How Do We Pick?
What does it mean when we say that we, at Keepers of the Faith, proofread the books that we carry, except for certain reference books? Does it simply mean that we read what we stock? Yes, but it means much more than that. It means that we try to avoid carrying any books that are not truly wholesome or consistent with God's Word. It means that we do not carry a book merely because it is advertised as "Christian," no matter how famous the author. It means that we buy, read, and throw away hundreds of books rather than face God for distributing something that we should not. If we shall one day give God an account of each idle word we speak, what of what we sell?
We do not claim to be the final authority in any arena. Certainly, parents may have their own ideas about suitable reading materials for their children, and they need not be in lock-step ours. Our goal is simply to furnish parents with a starting point by carrying those books that we think meet our criteria, allowing parents to know at least what good things they will find, and what potholes and harmful ideas they will not find in the books we sell.
Children do not have the discernment of adults, and, being impressionable, they tend to be affected by nearly everything they read as if it were truth. Authors, on the other hand, often like to build credibility for their pet preferences and beliefs by embedding them into the actions of characters in a seemingly wholesome story line. The young reader, being swept up into an exciting story, will begin identifying with whatever they read without recognizing that they are literally developing attitudes as they read—attitudes on important life issues—attitudes being built and nourished in them by a stranger—even attitudes which their parents are diligently attempting to train them not to have.
Many surprising attitudes are planted silently in the minds of children while they read. Harmful error often becomes part of a child's belief system by such osmosis. This usually takes place during, and in spite of, simultaneous parental instruction to the contrary. Ideas absorbed instinctively by one's emotions will be difficult to displace by reason. These ideas are often not even known to the child who absorbed them (part of the child's reasoning process). If they are not known to the child, how can either the harmful ideas and the source of those ideas be known to the parents? Parents who have labored to rear godly children have often been surprised and devastated by the unexpected attitudes sometimes displayed by their children. They have also been dismayed at finding out the strength and depth of these feelings (without logic) harbored by their children. They wonder at how such ideas could have occurred. Many of these attitudes were often developed through reading—reading what were assumed to be acceptable authors.
Many books appear on the surface to be wholesome, but, as the saying goes and is so often proved true, "You cannot judge a book by its cover." We were always concerned about what our children read as they grew up. We know that other parents are also, so we try to go beyond the cover. When it comes to authors, we also try to go beyond the facade. Our goal is to be a source of wholesome reading. It takes only one unwholesome concept in a book under the right conditions to create a miserable life, and possibly eternity. Authors use many techniques to build reader interest or to get readers to "connect" with the characters in a story. With movies it is said that a movie must "hook" the viewer within the first ten to fifteen minutes in order to succeed. It is a similar situation with authors and books. Authors write in order to sell books. They use techniques that "hook" readers. Many, many of these techniques are not healthy for readers, especially young readers. We do not claim to be perfect, nor know everything about literature, but here are some of the techniques that we see as harmful, and try to eliminate from the titles that we sell:
1) Does the author depict ordinary parents as insignificant in comparison with people of a higher status or with more well known achievements? Would the reader get the feeling that it is important to achieve something more significant in the eyes of the world than to walk in the shoes of godly, yet "ordinary" or otherwise mundane, parents? Are other roles depicted as more important than that of a parent? Is it the kind of book that will help a child to grow into an adult whose attention seems always drawn to fame, stature, achievement, or success rather than things like a relationship with God, one's spouse, and one's children? Does it focus on the spiritual or the physical? This is a common theme in books for children, and we know personally of lives on which it has taken its toll.
2) Are children presented as capable of making their own decisions, almost as if they had equal decision-making ability with adults? Do we find child characters making decisions about what their parents should know? Does the author suggest that parents not even be informed about certain situations that affect the health, welfare, and even eternity of the child? Do the characters in the story with whom your children will be identifying make these decisions? In other words, is the author undermining the leadership of the parent? Would authors do this? Unfortunately, yes. This techinque goes right to the head (swelled head) of the reader. The character is showing the reader just how "smart" and independent a young person really should be. After all, who wants to be "just a kid" who always needs the help of parents for making decisions?
