I know this might come as a shock to those of you who only know me online, but I’m a pretty big wuss when it comes to face-to-face confrontation. Honestly, I just don’t like it at all. All the raised voices and anger, the business of arguing with people stresses me out. At least with the internet, I can shut down my computer and ignore you all if it gets too hurtful. But this week at Barnes & Noble, I put aside my distaste for public displays of anger and completely shut down a woman who dared to shame my daughter’s book selection. I know it seems like an odd thing to get worked up about, but hear me out.
Books are a big deal in our house. My husband and I both love to read. Each member of the family, including my daughter, has their own bookcase. I have two. We own more books than I care to count (or think about the cost of), but I love our little collection.
From a young age, I’ve had a pretty simple system with my daughter. When it comes to reading, we always do so in increments of two. She picks a book to read and then mom picks a book to read. Since we’re reading together, it just makes sense that each of us gets a chance to choose. But there’s more to my approach than that.
I don’t want to tell my daughter what she is supposed to be interested in. I don’t want to get snooty with the selection and only let her look through books that I think provide the best exposure to literature. Yes, the classics are great, but they aren’t the only options out there. It’s just as important for my daughter to explore what she’s interested in as it is for her to get to know the staples of children’s literature. So she picks any book she wants, whether it’s based on a Disney character or includes potty humor, then I pick a book that I think she’ll enjoy. The way it works out, she picks a lot of books about dinosaurs and I still get to read her plenty of Maurice Sendak.
You have to know that this is our set-up to understand why I was so frustrated with an overzealous Barnes & Noble employee who felt like my daughter shouldn’t waste her time with a book about Power Rangers.
Just like our reading set-up, we buy books in increments of two. Mom’s choice and Brenna’s choice both get added to the library. We probably buy a set of books every couple of weeks, so we’re both pretty familiar with what we like and what we’re looking for. Last week, I decided to grab Little Owl’s Night by Divya Srinivasan and my daughter picked out Power Rangers Super Samurai #1.
As Brenna was picking exactly which Power Rangers book to get, a well-meaning woman walked up and asked if she needed any help. Feeling like a pro, my daughter quickly responded, “No thank you, I’m getting Power Rangers.” One would assume that the conversation would end there.
Instead, the employee raised her eyebrows and said, “Oh sweetheart, you don’t want something like that. Let me show you some picture books.” It’s true, our new Power Rangers book is a chapter book, complete with a full 64 pages. Since we started reading The Magic Treehouse series last year though, my daughter isn’t really intimidated by a book without pictures. Again, Brenna responded, “No thank you. I want this one,” holding her book in her hands.
During this time, I was just a few aisles away, listening and assuming that the woman would move on. But after I heard her say, “Really, you don’t want a book about fighting and bad guys, I can show you some great books over here,” I started to walk over to my daughter. The woman was standing there with her hand out, trying to take Brenna to another section. My little girl was standing there, hugging the book she had picked out. I cut in, “She actually loves defeating bad guys, so she thinks Power Rangers are pretty cool.”
That’s when things took a turn for the worst. Right in front of my daughter, this woman persists, “If you’re going to get your little girl a book, don’t you want her to have one with some substance?” The presumptuousness of continuing the conversation at all got under my skin. “I just want her to have something she’s interested in reading,” I replied. “I don’t think it’s my place or your’s to tell a little girl what she’s allowed to enjoy. So if she wants to buy a book about Power Rangers and I’m willing to pay for it, I don’t think you really need to be worried about it.” As icily and haughtily as I could, I glared at the woman and said, “Thank you for your help,” before dragging my daughter out of the children’s section and to another counter to pay.
Brenna stood beside me, still clutching her book and looking more than a little confused at the whole scene. Then she said, “Mom, you’re supposed to be nice to people who help us in stores.” And she was right, I’ve admonished her more than once to be kind and cheerful with those who work in retail.
My daughter’s statement reminded me that she didn’t actually understand what the woman was insinuating when she tried to help her find a different book. And in my head, of course I realized that the silly little book in my daughter’s hands was not the epitome of children’s literature. As far as educational purposes, the thing was probably useless.
But I don’t want my daughter to see reading as a purely education endeavor. Lord knows my mom and I don’t whiz through Nora Roberts‘ novels to learn anything. It’s for fun. It’s for an escape. And if my little girl wants to do that through transforming samurais, that’s her prerogative.
I didn’t report the woman to a manager or start screaming in the middle of the store, but I do wish that I could explain to that woman just why she needs to stand back and let kids figure out what they’re interested in alone. I want my daughter to learn what books she likes. I want her to see the difference between good and bad literature for herself, without someone else putting her in the right direction. And I want to be able to shop for books without feeling like my daughter and I are being judged for enjoying in a little less-than-stellar literature.