Pre-reading books for Tweens

How did y’all not tell me that the new Hunger Games book, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, opens with Hobbes, Locke & Rousseau. What!!!!!!!! (FTR: I’m a HUGE Rousseau fan. I wrote a paper for a Bioethics & Law seminar wherein I drew upon his writings to support my argument for Substantive Due Process in a narrow area of the law.) (There are other quotes in the opening as well, but those weren’t nearly as exciting to me for the purposes of this conversation!)

The funny thing about Young Adult dystopian novels, of course, is that they are meant to represent the opposite of “utopian” ideals, and thus necessarily implicate the basic tenets of such standards of Romantic philosophical ideals pumped out during Enlightenment.

The funnier thing is that I first read The Hunger Games as part of a Montessori school’s parents book club. I had remembered hearing about it a few years prior, and thought maybe we should read it. I don’t know if I even knew what it was about, much less that it was YA.

And yet, after I read THG, I also read the 2 sequels. Then I read the Insurgent Series. The Maze Runner Series. The Giver Series (yes there are 4 books in total). And probably 1 or 2 other serieses that were in the same genre: dystopian. While it was inherently interesting to me as a lover of political philosophy, it was also seriously helpful some 3-5 years later when guess what? My KID wants to read all those books! It was a snap to decide I was comfortable with her reading THG at 10, but waiting for the second book until she was 12, and even then to be mindful if it was too much for her. (This is the kid who read an entire series about FBI like spies attempting to capture and dissect Pegasus, so she’s up for the dark, but not too intense.)

It also came in handy when one of my homeschool mom friends wrote, you guessed it: a YA dystopian novel! And it’s effing good. Can I just say. She has since moved on and wrote another middle grade novel, which both of my girls will be beta readers for.

These days, however, I am much shorter on time. The time that I do have to read I prefer almost exclusively non-fiction titles. However, I did tell my kid that I’d read this Songbirds book (as well as the prequel in the Maze Runner series) just to make sure it isn’t too too much for her.

Typically, I rely on two main tools in deciding books for my voracious readers: (1) common sense media; and (2) children’s librarians. I don’t know how they do it, but children’s librarians read like crazy. Yeah I guess it is part of their job, but I’ve never seen one reading while they’re on the clock, so maybe it’s a coincidence. One of my mom friends that’s a librarian has some insight on the new Rick Riordan books, so that was kind of cool to hear about as well.

Anyway, today I opened up my hoopla because I needed a soundtrack while I got some serious knitting done. I’m re-working a pattern I made several years ago before I discovered that I was twisting stitches, thus seriously distorting my gauge.

I borrowed Songbirds & hit play, and what do I hear? HOBBES. LOCKE. ROUSSEAU. The literal theorists I’ve been thinking about a LOT lately, specifically within the context of the social contract juxtaposed with current events across the U.S.

Anyway, I don’t mean to get too wordy over hear, but today the connection between dystopian fiction and political awareness/activism crystallized for me. I had previously considered the role of these guys in my children’s education when I saw that Oak Meadow’s curriculum specifically covers them, as well as Machiavelli & the Medicis, a subject I am VERY much looking forward to working through with my kids, when they’re old enough.

Until then, I will enjoy listening to the rest of this book in order to determine if it’s as violent and graphic as the other later books in the series, or whether it is closer to the first book, which while incredibly violent, has incidents more like raindrops rather than a deluge.

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