22 October 2009

Lists, Lists and More Lists

A few weeks ago I borrowed a book from a colleague that is right up this blog's alley: What Stories Does My Son Need?: A guide to books and movies that build character in boys. Of course, the title caught my eye, as did the author, Michael Gurian, who wrote Minds of Boys, about which I have also blogged.

I brought it home to peruse and share with Matt, wanting to see how our reading and viewing habits measured up against Gurian's suggestions. I was curious to see what he would recommend. The book lists 100 books and 100 movies, divided into age appropriate categories, that boys and young men should read or watch before graduating high school. One thing to note, however, is that the edition I have is almost 10 years old (copyright date 2000, so assume the material is a year older than that). So, anything published or released in the last decade is not included, and a lot of good stuff has come out in that time.

We hit the Preschool/Kindergarten list two or three times each for books and movies. He recommends an interesting assortment of titles in both. I tend to disagree, though, with the age appropriateness of some of his suggestions. The fact that I take issue with age appropriateness is probably raising some eyebrows among people who have read my previous blogs. Here's an example though-- he recommends The Butter Battle Book for Isaac's age. Now, yes it is by Dr. Seuss, but many of Dr. Seuss' books are best shared with older kids. They are longer books which lose a 4 year-old's interest pretty quickly and some of them tackle some weighty issues. He also recommends It's a Wonderful Life for 1st through 3rd graders. I know adults who hate that movie; I don't think a 7 year-old would make it through it. And, while I like Animal Farm, I think I would suggest it to Isaac in high school, rather than middle school like Gurian recommends.

There are also titles that I think he nails as far as age appropriateness is concerned. Where the Wild Things Are and The Snowy Day make the preschool/kinder book list. Both are classics for that age. And Babe and The Iron Giant make the movie list for the same age. Isaac loves both of those movies. Harry Potter and Hatchet and Stand By Me are appropriately listed under Middle School books and movies. The high school list includes The Jungle, one of my favorites from high school English class, and Mississippi Burning, which I remember watching in a high school history class.

A lot of my angst about his age recommendations stems from an issue I have with the books and movies we push on our kids in general. High schoolers are pushed to read the classics, middle schoolers are reading books I read in high school, and elementary students are reading books that are beyond their level of emotional comprehension just because they are the right "reading level." Kids are missing out on great literature (I'm not so sure about movies) because it is supposedly not challenging or intellectual enough.

All of that is not to say that I think this book is unhelpful. It actually can be very useful if you make your own judgement on when to read or watch the titles he suggests. He offers a synopsis of each book or movie and gives discussion questions to help you talk with your son about the story. The introduction is also very insightful and thought provoking about how boys relate to various forms of media.

I would love to see an updated version of this book. Until then, I hope my co-worker is not missing her copy.


  1. I saw that at your house before we left for the Asheville weekend. I meant to ask you about it. I could not agree with you more about kids missing out on things because we push them to read classics at too young an age.

    Also, I will take the It's a Wonderful Life hater reference as a shout-out. :)

  2. I was just talking with someone else about the "Harry Potter issue": How do you STOP them from reading the rest of it once they start, now that all the books are out? I like the placement of it in middle school for that reason. The first book or two might be OK for upper elementary but the temptation to go through and read the high-school level stuff would just be too great!