Is Tracy Beaker more dangerous than demons and swords?

I’ve mentioned it before on my blog, but Flea is a keen reader.

She’s the child of two writers, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. And I’m thrilled – I love reading, and it’s good to know Flea has a hobby that can entertain her pretty much anywhere, for next to no money. If you read, you’re almost never going to be bored.

But when your child is a REALLY keen reader, it can be hard to keep up.

At two, Flea had memorised her bedtime stories and would read them to her teddies at night, when she should have been asleep. At four, she started being given books to read at home from school – and would invariably have read them before I’d pulled the car out of the school car park. At six, she was engrossed in Harry Potter, seemingly fearless in the face of Professor Snape, dragons and death eaters.

At seven, my biggest challenge is finding books that will keep Flea interested for more than five minutes. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve sat down next to Flea on a plane and said, “Got your book, darling?” only to have her say, “I already finished it.”  

Last month we went on holiday to France and Flea had (as usual) finished all of her books and read them two or three times by the time we were halfway through the holiday. One evening she picked up my copy of The Mortal Instruments, a young adult series.

“I don’t think you’d like it, it’s a little bit old for you,” I told Flea.

“I read the first two chapters while you were in the bathroom,” she replied.

After finishing the book myself and determining there was nothing in it that I felt was too inappropriate for Flea to read, I passed the book over – and Flea read the whole thing over the next two weeks. She’s now a third of the way through the second novel.

Mortal Instruments is a story about teenagers who hunt and kill demons, and other ‘underworld’ creatures. There are bad vampires, and good werewolves.

There’s a fair amount of violence but it’s against monsters rather than people, and I’ve found Flea tends to shrug off fantasy violence, such as that in the later Harry Potter books. There is a bit of snogging, which didn’t seem to bother Flea, and the ambiguous relationship between the two lead male characters didn’t worry her a jot: “I think Alec is gay, but Jace isn’t,” she informed me, 10 chapters in.

I do find it tricky to find the balance – I want books that will challenge and engage Flea, without scaring her or exposing her to unnecessarily adult themes. She is only seven, after all. I do censor books if I don’t think they’re appropriate. I won’t let Flea read Divergent (although she knows the back of the book off by heart and is desperate to read it) because the violence there is against people, and it’s quite dark in its themes.

But then sometimes I wonder if I’m over-cautious.

Last week, we were listening to a Tracy Beaker audio book by Jacqueline Wilson in the car. And – for the first time I can remember – I turned the CD off a little more than halfway through because I didn’t want Flea to listen to the story.

In the book, Tracy has left her children’s home to be fostered by a woman called Cam. Throughout the book, Cam is spoken about with derision by Tracy. She’s boring, she’s mean, she doesn’t buy presents, and her house is rubbish. She never lets Tracy have any fun. Not like Tracy’s birth mother who buys her presents and has a leather sofa.

At school, Tracy tells lies and plays truant. Outside of school she makes friends with two boys, and they play in a derelict house. A situation develops where Tracy gangs up with one boy against the other boy, who is smaller. They taunt him and call him names until he jumps out of a window. Tracy doesn’t express any regret about this – the boy isn’t hurt and everyone decides it was a hilarious adventure.

Umm…

I talked to Flea about why I’d turned off the CD. I told her that I can’t see ANYTHING about that character that seems nice. I told her I thought all of the bullying was just awful, and no matter how sad you are, being so ungrateful and rude is just plain wrong. “I’m just not sure what the message is,” I finished.

Flea – of course – TOTALLY knew what the message was. Turns out that in an early chapter, Tracy says she hates the ending of The Wizard of Oz, and Flea worked out that the fictional world Tracy lives in is an equivalent. “The foster home is like Kansas because it seems boring, but Oz is like Tracy’s Mum’s flat because it’s exciting and colourful,” said Flea. “And Tracy will probably decide to go back to Cam’s just like Dorothy goes back to Kansas.” 

Well, that told me.

Despite the literary criticism, we both agreed that we didn’t want to listen to the end of the story because Tracy Beaker just isn’t very nice.

