I had no idea that The LDS Church’s magazine for kids The Friend published book reviews until I happened to glance over at my daughter a couple of Sunday’s ago as she was reading the reviews in the May 2009 issue. My interest was piqued so I went over to the LDS.org to see what I could discover.
A search of The Friend on LDS.org for “book reviews” shows that this feature began in May 2006 and that a Book Reviews column has been published in every November and May issue since then. Two prior results also appear — one in 1982 and one in 1985. [Of course, it may be that that search isn’t turning up everything.]
Some of the titles reviewed in the May 2009 issue are: Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, by Donald J. Sobol; Amelia Bedelia, by Peggy Parish; Small Pig, by Arnold Lobel; and Bertie Was a Watchdog, by Rick Walton (a bit of homerism, here, as Rick is LDS), illustrated by Arthur Robins.
None of those choices are particularly controversial or even new. Each column runs 2-4 recommendations in the categories of Picture Books, For children ages 5-9, For children ages 10-12, and Nonfiction.
What I find most interesting is that these choices come with a disclaimer:
These reviews do not constitute official Church endorsement of these books, but the books have been carefully reviewed to ensure that Church standards are observed. Please note: Occasionally, characters who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not follow the Word of Wisdom. Selections where this occurs are marked with an asterisk (*).
That wording has been used since November 2007. Prior to that the disclaimer had one line that was worded differently:
Warning: Occasionally, characters who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will drink coffee or tea.
The use of the asterisk is not an occasional thing, either. You’ll see columns with 3-4 asterisked books.
I’m not interested in debating the merits of individual selections or the notion of using “Church standards” to select books (which should be fairly uncontroversial for this age range — and that may be part of why The Friend started doing it). Instead I want to point out two things:
1. How cool is it that the editors of The Friend are promoting reading and doing so with specific recommendations? (and specific titles is the best way to go).
2. How cool is it that the editors of The Friend are willing to include titles that have characters who may drink coffee or tea or maybe even smoke (pipe smoking does pop up in some older children’s books)?
The answer, of course, is: very cool.
Now, this is pretty safe, tame stuff we’re talking about here. And there’s still the issue of The Friend no longer publishing fiction. And it’s only twice a year. But an even “safer” approach would be to not do it at all.