It's been awhile, but I had a letter asking for advice this week, so welcome back to Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from Romance Novels. It's not a book – that'd be EIKAL, which is a book – but it is advice and suggestions for romance readers who write in with problems that are sometimes befuddling. This week's letter comes from BSB, who writes:
I have a very curious first grader who has taken to reading like a fish to
water. I used to be able to read my romance books in plain sight without her
understanding or caring about what I was reading. Now, if I pull out a book
to read while she's watching television, I suddenly have a 48 pound backseat
reader over my left shoulder asking what certain words mean. She's intrigued
by all the books I have which features headless men and generous man titty.
(She also thinks all the books about the same man because of the similar
And, the other night she asked me if the latest book I was
reading contained sex. Because I cannot tell a lie, I told her yes. Now, I
have the overwhelming desire to hide all my novels like I'm trying to hide
evidence to a murder. On the one hand, I don't want to appear to be ashamed
of my reading material. On the other hand, I don't want her to pick up one
of my books and read something she doesn't quite have a full grip on. Any
I first read this email and thought it said, “I am a very curious first grader” and probably had much the same reaction as when you realized your first grader was reading over your shoulder. Oh, dear!
I feel your pain because I have a first grader, and he is a very precocious reader. And when there's man titty all over the house, it sends a very strange message to someone who is old enough to interpret sexuality in rudimentary fashion, but not old enough to understand what it all means.
If I can give a suggestion, my advice is to tell her in no uncertain terms that reading over someone's shoulder is uncool and not polite in the least. I also think it is ok for you to have things that are Just For You, and not for her. I don't think you need to hide the existence of sex from her, and I don't think it does either of you any good to feel embarrassed or ashamed about sexuality or the portrayals thereof in your books.
Bookcovers are your friend, in this case. If you're reading paperbacks, there are plenty of book covers that fit mass market and trade size, and allow you to read without the prying and curious eyes that can't help but look at all the glorious expanse of man titty. And that's not a slight to your daughter- we are all naturally drawn to looking at other people, particularly skin. I think that's part of why all that man flesh is on the covers.
For that reason I have a bit of a frustrated love/hate for romance covers, because while some of them are elegant and beautifully done, those that feature man chests and O-Face clinches still advertise very loudly that THIS IS A ROMANCE AND THERE BE SEXYTIMES IN IT. That's a great message for grabbing the buyer who is looking for a romance to read, but it's not necessarily a great message for you to transmit when you're holding the book on a park bench, on the bus, or in your own living room. It invites comments, from passersby and folks living in your house with you – from the condescending to the merely curious.
Overall, I think the best strategy is to show none of the shame or embarrassment you might feel, if possible, because that will likely make her (a) more curious and (b) confused as to why you're reading something you seem unhappy or reluctant to talk about. Your decisions about how to discuss sexuality with your daughter are totally your business, and I don't mean to advise you in that direction at all. Many a romance reader I know was introduced to the genre by their mother, aunt, or older sister – and someday you'll likely share your love of the genre with her. I hope so – it would make for outstanding Thanksgiving dinner conversations. It seems she might be a romance reader in the making – just not quite yet!
Happy reading – in peace!
I also asked Tori, better known as Smexy's Sidekick for her advice – figuring she would also have words of wisdom. Boy howdy, did she ever.
Well first off, congrats on raising such a well adjusted, curious child. Second, I've always said it goes down hill once we teach them to speak. *laughter* As a mother and a reviewer, I have many books I do not want my child reading. A majority of them stay on an e reader that she knows contains books that are not appropriate for her. Of course, my child is 11 so it is easier for her to understand that then for your 6 year old. There is no shame in reading romance and no shame in reading things not appropriate for your little one.
Not lying to her is good though. Simply tell her that you are reading adult books (mommy books) and they are not for little girls to read. If she asks why, tell her that there are stories in there that are not for her age to read. That she has books just for her and direct her to go pick out one of her books to sit down and read with you. That worked with mine when she was that age. I just had to keep telling her that these were mommy's books and not for her and then redirect her to her bookshelf. Of course, I had to stop reading my book and read with her but that was fine.
As for leaving them lying around, you can either leave them where you normally do and keep reiterating that these are not for her or place them somewhere she cannot reach. She's always going to ask and be curious. Keeping it not a big deal will let her know it's not a big deal and make it less tempting.
– Tori from Smexybooks.com
Do you have advice for BSB? Have you been in this situation?