Of course, I get the irony of allowing Flea to read teen fantasy books while banning Tracy Beaker, but I think in children’s reading sometimes the problem isn’t about the number of pages or the scariness of the monsters. It’s about what books say to children about relationships, and respect, and courage, and integrity. And maybe that’s where I feel Tracy Beaker is lacking, and the werewolves win out.

Do you censor what your children read?

 

About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

29 Comments

  1. Sara
    12th August 2013 / 9:35 am

    As a foster carer I can tell you that the Tracy Beaker books and tv programme are hated by social workers. They portray such a idea of care homes and foster places that children have requested to go into care home because they will have more fun and pretty much can treat people badly and still get gifts.

    Now as a mom with teenagers I also read this books before I let the girls and do believe there are underlying messages of fear of rejection etc but up expect kids in the target age to grasp this, well I don’t think so.

    As for young adult fantasy books I actually think they expand the imagination and also recommend maybe when a little older the James Patterson Max books I loved them
    and so did my girls.

    • Sally
      Author
      14th August 2013 / 11:35 am

      Yes, perhaps if flea was older…

  2. 12th August 2013 / 9:40 am

    I’d actually be inclined to agree with you to be honest! Flea sounds incredibly bright so I am sure you have no worries really.
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    • Sally
      Author
      14th August 2013 / 11:35 am

      Thanks!

  3. Tricia
    12th August 2013 / 9:59 am

    Thanks for this, it’s made me think twice about Tracy Beaker, quite surprised to hear this about it, always thought it looked good, based on limited knowledge, what have heard in press etc. We have Wilson’s ‘The Cat Mummy’ on audio book which my 6yo daughter loves. Have also been thinking about 1st Harry Potter book for her but wondering whether it’s too early as it gets very scary by book 3 imo. She’s currently in love with the Faraway Tree books so perhaps it’s a step too far. Any recommendations?

    • Sally
      Author
      14th August 2013 / 11:39 am

      Flea was a big fan of the first HP book. With Tracy Beaker, I hear the books are a little worse than the TV show in terms of the tone and behaviour. After Faraway Tree, a good recommendation is Geronomo Stilton, there’s a fantastic range of fantasy books that are really colourful and interesting. Flea also loved reading the Worst Wich books.

  4. 12th August 2013 / 1:32 pm

    Heck yeah I censor – not just books but music as well – just another thing that is part of being a parent

    There are messages and things I want to hold away from them for as long as possible – yes it might seem overly helicopter-parenting but I WANT to protect them and to try and keep the bad things away as long as possible

    • Sally
      Author
      14th August 2013 / 11:41 am

      I agree – there are some ideas I don’t consider too grown up, I’m fairly laid back, but there are certain things that I just think… not helpful.

  5. 12th August 2013 / 1:55 pm

    I haven’t read Tracey Beaker but I have seen it a bit on telly and know the general gist. TBH, I don’t agree. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having children who are less than perfect in stories – as in life. Flea sounds like a bright child and as you are discussing the story surely that’s what is important? This is why I have always liked Horrid Henry, he’s obnoxious and sometimes he gets his comeuppance, but otherwise not. As long as children have been taught right from wrong in a general sense, I don’t see that a bad character in a book is going to corrupt them.
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    • Sally
      Author
      14th August 2013 / 11:42 am

      The TV show is very different to the book, from what I understand. Flea LOVES Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Horrid Henry and naughty kids, but with Tracy Beaker it had a very different feel – almost malevolent. I really didn’t think it was nice to even hear about those sorts of relationships between people, and it’s presented in a very realistic setting, which again is quite unlike those ‘naughty kid’ books Flea loves.

  6. 12th August 2013 / 2:43 pm

    I’ve found a lot of Jacqueline Wilson’s books unsuitable. Despite reading them myself as a child, I read them as an adult and think ‘Really!? What is the message they will take from this book?’

    Shes not an author that will be appearing on my children’s book shelves unfortunately.

    • Sally
      Author
      14th August 2013 / 11:43 am

      No, I don’t think we’ll be investing in any – I’m glad Flea doesn’t seem that keen, either!

