at the effects of alcoholism on a family. The Piggybook by Anthony Browne is a cautionary and occasionally hilarious tale about a working wife who finally manages to get a little respect -- and help around the house.

An especial favorite of mine is Mrs. Katz and Tush, by Patrica Polacco. This is the beguiling story of an old Jewish widow, and the young African American boy who befriends her, and restores her zest for life through the person of Tush, a tailless cat.

There are many people in America who take such children's books - - focusing on everything from the plight of the homeless, to the behavior of the mentally retarded, to environmental concerns, to dealing with nightmares, to the awkwardness of wearing glasses -- as further evidence of the moral decay of America. They believe that children's books should show only homes that are happy, lives that are uncomplicated, and a society that is just and fair.

But some homes are not happy, some lives are extremely complicated, and our society is often cruelly unjust.

The vicarious experience of fiction can inoculate our children against the larger threats of our culture. By reading about the choices others have made, children can learn to make better choices for themselves. Of equal importance, they can begin to develop a trait sadly lacking in too many Americans -- compassion based on knowledge.

So the next time you find your family facing some large -- or even not so large -- crisis, remember that a visit to a library just might be a move in the right direction.

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