3) Does the tone of the book give credence to the idea that problems between a parent and a child arise because the parent does not "understand" the child? This seems innocent enough as expressed here, and even more innocent as expressed in a story crafted by a skillful author. Parents, this is a serious issue. Children think. They just do not always do it well yet. That is where we parents come in. Children have plenty of ideas and desires, many of which are flawed, because they have not yet developed adult reasoning or have not been buffeted by experience enough to see many of the pitfalls attached to those ideas. Sometimes, children are just too blinded by their selfishness to be able to understand the situation. Especially as children get older, there will be many situations in which a child's thinking (especially coupled with seeing this idea expressed in books) will disrupt the parenting process. First, every time a parent has to use the word "no," the child can face the temptation to become bitter or feel cheated. The idea will be instant that the parent simply does not understand the situation, or its importance, or at least how important it is to the child. Usually, the parent understands more about the situation and the child than the child does, yet each of us has a carnal side that often struggles with these feelings. This carnal nature is an extremely powerful tool in the hands of an author. When the hero of the story feels this way, the reader thinks, "I know exactly how that hero feels!" And when the author presents our hero as acting admirably by wallowing in self-pity, and complaining against his elders who do not "understand," what transformations will be going on in the heart of our reader?
4) Does the story line propagate the idea that a really good parent "finds a way" to align himself with the child's wishes? This now doubles the effectiveness of the previous technique, and is at least twice as harmful to the reader. This little gem seriously undermines the credibility of those parents who have the courage to use the word "no." After a reader has read a few stories in which the parents have "come around" to "right thinking," or "found a way" to disrupt lives and family in order to please, or gratify the wishes of, a child, there will often be a marked transformation, but not for the better. That reader's hope and efforts to retrain his or her own parents will often begin to grow into increasing resistance. After all, what is important to young people is obviously important. And, obviously, there are people out there who know that young people are right about these things, and that parents need to get this "right" and give in. This is one of the watersheds that often helps turn the teen years into a difficult experience for parents.
5) Does the story have one of those gallant, parent-supplanting outsiders who becomes the child's champion, because he, rather than the parents, knows just how the child feels and how to win the child's friendship? This is the third piece of this triple-threat mounted by the author. Will the reader be inclined to wish that he/she had such a champion who would always bring their wishes to an agreeable outcome? What reader wouldn't? And, unfortunately, there are adults who are ever willing to agree with someone else's child (even against the parents) in order to seem a "real friend" to the child and others. And authors often implant ideas that send young people looking for those who will sympathize with their self-pity, generally to the detriment of the whole family.
6) Does the story contain incidents that leave a child thinking that what parents do not find out about is not a problem? Do things that parents should know about get routinely handled by the child, leaving an impression on the reader that this is normal, and he or she should do likewise? This is the fourth and final step in an author parting the child from the parents as far as the parents being able to steer the young person through difficult or even harmful situations. In this scenario, the author uses uses a character in the story to offer the advice, "You really do not need to tell your parents about something like this, and it may be better for you and them if you don't." These are often also the words or thoughts of the main character. This goes beyond a subtle suggestion to the reader of lying by omission. Now this lying is portrayed as the right thing to do for all concerned, since, as is likely proposed in the story, young people are often smarter about these things than their elders.
7) Does the flavor of the story and its characters leave a child thinking that he has a right to "pursue his talents"? This is a nicer way (more deceptive) of saying that there are righteous, justifiable reasons that a young person is dissatified with his lot in life—that his life is not fair—that he really has no responsibility to have character in the situation in which he finds himself. This is the idea that young people are to look for that in which they can, for their own sake, excel, or find glory, or find enjoyment. In the world's more oft used terms, "You only go around once in life. Get all that you can get." Will the reader get the impression to employ diligence in all, or to employ diligence in the pursuance of glory, gain, and enjoyment?
