Guest blogger: Melanie Dobson
Some of my best childhood friends were books. I learned from their pages as I embarked on treacherous journeys, traveled back in time, and helped my favorite characters solve countless mysteries (as if they needed my help…). Books helped me understand the world, and as I grew older, they slowly began to do something else—they inspired me to write adventures of my own.
Forty years later, I still love to read, and when my husband and I adopted our daughters, we wanted to pass along this love of story to them. We’ve spent many sweet hours snuggled around a book as a family, exploring the world together through its magical pages.
When my girls were in preschool, I began taking them to the library to choose books for themselves, and I was shocked to discover what was now available in the children’s and youth sections. I quickly realized that not only did I want to encourage my daughters to love a great story, I needed to help them develop tools to critique a book’s content before they embarked on their own adventures.
In my latest novel, Hidden Among the Stars, the protagonist co-owns a children’s bookstore. Callie, nicknamed Story Girl, explains how a well-written children’s book can mold and shape its readers. It can be a refuge for the mind or it can open the door to a frightening, hostile place. Through Callie’s character, I wanted to communicate my passion for great children’s literature as well as share some of what I’ve learned as a mom who wants to teach children how to choose books wisely.
Hidden Among the Stars is about children’s literature, but it’s also about the dangers of banning books, particularly during World War II. I’m not encouraging a book ban, but I’m a huge proponent of media education as we help our kids make great, healthy choices for what they consume.
As my daughters grew into avid readers, we developed a critique system of sorts that we all understand, dividing books into three different categories for our brains:
The healthy books we search for at the library are ones that fuel our minds, just like good food fuels our bodies. The fruits and vegetables of literature, they offer the best in nutrition for growing the intellect and imagination.
Compelling novels with depth and purpose are a great choice for children, developing their critical thinking skills as they enter a story world very different from their own. Biographies about remarkable people and the many resources explaining how things work help them learn. Poetry and parables expand their minds, challenge their thinking, and often portray God in a fresh, memorable way.
Some of these books taste like berries, others may seem more like brussels sprouts, but they are packed with powerful nutrition to inspire and educate the mind.
These are the books we read for pure entertainment, the cotton candy of literature. They are super fun and meant to be enjoyed. I love reading brain candy books with my girls, laughing together as we stumble over silly words or take a journey to a faraway land, but like overloading a body on sugar, our brains start to go numb if we gorge them with entertainment.
For most of us, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a few pieces of candy, but too much of a sweet thing can induce a sugar coma. Our brains begin to starve if we don’t feed them something with substance.
Some people believe that children should read whatever they’d like, as long as they are reading, but I think this is a dangerous philosophy. It’s like telling my daughters they can eat whatever they’d like, staying silent instead of warning them if something is riddled with poison. No loving parent is going to allow their son or daughter to eat salmonella-tainted meat, even if this child is craving chicken. They are going to teach them how to recognize and avoid poisoned food.
What constitutes “poison” is different for every parent, but just like salmonella can kill a young person, some of the material in children’s books can slowly kill a mind. Or it can kill the hope that flickers inside.
Books, like movies or music, are not meaningless entertainment. The stories and information inside the covers often begin to define their readers, and I, for one, want my girls to grow strong and healthy in both body and mind, learning to critique their options before deciding what’s best for their brains.
About the Story:
The year is 1938, and as Hitler’s troops sweep into Vienna, Austrian Max Dornbach promises to help his Jewish friends hide their most valuable possessions from the Nazis, smuggling them to his family’s summer estate near the picturesque village of Hallstatt. He enlists the help of Annika Knopf, his childhood friend and the caretaker’s daughter, who is eager to help the man she’s loved her entire life. But when Max also brings Luzia Weiss, a young Jewish woman, to hide at the castle, it complicates Annika’s feelings and puts their entire plan—even their very lives—in jeopardy. Especially when the Nazis come to scour the estate and find both Luzia and the treasure gone.
Eighty years later, Callie Randall is mostly content with her quiet life, running a bookstore with her sister and reaching out into the world through her blog. Then she finds a cryptic list in an old edition of Bambi that connects her to Annika’s story . . . and maybe to the long-buried story of a dear friend. As she digs into the past, Callie must risk venturing outside the safe world she’s built for a chance at answers, adventure, and maybe even new love.
About the Author:
Writing fiction is Melanie Dobson’s excuse to explore abandoned houses, travel to unique places, and spend hours reading old books and journals. The award-winning author of almost twenty books, Melanie enjoys stitching together both time-slip and historical novels including Hidden Among the Stars, Chateau of Secrets, and Catching the Wind.