Nikki and I hope you’ll join us today for Story Time with Literary Escapism, a bi-weekly feature where we showcase various children books that fall directly in the fantasy & science fiction genres, as well as books we’re enjoying with our young children. We’re talking boardbooks, picture books, those books labeled as beginner or newly independent readers, and middle grade – anything of interest to those readers who are not quite ready for the young adult genre. So we hope you’ll join us on the carpet as we share the stories that have captured our little ones imaginations.
Recently I bought a bunch of books for Munchkin, after I had read a few reviews about them to make sure they were ‘safe’ of course. They all sound entertaining and perfect for my son. Then we started reading one and discovered right off the bat that so much was missing from the reviews that I’d seen. It frustrated me as both a parent and a reviewer.
The novel in question is Holes by Louis Sachar. I have to be honest, my husband and Munchkin are actually reading this novel, so I’m going off of what they are telling me. It doesn’t sound terrible, both boys are enjoying it, so don’t fret. It’s just rather violent and contains racial slurs, not what I expected at all.
And so, Stanley Yelnats seems set to serve an easy sentence, which is only fair because he is as innocent as you or me. But Stanley is not going where he thinks he is. Camp Green Lake is like no other camp anywhere. It is a bizarre, almost otherworldly place that has no lake and nothing that is green. Nor is it a camp, at least not the kind of camp kids look forward to in the summertime. It is a place that once held “the largest lake in Texas,” but today it is only a scorching desert wasteland, dotted with countless holes dug by the boys who live at the camp.
The trouble started when Stanley was accused of stealing a pair of shoes donated by basketball great Clyde “Sweetfeet” Livingston to a celebrity auction. In court, the judge doesn’t believe Stanley’s claim that the shoes fell from the sky onto his head. And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Oddly, though, Stanley doesn’t blame the judge for falsely convicting him. Instead, he blames the whole misadventure on his “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.” Thanks to this benighted distant relative, the Yelnats family had been cursed for generations. For Stanley, his current troubles are just a natural part of being a Yelnats.
At Camp Green Lake, the warden makes the boys “build character” by spending all day, every day, digging holes: five feet wide and five feet deep. It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize there’s more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the treacherous warden is searching for something, and before long Stanley begins his own search—for the truth.
Fate conspires to resolve it all—the family curse, the mystery of the holes, the drought that destroyed Green Lake, and also, the legend of Kissing Kate Barlow, an infamous outlaw of the Wild West. The great wheel of justice has ground slowly for generations, but now it is about to reveal its verdict.
There’s a scene where the warden paints her nails with polish that contains rattlesnake venom. She explains what the polish contains and then traces her nails down the main character, Stanley’s face. Her nails don’t break the skin, but she scares him just the same. A few minutes later, she gets angry at one of the counselors and scratches his face, leaving him bleeding and writhing in pain on the floor. All while Stanley watches, I might add. The next time this counselor is on the scene, his face is swollen with nasty jagged lines from where he’d been scratched. A boy asks him what happens to his face, and this grown man, grabs the kid by his throat and shoves his face next to a bubbling pot of oatmeal. He then starts choking him before letting him go after a few seconds. According to the hubster and Munchkin, there are many more scenes that are just as brutal, these just happen to be the ones they have told me about.
I personally don’t have a problem with violence, and I’m not super strict in that I don’t want my kids exposed to it at all. But it would have been nice to have had some warnings about Holes. Munchkin is very literal, and is a worry-wart like his mother, so this scene was a bit hard for him to take in at the time. Let me explain, I once told him that the tigers and lions in a zoo are cats, but aren’t sweet like a pet cat; they can hurt people so we can’t touch or get near them. He heard ‘the cats are loose at the zoo and we will be eaten if we go’. He still has issues going to a zoo even though he knows that there is no danger. There are times and situations where he needs a thorough explanation beforehand, otherwise his little imagination goes wild. Anyway, I don’t know how we could have warned him of this scene had we known, it just would have been nice to have been prepared.
I understand that each of us have our own idea for what is age appropriate for our children, that some are extra strict, while others have no limits. I also understand that as an adult, we over look things sometimes and don’t pay attention until our kids are involved. I do this all the time. But I really wish more people would take the time to list the more edgy aspects of a novel. That way, parents can be prepared for certain scenes, or if need be, skip the book all together.
So next time you write up a comment or a review for a child’s book, keep this in mind. Mention if there is any cussing, any violence, sexual situations, etc. just in case, even though it doesn’t really matter to you. It does matter to someone out there in the world, and they will be very thankful that you took the time to warn them.