8) Does the story give the child the wrong idea about what to expect from life? Each generation, as it reaches adulthood, seems to have a greater number of disoriented, irresponsible members. Unfortunately, bad reading, and now television and movies, have a great deal to do with young people growing up with a complete misunderstanding of life as it really is. We now have unimaginable numbers of adults in their thirties, forties, and fifties, living with their parents, and living on their parents' money because they do not understand life, and cannot manage on their own. Does the hero of the story take unwise risks and make unwise decisions? Is he or she then "saved by the bell" or by a "stroke of luck"? Will the reader be led to expect life to treat him or her likewise? After reading hundreds of books to evaluate them for sale as suitable reading, it is not difficult to see why more and more people are simply making irresponsible decisions and literally expecting to be shielded from any adverse consequences. They are being taught to expect it. They have read that there is no need to plan ahead or be diligent because somehow all turns out fine in the end. Someone always comes to the rescue. Only this is not how real life works. Even if someone does come to the rescue, there is a cost—often a heavy one. If it is paid, these people are never grateful because they are never aware. These people found no such cost or pain ever mentioned in the exciting views of life written by the authors who wronged them by misleading them. It is a common story line. "Ignore the warnings of wiser people. They worry too much. Do what you think will be fun and exciting. Things always somehow turn out pretty well in the end anyhow." And when no one comes to the rescue, we simply have one more indigent hoping to be supported or rescued by the rest of society. Does the story have one of those fairy-tale endings in which the leopard does change his spots? Does it encourage bad friendships or associations with a comforting plot that shows how such people will turn good in the end? These stories may be the most damaging. It is heartbreaking to hear the stories of broken lives due to wrong relationships.
The most heartrending are the untold numbers of young ladies—many of them Christian, who simply read the wrong "Christian" books growing up—who met the wrong young men. They let themselves be led by their emotions and what they "understood" to be behavior that would "work out in the end." They were wrong. In many cases, the young lady (or possibly vice versa) was among the most promising of developing Christians—intelligent, sweet, and obedient. No one dreamed of the unintended training of that mind that lay beneath the surface—put there by the books that she read. Then she was suddenly captivated by someone—someone who was not God's choice for her. All sorts of excuses and promises ensued. He excused himself and promised her. She, in turn, excused him and promised her parents. Her parents were not convinced, but no matter—she "believed" in him. But prince charming never did truly turn to God, even if he promised on a stack of Bibles, or even if he pretended to do so in order to get married. The rest is history—a miserable life—often becoming one in which neither partner makes any attempt to obey God. The warnings of parents go unheeded because they "worry too much," and what follows does not turn out well. Life seldom corrects our mistakes for us. And life is long.
9) Do passages or characters disparage the idea of a woman being a woman? If the reader identifies with such characters, will she feel less inclined to accept the role in life that God has given her? A woman may have to perform many duties in the role of a wife and mother. She may even have to hold down a job. One needs only to check Proverbs 31 to see the wide range of responsibilities that may fall to a wife and mother, but the Proverbs 31 woman served her family in all. It is quite another thing to needlessly or frivolously pursue "manly" activities out of feeling cheated by God, or to be "just as good as a man." God created man and woman differently in order that each might be best suited to perform his or her God-given life task. Comparing the two is like saying that a certain telephone is just as good as a certain washing machine. There is no way to ever achieve valid results for the comparison. Many a "Christian" book portrays females as somehow being "spiritual" by pursuing the roles of boys and men. Such indoctrination leads only to unhappiness in life as the hoped-for comparison can never be reached, and most women, because of the God-implanted heartthrob of their being, will marry and rear children. This philosophy will, as testified by thousands of women, leave them unhappily unsatisfied with their life roles, and unwilling to enjoy the satisfaction that God would have them receive by fulfilling their roles. Why teach young ladies to be unhappy?
