A Novel Connection: Books, Parenting, and Puberty

When I was a kid I read a lot. I was one of those girls that picked my purse based on whether or not my current book fit inside. I didn’t need a wallet, make-up, keys or anything else a pre-teen girl needed, as long as I had my book. (OK, maybe I needed the make-up. I never went without that, either. But the rest was definitely optional.)

My need to fit that book led to a lot of days where I had no money for lunch and no keys to get back in the house. It got to the point where my parents left the back door of the house unlocked because I never had my keys. (Now that I am on my own, they have gone back to keeping it locked at all times.)

I would read whenever I had the chance. I would hide my book under my desk in class, read between classes, sometimes even reading as I walked home from school, under the covers when I was supposed to be sleeping. I was addicted.

My parents were very involved in our lives when we were growing up. When my brother and I needed a chaperone, my mom was there. When we took multi-day trips, my parents were there. They managed to do so without being overbearing, letting us do what we wanted without stepping in.

I will always remember my 10th-grade brother saying that he wanted to watch American Pie not long after it came out. My parents watched it first, decided it was cute, so they let him watch it—with them. (I must say, I am glad I avoided that one!)

While I have said that my mom does not want to hear anything about sex coming from her children now, she was very open when we were growing up. She used movies and books as a way to keep the lines of communication open with her children. What we watched, she watched. What we read, she read.

Yes, that’s right—she read everything I read. When I read the Babysitters Club, she did too. Same with Trixie Belden, Sweet Valley Twins and High, R.L. Stine’s Fear Street, among many others. It didn’t matter—if I read it, she did too. When I finished, we would sit and chat. She would answer any questions I had, and bring up anything that she figured I just wasn’t asking. (I was reading well above grade-level, so even Sweet Valley High brought up some questions for eleven-year-old me.)

I don’t remember her ever censoring me. As long as she read it first, she pretty much let me go with what I wanted. The same went for television and movies.

Judy Blume was the one author that inspired more mother-daughter talks than any other, and at varying times in my childhood. As an adult, there are two of her books that stand out more than any others (and Forever is not far behind).

I read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret before that right-of-passage known as the fifth grade sex-ed class. (While my mom agrees with the necessity of sex-ed in schools, she preferred my brother and I heard it from her first.) It terrified me, but spurred some frank, open discussions. My mom had been there, and I was young enough that it wasn’t too embarrassing (yet).

That all changed a few months later when I read Then Again, Maybe I Won’t. For those that haven’t read it, the MC is a boy, dealing with issues in puberty—including masturbation and wet dreams. I may have been embarrassed at the time, but I see now that my mom, who suggested the book to me, was using my love of reading to bring up a touchy subject. It opened the door for us to talk openly about a subject that would have been even more awkward to bring up without the ice-breaker. It gave us a common ground, a fictional character to talk about. It made it more abstract, more accessible, while still teaching me those important life-lessons.

As I got older, I moved on to the major adult bestsellers—Jurassic Park lead to a love of Michael Crichton and Robin Cook. Then I found John Grisham. As the books I read spurred fewer conversations, television shows such as Beverly Hills, 90210 took over.

Still, I had to laugh last week. Francine Pascal released a follow-up to the Sweet Valley books, Sweet Valley Confidential. I was intrigued, so I bought it for my Nook. I mentioned it to my mom, who did the same. I haven’t read it yet (other than to scan through and see what the major fight between the sisters was–which shocked me), but I thought the bit of nostalgia would be a fun read. Apparently my mom agreed. 🙂

Who were your favorite authors as a child?  Did you learn any life-lessons while reading?  Is there a childhood series that you would like to see resurrected for adults?

About Susi Borath

Susi Borath finds time to write between freelance marketing jobs, minor league baseball games, creating new cookie recipes, and juggling more laundry than any two people should be able to produce. You can find more about her at http://susiborath.com or follow @susiborath on Twitter.
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16 Responses to A Novel Connection: Books, Parenting, and Puberty

  1. Kaye Peters says:

    My parents didn’t really have “the talk” with me. But with 3 older brothers it was hard to censor the music, movies and overall media influences over me. I saw my first R-rated movie by the time I was 8 and lets just say I had a lot of questions after watching it 😀

    I read a lot as a child because I saw my mom reading a lot. She’d read her romance novels and I would think she was weird because she read books without any pictures in it. (And the picture on the front had half naked guys on it *giggle*) I would venture to RL Stine and read his newest book in an afternoon then re read it because I didn’t know what else to read.

    That’s awesome that your mom took your love of reading and used it to talk about growing up. I’m not looking forward to the day when my girls come to me with that questioning look in their eyes. I think I’ll take a page out of your mom’s book (am I clever or what?) and use literature to help me get through it.

    • Shay Fabbro says:

      So what was the movie??? 😀

    • Savana Quinn says:

      As the oldest, I missed out on the education from older siblings. 🙂 I did manage to sneak in a movie here or there that my mom didn’t know about, mostly at friend’s houses, but most of it went through her. I tend to think that a lot of her logic came from the fact that she was the youngest of 4, and the only girl. I think she figured I was going to hear about it anyway, so it was better if it came from her. I can say, I was a bit intrigued by the pictures on the front of the romance novels her and my grandparents read, too. (Yes, that’s right, my grandfather was a Harlequin addict.).

  2. Shay Fabbro says:

    I have to admit that I never read the typical pre-teen books. When I was that age, I was reading Piers Anthony 🙂 I tried to read the stuff the other girls were reading but it just didn’t capture my attention. I was browsing in the library at school one day and came across one of the Xanth novels titled A Spell for Chameleon. The cover ASTOUNDED me! What in the WORLD was this crazy-looking lion-scorpion-dragon thing and why wasn’t the buy scared out of his MIND to be standing in front of this creature??? I HAD to open the book and find out what the hell was going on!

