I See No Issue In Editing Adult Books To Make Age Appropriate Reading

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shutterstock_152658362I love reading. My kids love reading. I imagine they like hearing stories that they can relate to, or alternatively that they like imagining a world or a life vastly different from their own.  At the ages of two and four I highly doubt they get wrapped up too deeply in plots, though I can’t really tell why they love certain books (especially when I hate them) or don’t care for others (especially when I want to read them over and over).

My kids have stacks and stacks of books, but on occasion I have read to them from my own current nightstand fodder.  It’s never on purpose, like “hey kids, I’m sure you’ll love this memoir about a woman hiking the Pacific Coast Trail!”  It’s usually because I’m already in bed and they wake up or maybe because it’s Sunday and I’m trying to sneak a little adult time.  In any event a little creature snuggles up beside me and whispers, “can you read to me?”  In these cases I begin aloud right where I am.  Mid-paragraph, mid-word, mid-sentence.  I read as I feel appropriate.  I never repeat profanity and I may skip over so many words on a page that what they hear is nothing more than a series of words.  I had never thought twice about this kind of editing, until now.

I read a piece entitled “Childproofing Harry Potter” on the NYT Motherlode.  If you haven’t read it, basically the author agrees to read Harry Potter to her five-year-old son and a few pages in realizes she’s going to have to do some heavy editing to make it age appropriate reading.  To tell you the truth, I didn’t think much of the post either way.  I read and kind of thought, “ok, sure.  Maybe not the best choice of book for a 5-year-old (which the author admits at the end), but I get it.”  I am alone in this response.  Very, very alone.

This post has spawned a LOT of rage over the internet.  First the comments.  People accusing her of being a helicopter mom, attacking her for “altering a work of literature” or for making the mistake of saying yes to her 5-year-old’s request to read a book beyond his comprehension.

Thew remarks:

and here is one more child shielded from both reality and good literature who will be ill prepared for the world as it is.

Um…he’s five.  Do we really think he’s ruined?

Carmenalexandra proclaims:

I’m not pinkwashing anything. [*ed note: this is the term the author uses for her off-the-cuff editing of Harry Potter] I don’t want to be a helicopter parent. If it needs ”pinkwashing’ then the kid is not ready for it anyway. I am not hiding anything from my daughter when it comes to the horrors. She’s going to face life prepared. She’s allowed to ask questions, she’s allowed to question everything and I’d rather underline critical thinking skills and rational thought than hide the truth. She will handle it, and if she doesn’t..she will learn to. It will be discussed. Pinkwashing..what a detestable concept.

I still don’t see this as hiding anything.  It is altering something to make it age-appropriate.  Whether she should have started the book or not, is a different question, but once she did she went with it. She told her son a story — one that resembles the journey of Harry Potter.  Why haven’t I seen this level of vitriol for the baby board book version of Anna Karenina?  Or the toddler version of Moby Dick (it’s not just about a whale in the water!)?  I just can’t make the jump that the literary integrity of Harry Potter is somehow ruined by what this mother read her son in his bedroom.

It’s not only the comments.  This piece has spawned dozens of posts from other bloggers raging and ranting against the author.  One woman pointed out the woman who submitted the Motherlode piece is an author herself and she can’t imagine how a woman who writes books for a living would ever do this to a book.  She asks the interwebs, “I wonder how she would feel if someone took such liberties with her book?”  I can’t speak for the author, but as an aspiring novelist, if someone bought my book and used it as kindling material, I’d be thrilled.

Other posts call what the author did “disrespectful” “dishonest” and “an act of dumbfuckery.”  I don’t know, I just don’t see it.  Personally, I just can’t condemn this woman for either making a judgment error or altering the story for her five-year-old.  I’ve done both many times.

(photo: catwalker /