I remember my first visit to a bookstore when I was 11 years old. My grandpa had received a Barnes and Noble gift card worth $20 dollars, and he told me that I could have it. My grandpa told me to grab my jacket because he was going to take me to buy my first book. I was ecstatic that my grandpa was going to take me to the bookstore, but I had no idea which book I wanted to get.
When we arrived at the bookstore, he opened the giant, wooden doors and told me to go find a book. He waited for me at the Starbucks next door, and all I had to do was wave him over once I had found the book I wanted. I was overjoyed, and started towards the maze of bookshelves, looking at all the colorful and attractive covers that were stuffed and crammed together. I quickly realized that I had no idea how to navigate a bookstore. I walked from one isle, to the next isle, to the next isle, to the next isle, without really knowing what I was looking for. I did not know of any popular authors, or genres, or popular book series — I didn’t even know that I could find the summary of a book on the back cover.
Given that I had no idea which book I wanted, or how to find a book for myself, I winged my decision making process because I wanted to go home with a book in hand. I decided that I’d buy a book with the most interesting cover. I saw covers with birds, trees, dragons, wizards, castles, libraries, and other caricatures, but none caught my attention more than a book with a color-changing cover that had a textured skull and blood spatter on the cover. I thought that book would be an interesting read about murder, so I chose it, and I bought it.
Chapter 1 began with the narration of a prostitute. She was describing the type of sex one of her clients paid for. She described the type of drugs she was taking at the time the book, and her multiple romantic encounters day after day. At 11 years old, I was nervous. I did not know that this book would touch on such age-inappropriate content, and I felt scared to tell my grandpa that he had purchased an erotic, action novel.
I think back on that experience each time I take my daughter to a bookstore. My daughter is six years old, and she already knows that most bookstores have a section exclusively for children. I share with her that my grandpa did not tell me about this section. My daughter knows to read the back cover for a summary of a book. I told her that I didn’t know about the summaries. My daughter knows that book covers are deceptive. I told her that; my grandpa did not tell me that a cover doesn’t necessarily represent the story inside the book. My grandpa assumed that I would know how to navigate the expanse of a bookstore, but I didn’t, and your child most likely has gone through the same experience. We must guide our children through the literacy process, otherwise they can end up with a book that produces anxiety and guilt rather than curiosity and joy.
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