10) Does the story contain unnecessary crudeness, violence, vulgarity, deception, torture, lying, hate, trickery, etc.? These are all being pumped into "Christian" reading material in order to make it more sensational, exciting and saleable. However, does it instill the spirit of peace or augment a Christlike attitude in a child's heart.
11) Does the story glamorize competition? Is the story going to instill the drive to win, to be the best, to be number one, as opposed to teaching the joys of being a servant? Though we seldom think about it, the two are really diametrically opposed.
12) Is the story an adventure story which creates lust for the excitement and the daring? Will the reader be inspired to be exciting and daring? Will the reader be impressed that such a life should be much prized above that of becoming an "ordinary" parent? Will the story encourage the reader to daydream being daring and courageous in imaginary things when he/she could be being diligent in real things?
13) Are there animals with human characteristics? Are animals given an equal status with humans? Are they depicted as smarter than humans? How will such subtle, "New Age" ideas impact the reader. The majority of meat-eating college students today feel that it is wrong to harm an animal, but do not know if the Holocaust was wrong. Literature is powerful!
14) Is the story a fairy tale, fantasy tale or science fiction? Do they captivate the reader's mind and Whisk him/her off to imaginary worlds designed to escape reality and truly functional thought? Do they contain witches and occult beings? Do they contain animals and other morphidite beings that confuse the minds of young readers, especially about God and spiritual things? Do these lifelike beings exhibit powers that rival or even exceed the miracles of God performed by Jesus?
15) Is it a romance story? Is the heroine swept off her feet with a tall, dark, and handsome prince, thereby making an ordinary God-fearing man seem dull by comparison? Will the book cause the reader to daydream about what her "sweetheart" will be like rather than equipping herself to be a serious Christian helpmeet to him to whom God gives her?
16) If the book says that it is a biography is it? Or is it a fictional story into which some historic names have been inserted and attached to characters who are really fictional and never acted or conversed as do the characters in the book. Will the reader be confused about history and think that the real figures in history said and did those things contrived by the author to make the story interesting?
17) If the book is historical fiction, can the reader understand what is history and what is fiction? Does the story, for instance, have some fictional teen-ager counseling and advising a real historical figure about real decisions and events? Will it give a young reader false ideas about history and a false, heady attitude about his/her self as he/she identifies with such fictional characters?
18) Are the children in the story respectful of, and obedient to, their parents, especially behind their parents' backs, or does the story give subtle impressions that "kids should go ahead and be kids," and "what Mom and Dad don't know won't hurt them." It may not, but it will eventually hurt the children.
19) Does the story contain a pattern of children not being disciplined by parents for wrongdoing? Will the reader get the idea that such wrongdoing simply "isn't a big deal?" Will the reader get the idea that consequences and restitution are not to be expected as a part of life?
20) Does the story encourage sin? No children are perfect. A story that contains a few misdemeanors which are handled promptly and properly by the parents may even be helpful in showing a reader some sin in his/her life. However, stories that elaborate on mischief, and which may even give a reader ideas of which he/she may not have thought, are not constructive.
21) How is the Word of God handled. Is it trusted and used by characters identified as Christian? Do they find their answers and wisdom in it, or do they use their own judgment or seek answers elsewhere?
22) What about prayer? If the book claims to be Christian, do the characters pray? Do they pray for spiritual things or carnal things? In other words, do they serve God, or expect Him to serve them?
These thoughts comprise some of the basic guidelines that we use to sort through the literature that we consider for our family book shelves and our inventory shelves. As a parent, you might want to consider at least some of them.
I just love how the information in KOF books are simple and not intimidating for my girls to use, We just adopted six children with four of them being girls and this helps them to catch up on Faithly matters and learning to be Keepers of the Home and Faith!