A big part of growing up is figuring out friends and, as you get a bit older, what it means to be more than friends. I remember that when I was in the 5th and 6th grade, one of the book series that was incredibly popular, and which I adored, was Sweet Valley High. Now no one is going to argue that this was high quality literature, but it was fun. These books hit on topics that I was thinking about, but wasn’t ready to quite voice or fully understand. Most of my friends were at least a year older than me, and the notion of boys was definitely in play.
Back in the day, the Sweet Valley High books were intended for preteens, the market that we now consider tweens. Were the SVH books quality literature? Not even close. Were they brain candy and super fun? Absolutely. Kids have to be kids and read light fluff from time to time, especially when we put so many pressures on them. So where am I going with this? I want to take a look at the Choose Your Own Ever After series published by Kane Miller and available through Usborne Books & More.
Choose Your Own Ever After is a series of books that were first published in Australia in 2014. The concept behind these books is that each one lets you choose your own path and change the story based on your decisions. Many people recall the Choose Your Own Adventure series written in the late 70s and early 80s. These books work within that same concept, but have fewer decisions to make and the choices are based on bigger issues. A sample question is do you go to the big party with your two closest friends so they can chase the boys they like or do you go to the movie night/fundraiser for the club at school that you have been a long-time member of?
Each of the 4 books focuses on a different theme, but remind tween girls that their futures are in their hands and are based on the decisions that they make. These are not ridiculous situations, but real life possibilities that they might start facing in the near future. The choices that we make impact our lives and the lives of our friends, and these books do a good job of showing that.
On the Usborne consultant boards where we talk about the various books, there has been some concern about these books, so of course I had to read one for myself. Before I got a chance to do that, my 10 year old picked one up. She loved it. She begged me to buy the others. She felt that the topic the first book she read (The Call of the Wild), seemed to have really good questions. In this book she never really questioned her decisions, she knew which way made the most sense for her (which now that I’ve read it, I would like to talk to her about). That said, when she got her hands on another book (A Hot Cold Summer), the question of going to London with her mum (and seeing the boy she has a crush on) or going to the beach with here dad was much more challenging. I like challenging for emotional content.
One of the big concerns that people bring up with these books is the fact that the girls tend to be boy crazy and that there is (gasp) kissing. My first thought is, well, they are made for the tween market and we have to be realistic about our children. We can’t shelter them forever and wouldn’t it be better for them to start reading and considering relationships when they are still likely to actually talk to us about them? Also, I think that the descriptions of the book over-do the boy-crazy aspect of what is really happening. Yes, they are interested in boys, but they aren’t sure what they are feeling. I sat down and read The Call of the Wild and was actually impressed with the main character, Phoebe, who seemed to have a strong head on her shoulders. Her two closest friends were the truly boy-crazy ones and she was more interested in working on her own passions and the boy she wound up liking was one who shared her loved of animals and who was her friend before he was anything else. Do they kiss? Well, that probably depends on which path you take, but it is all innocent and age appropriate.
I keep talking about literacy and allowing kids to be kids. Books like these fit right into that. J reads a ton of high quality books and often books about hard topics. She can use light fun like this, especially if it helps her understand the emotional changes that she has started to go through. I know that we don’t have time to read all of the books our children read, but at least I feel pretty secure that the books we find through Usborne are not ones that I’m likely to object to.
I am an Usborne Books & More Independent Consultant. If you would like information on these, or any other books, please drop me a line at booksmykidsread at gmail.