  7. 12th August 2013 / 5:00 pm

    I have three kids (11,13,15) and try VERY hard to keep up with what they see/hear/read/say…but the reality is that information is coming from SO many different directions these days… heck when i was growing up, if there happened to be a certain song (or genre) that my parents didn’t want me to listen to, they could choose to NOT take me to the music store and buy me the album. Now, the kids can not only just order and instantly have it on their smart phone, they can use pandora and not only listen to the song, but find OTHER similar songs!:)
    Perhaps BECAUSE of all of the choices and all of the information that IS out there, I would say that rather than CENSOR, I MONITOR. I don’t know if that word would sit well with all, but really what it means is that I try and pay attention, and KNOW what it is that they have seen/heard/read and make sure to always TALK about it, all of it, even if it IS uncomfortable, or inappropriate. I just figure I would RATHER they have the conversation with ME and get MY thoughts and views, and hope that that will aid in shaping who they are becoming and what they know and believe. They KNOW that they can talk to me about anything, thanks to some of the song lyrics, movie trailers and YouTube videos out there, and even something that starts out as seeming to be just completely inappropriate and WRONG, can lead to some GREAT conversations.

    Flea seems like an amazing child! Lucky you!
    Cheers!

    • Sally
      Author
      14th August 2013 / 11:43 am

      I love the idea of monitoring rather than censoring, sounds like you’ve found an approach that works well for you 🙂

  8. Susan Mann
    12th August 2013 / 8:01 pm

    Way to go Flea that’s amazing. I would definitely censor the books I give to my children, however my boys are just beginning to read so I’m not there yet. I read Judy Blume when I was a little older than flea at 12 & loved Cate Tiernan’s Wicca series. Also LJ Smiths night World Series is good. As awesome as Divergent is, it’s not one for a young reader. Speaking if Tracy Beaker I saw the actress who played her in the tv show last week in fact, she was playing Janet in Rocky Horror at the theatre. I couldn’t look at her without picturing those curly locks & little madam of a child.

    • Sally
      Author
      14th August 2013 / 11:44 am

      From my perspective, Divergent is way too violent – I wouldn’t even consider giving it to Flea! But we’ll take a look at some of those other books, thanks.

  9. 12th August 2013 / 9:16 pm

    My eldest is a prolific reader. In the early years, I would read the book before her. As years went by and I just couldn’t keep up, I’d skim read and read reviews. The library has turned into a total blessing. Not only does it cost nothing (thank you), but I feel she can safely borrow books from the children section. We can order books on-line (she reads the reviews in Amazon) and pick them up from our local library. At eleven, she is just starting to borrow from the Young Adult section. So far, her interests mean she doesn’t pick up love stories or horror. She leaves the library, each time, with a big pile of books, will will last her a couple of weeks.

    I’m not a fan of Jacqueline Wilson. I don’t like them watching the TV program and neither of my girls read the books. One day, eldest came home from school and said that she’d finished her book and read over her friend’s shoulder who happened to be reading a JW book. She was less than impressed by it and came out with several reasons why she didn’t think her younger sister should read it!
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    • Sally
      Author
      14th August 2013 / 11:45 am

      The challenge we have is our librarian is a gatekeeper and let’s the kids only borrow “appropriate” books, so Flea’s lost interest a bit.

      • Nikki
        15th August 2013 / 5:54 pm

        A gatekeeper? WHAT!!! Who is she to know what Flea’s reading level and interests are. Just say you’re borrowing it for a friend 🙂 What cheek!

  10. 13th August 2013 / 1:20 pm

    I had the same issue with reading levels with my eldest and found classic children’s literature a real help. Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie etc etc. Also Eva Ibbotson’s work is worth a look. Our local librarians were very helpful.
    Regarding Tracy Beaker, I think children can handle reading about people who aren’t always well-behaved. After all, that’s what they’ll be seeing in their everyday lives.
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    • Sally
      Author
      14th August 2013 / 11:45 am

      Yes, Flea’s reading Huckleberry Finn at the moment, which I hope she’ll love as much as I did.

