Offhand, I can’t think of a better way to ensure yet another generation of nonreaders than to give kids “message books,” whether the message be about loving and accepting yourself, others or espousing a particular world-view – no matter what that world view might be.

I’m also just old-fashioned enough to believe that the message should be in the story itself, and not the title. In other words, don’t hit kids over the head with it.

It also occurs to me that being unsubtle enough to put your message in the title, besides being a little preachy, assumes that kids aren’t smart enough to pick up on whatever it is that the writer is trying to tell them.

To say that this is patronizing goes without saying.

And as for the well-meaning souls who buy books (and toys as well, I suppose) to influence the thinking of a young person, well, you run the risk of turning a young person away from the joys of reading, turning a simple pleasure into cod liver oil.

“Here! Read this! It’s good for you! The world will be a better place!”

A classic example of just how successful this sort of thing works were the toys that have periodically appeared after 9/11, featuring police officers or firefighters, often hailed on the package as “America’s Heroes.”

Within months one could find these same toys on the shelf, marked half-price or lower. Kids still love firetrucks, though.

Kids nay not recognize when something is something is subtle, but they sure as hell know when you are hitting them over the head with something.

And cod liver oil always tastes like crap, no matter the good intentions of the person shoving the spoon in your mouth.

What I learned about good and evil, about treating everyone decently and the perils of prejudice came not from religious texts, sermons, or books designed to instill a sense of patriotism in me. My lessons came from Superman comics, A Wrinkle in Time, the Miss Pickerell novels, folk songs we learned in school, Bonanza, the Hardy Boys, Doctor Who, Tom Swift and Ray Bradbury.

David and the Phoenix.

And this short list just scratches the surface of what had an influence on me when I was young.

Along the way not only did I discover the world of storytelling, but the messages each writer wanted me to learn stayed with me for many years. The messages – or secret themes – in each story made the stories richer, and defined how I looked at life.

But I would have stayed the hell away from any story which had the message in the title, and would have looked askance at any relative whose only contribution to my personal library were books designed to mold my spiritual or personal growth.

Because cod liver oil, as we all agree, sucks.


Today’s Soundtrack

Twisting about in my chair like a maniac today, as I listen to the soundtrack from “Flashdance.”


Quote of the Day

Three little sentences will get you through life. Number one: Cover for me. Number two: Oh, good idea, boss. Number three: It was like that when I got here. — Homer Simpson