Is It Rude to Ask?
There are questions in this world that it is always safe to ask a children’s librarian about his or her children. Prominent amongst them: “So what are your kids reading these days?”
The “kids” in question here would be the librarian’s children. Yet I’ll admit that when I’m asked, there’s always that brief moment of confusion on my part where my brain tries to access the answer. I read her four books less than 12 hours ago so why can’t I recall any of their titles? Eventually I’m able to piece together a list of her current obsessions (Fancy Nancy and the Frances books currently dominate) and all is well. And really, I like answering the question and I like, in turn, asking it of other folks.
Still, it gets me to thinking. I’m a children’s librarian. I read, eat, and breathe this stuff. My kids get a LOT of children’s books thrown at them on a regular basis, and yet I still sometimes struggle with coming up with an answer to, “So what are your kids reading these days?” If this question can prove difficult for me, what’s it like if you ask folks who aren’t in the business of children’s literature at all?
It seems to me the question cuts one of two ways. On the one had, it’s a great conversation starter. Your kid loves Ladybug Girl? Mine too! But at the same time, if used for evil instead of good, it could act as an awfully effective way to engage in shaming your fellow parent. The inherent assumption is that the other parent knows what their child is reading and, in fact, reads to them regularly. So for someone who suspected that their fellow parent was not engaging in this necessary activity, the question could be accusatory. What’s your kid reading, smart guy? Can you name the books? No? Why not?
Mind you, I’ve no doubt there are parents out there who, when asked, would merely shrug their shoulders and say, “My kid’s not much of a reader”. Then too there are the differences in asking the parent of a four-year-old the question versus a twelve-year-old. You could get some very different answers.
Still, when you consider the potential awkwardness (however justified) on the part of the other parent when asked this question, is it in the end rude to even ask? I feel like we should engage Miss Manners in this. What would she say?
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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