    And thus started my love affair with fantasy. THIS was the kind of book I could sink my teeth into. I, too, took my books everywhere and often read far into the night. My friends didn’t “get” my choice of novels. They kept trying to get me to read Judy Blume and such but I just couldn’t get into them. I also remember my mother reading this book titled The Hobbit (I was about 13-ish) and devouring that book, as well as the Lord of the Rings trilogy before I even entered high school.

    One thing I remember vividly about Piers Anthony was his ability to create characters that I couldn’t get enough of. I would want to continue the interaction, so I would write my own sequels to his books. I never saved them but I wish I had! I might have been able to re0write them and use them as fan fiction. Alas, they have long since disappeared along with much of the remnants of my childhood.

    • Savana Quinn says:

      I did the same thing! I loved to write my own storied based on the characters in books. Usually, they were short stories or alternate endings. Like yours, my versions are now long gone.
      I liked reading what my friends were reading, but I tended to mix in books that they hadn’t discovered yet.

  3. Amy Cavenaugh says:

    I didn’t read many pre-teen books either. My older sister was reading Stephen King and she perhaps shouldn’t have but she read some of his short stories to me and my twin sister. We also watched some of the horror movies she rented when she had slumber parties. Yes I was terrified but also kind of fascinated. (I don’t think Mom realized she was telling us this stuff) When I was 12, I picked up my first Dean Koontz book, Watchers. I was probably too young to read something like that and often had to look up words he used in the dictionary. 😉 But he inspired me and was the catalyst for becoming a writer.

    I had always loved reading and making up stories of my own. When I was 13, I started my first book, a thriller with paranormal elements. It became a series that I wrote throughout my high school and college years. My friends loved it and begged me to write every single day. I did write almost every day and would bring the pages to school for them to read. I wrote those books from ages 13-21. In 2009, I began writing a story of the reunion of those characters.

    Wow, I got really off the subject there! Back to Dean Koontz, he was the first author I read other than Stephen King and to this day, I read nearly every book of his. In high school, I also read some Chrisopher Pike books. I guess I stayed with the thriller-type genre and that’s what I’ve ended up writing throughout my life. 🙂

    I do wish my mom had read the books I read like your mom did. She reads a lot but very different stuff, like Christian books and historical fiction.

    PS – Shay, are you a Lord of the Rings geek? I so am! 😀

    • Shay Fabbro says:

      I think we must be lost lost sistas Amy!!!! My first book my Dead Koontz was Watchers and I LOVED it! I read Stephen King and Koontz and Cook starting in middle school too.

      And yes, I am a TOTAL LOTR geek 😀 I got married to the soundtrack from the movies 😉

      • Kaye Peters says:

        Are you serious? That is awesome!

      • Amy Cavenaugh says:

        OMG that is so awesome that you got married to the LOTR soundtrack! 😉 I think they are the best movies ever – it’s hard to imagine something topping them. Perhaps we are lost sistas! Watchers was a fantastic book! What is your favorite by Dean? I think mine is still Twilight Eyes, which I read when I was 14 or 15 but I also love the Odd Thomas books, which are being made into films now.

  4. Lisa says:

    My list is similar to yours plus a few million. I wish my Mom had read everything I had read, and been as open as your Mom. I remember that reading Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret led to me not being embarrassed when my babysitter came up and said, “Um, do you know what a pad is? Does your mother have any?” which led to a search through the bathroom (successful). Ah, memories.

  5. Hilary Clark says:

    Oh my…with this comment I’m going to ensure my geekdom goes down in the record books.

    Before I “out” myself, I will say that my parents also love to read (my mother would frequently bemoan that her reading time had been seriously curtailed after she had me, then my brother) and they supported my love of reading with all their hearts. However, they never used the books to generate conversation about “controversial” subjects. They’re of a generation where “those things” weren’t discussed. It actually freaks me out a little these days if either one of them (now in their mid and late 70s) makes a sex joke.

    Growing up, I read constantly. I still do. I read books, magazines, street signs, billboards, the sides of buses, graffiti. You name it, I read it. It’s like I can’t ever fill up on words. There’s always a gnawing hunger for more. I was able to read by the age of 6 and was always a very advanced reader for my age. My favorite author as a child (we’re talking pre-teen here…) was James Michener. I loved those epic sagas. I would root through my parents’ bookshelves and scurry off with books I could barely lift to the nearest cozy spot and read in every single spare moment.

    My Dad had a little bell he liked to ring when it was time for dinner. He’d dangle that bell in front of my nose, trying to block the pages, and I’d keep on reading, my eyes darting around the bell to soak in more words. He usually had to forcibly remove the book from my hands to get my attention.

    I was also a huge fan of John Jakes and read his Kent Family Chronicles series, all 8 volumes. This series started with “The Bastard” which did raise a question in my young mind…what exactly was a bastard? My parents answered, but I don’t recall it being a comfortable conversation. I also loved Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds.

    When I was a tween (that term was not in use in my youth 🙂 ), the movie Grease came out and I got my hands on the book. I read that one 5 times in a row and finally worked up the courage to ask my Mom what “frigging” meant. She went through the roof, wanting to know where I’d learned that word. That was the only book I was told not to read (anymore).

    I’m sure I read more age appropriate stuff (like Judy Blume) but my memories of favorite childhood books all revolve around sweeping historical sagas. I sure was a geeky little kid. 🙂

    I’m saving this comment to my hard drive…I think I just wrote my next blog post. LOL!

  6. Pingback: I Was a Geek « Hilary Clark ~ Pining for Poetry & Prose

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