I was around 10 years old when I removed books from the library without checking them out. Why would I do that? (Spoiler: I always returned them.) Before I answer, here are some factors to keep in mind:
- I grew up in rural central Virginia, with deeply devout Baptist parents, and I was home schooled.
- When I was 10 years old, I had two sisters and one brother (another brother came along a few years later). My parents were extremely protective of our exposure to the secular world.
- My siblings and I weren’t allowed to listen to anything other than gospel music. My sisters and I stretched the limits to Christian rock as teenagers, but only with much groaning from Dad. A Christian rap group called DC Talk was considered too hardcore; we were forbidden to buy their music (even though they rapped about Jesus).
- Whenever we watched movies – anything which hadn’t been pre-screened as safe – my dad would sit nearby, remote control in hand, and fast forward through anything he deemed inappropriate.
The tiny Buckingham County Public Library, located a few miles from home, was our main source for reading material. Mom would take us there to choose our books and we’d check out as a family.
Mom always inspected our books before we checked out; there was no reading free-for-all here. She let me get away with occasional fluffy reads (The Babysitters Club series, for example), but I knew she didn’t like them. I didn’t read nearly as many Babysitters Club books as I would have if given free rein. Mom wanted us to read books of substance, like memoirs and biographies of well-known figures.
Then I discovered the Sweet Valley Twins. I owned one book in the series; I believe it was purchased from a children’s book fair when Mom wasn’t around to steer me in a different direction. I still remember what that book was about, due to reading it over and over as a kid (unlike my current preference for reading new things). I looked it up just now. It was Teacher’s Pet.
I was enthralled with the Sweet Valley Twins because they were everything I was not. They were popular. Beautiful. Cheerleaders in sunny California.
Our library had a small selection of Sweet Valley Twins books. One day, knowing Mom didn’t approve of them, I slipped one in my purse. This was before books set off alarms if removed from a library without being checked out. Back in the day, books had paper cards in the back which were manually stamped with the due date.
I read the book at home, and on our next trip to the library, I replaced it on the shelf. And I took out another one.
This continued for a while, but not too long. One day I was reading a Sweet Valley book in my bedroom when I heard Mom on her way in. I rushed to slip the book under the covers but I wasn’t quick enough, so when she came in she asked me to show her what I was reading. She looked at it, noticed it was a library book, and remarked that she didn’t remember me checking it out.
I confessed what I had done. I cried. I told her I wouldn’t do it again (and I didn’t). I don’t recall being punished; I’m sure she could tell my fear and shame were valid.
What do I think about this situation as an adult?
For context: When I was 10 years old, my mom was 35. Which is the same age I will be in June. My mom had four kids when she was 35 (she had one more just before she turned 39). I have none.
I agree there are certain books pre-teens should not read. If I’m a parent one day, I’m sure I will keep an eye on what my child is reading. However, I wasn’t reading a steamy romance novel. I wasn’t even reading a banned book.
We rarely traveled when I was kid; I only left Virginia to visit my grandmother or attend church camp. Back then, I wanted to read books about girls whose lives were nothing like my own.
I love my mother. I know she had our best interests at heart, even if I don’t agree with many of her and my dad’s childrearing methods. I’m glad she encouraged me to read books with substance. I remain a huge nonfiction reader to this day.
But sometimes a 10-year-old girl just wants a little fluff.