  11. Nikki
    13th August 2013 / 4:42 pm

    Not read Tracy Beaker books nor have my children requested any, they’re still busy working through Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl catalogues, Mallory Towers (covers bullying but also makes boarding very appealing) and Harry Potter series. I have kept my Judy Blume books for my kids though as I loved them and I think they were pretty positive stories. I’ll just “HAVE” to re-read them again to check eh?! 😉

    • Sally
      Author
      14th August 2013 / 11:45 am

      Ah, Judy Blume. I remember those being passed around the bus so we could read the rude bits..

      • Nikki
        15th August 2013 / 5:53 pm

        Those bits were mainly in the older books weren’t they – like in “Forever” when the girl gets er introduced to a penis aka “Ralph” PMSL!!!! Not that I remember of course. The other slightly racy was Dennie I think and poss Are you there God? It’s me Margaret. The others like Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Blubber had great storylines and coping mechanisms for bullying etc. Worth considering later on perhaps…

  12. 15th August 2013 / 10:00 am

    My daughter adored Jacqueline Wilson books when she was younger, and one of the highlights of my job in the book industry was taking her to meet her. Having said that- she didn’t like the Tracy Beaker books- they were the one Jacqueline Wilson character she didn’t get along with! A lot of JW’s books deal with issues like divorce, homelessness, poverty, and lots of them are helpful for children going through similar situations. But she is not everybodys cup of tea, and she writes different styles for different age groups, certainly many of them are for children a couple of years older than Flea, and then beyond that there are teen books by her too.

    I think fantasy is brilliant for under tens, there is plenty of time in life to deal with the harsh realities, I want my kids to put that off for as long as possible, and being able to suspend belief and enter magical realms is a great part of that!
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  13. 16th August 2013 / 9:59 pm

    I agree with you about Tracy Beaker – there is really nothing redeeming about her at all (although I agree with Flea that there is a message about the people that really matter and care are not always the ones who are most exciting or interesting). I actually find a lot of the Jacqueline Wilson books quite uncomfortable – I was quite upset as a child after reading one book (I forget which one) where a mother cuts her very small child’s fingernails too short as a painful punishment. 🙁

    I think we’re going to have a problem as my little boy is already a totally fluent reader – his brain is just wired that way I think – but he is not emotionally mature at all (he’s 4 but can’t watch even the simplest DVDs as he gets VERY upset over any ‘baddies’ or even cartoon scary things) so finding suitable reading material may be challenging. I will definitely have to vet everything he reads. I think it’s maybe more important than films, as at least those have a rating and – for me – the pictures that you can make in your head from a book are way more scary than the ones a screen makes for you.
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  14. 17th August 2013 / 7:35 pm

    Actually I remember feeling a similar way about the Horrid Henry books. The boy had no style or substance like Just William for example, he was just… horrid.

    I do think that children are capable of picking up on the fear and sadness behind Tracey Beakers aggressive behaviour though (although obviously we need to be careful that they learn that is an explanation, rather than any justification) and that she is also portrayed as being fiercely loyal and loving.

    I think you are quite right to be making the decisions you are around Flea’s reading. She’s obviously extremely bright and books aimed at her age group perhaps will not challenge her as much as she would like. She’s clearly enjoying having something to really get her teeth into. Good for her!

    As for censoring books, (and music and telly programmes) I find this to be a minefield. I’m usually pretty relaxed to be honest – a bit of swearing and sex doesn’t bother me really – but I must say I have baulked at some of Eminems lyrics. My ten year old son has recently become a fan and I don’t know…

  15. Slummy single mummy
    22nd August 2013 / 10:41 am

    This is a tricky one but I suspect that ultimately it comes down to knowing your child. Belle, who is now 11, is very grown up in lots of ways, but she has areas of weakness. She is mature, but she is also scared of crocodiles climbing up the stairs to her bedroom in the night. I tailor accordingly, so I haven’t let her read Hunger Games for instance and I know this is the kind of thing she would worry about in bed at night.

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