Growing up, I was aware of the movies, video games, and books that my peers read. True, as a homeschooler I was not exposed to them on a daily basis, but the pink and purple rows of The Babysitters’ Club beckoned to me at the library. I knew my friends read them and loved them.
I remember asking if I could read one, even putting them into my library bag once or twice. My mother shared with me why she would rather I not read those kind of books, but said I could try and see what one was like. I don’t think I ended up reading very far.
My mother always made sure my bookshelf was stocked with Newberry Award winners and unpopular, 200-page novels that were impossible to put down after the first ten pages. I read ravenously. I lay prone, slung out on the living room couch for hours, the typical lazy, self-absorbed teenager, reading. I didn’t realize that she was filtering through the junk for me, but I know now that she was–and she did it so well that I never missed the junk.
I will never forget how much she read aloud to us. I still remember crying my eyes out at the kitchen table as she read aloud the last few chapters of Where the Red Fern Grows, relieved when the phone rang so I could take my time in sobbing before she finished up the book.
We watched movies frequently as a family. My mother was our movie DJ–she chose and brought home the movies and we never questioned that. From a young age, my siblings and I developed a taste for movies and we enjoyed my moms’ selections (usually). Movies about the civil rights movement and Vietnam, wilderness survival, and teachers who fought to find a way for their students. For our “girl” movies, we gushed over Anne of Green Gables and Pride and Prejudice, but Shawshank Redemption and A Few Good Men were just as riveting to us. Some time during our teen years, we discovered the Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories and my brother and I read through at least 3,000 pages one summer, every last story and novel by Sir Arthur Conan. Then, we watched the British television series on the same stories.
Now, as a mother of young children, I imagine my own mother leafing through reading lists and read-aloud handbooks, Christian movie recommendations, without internet of course. I am surprised that so many other Muslim mothers don’t think of beginning to develop a taste in books and television in their children, before the trashy stuff starts to come their way. That the only media entertainment they think to provide, even at the youngest ages, is the closest dvd or book within reach–Disney or Dora or Spongebob.
I know there are a lot of moms out there who will try to keep most books and movies out of their children’s radars, sticking only to Islamic materials or non-fiction books. I definitely admire and respect that approach and hope insha’allah that they are rewarded and successful in that. For me and my children, I know that while there are a lot of pitfalls in the media, I want to make sure that when they do find themselves free to choose what to watch and read, even if it is after graduating from college, they already have developed a predilection for media with a deeper message and tasteful delivery. There is so much out there that can stimulate our children’s minds, nurture their imaginations and their vocabulary, educate them about social issues and history, develop their interests and sense of humor, fill their minds with new ideas, and even stir in them a desire to change the world around them. I glance longingly at the award-winning books on display in our local library–I want to go back to those amazing stories and look forward to reading them to my children when they are pre-teens. I think in the early years, it is the mother who has the most say in what her children develop a taste for. Just like my daughters automatically dislike the food I won’t touch, they will also follow my lead in what I watch and read and recommend. At least for a few more years…
Several months ago, I ordered the Little House on the Prairie series for my girls. I sit with them during every episode and read the episode summaries beforehand, since there are a few with love stories, Christmas themes, or with plots too scary for a preschooler. My husband often joins us, unable to tear himself away from the storyline. My daughters ask me to braid their hair like Laura and are still waiting for their grandmother to send them bonnets. Watching “MaPaMaryCarrieLaura” together has inspired conversations about keeping promises, persistence, telling the truth, standing up to what’s wrong, bravery, helping parents with chores, and being patient with a little sister when she is annoying. I could not be more happy with the way this sort of quality entertainment is so validating and supportive of the Islamic manners and character I try to instill in my children.
While not all children might be drawn to the old-fashioned goodness of Little House on the Prairie or Where the Red Fern Grows, if mothers and mentors spend a little time researching, asking, and filtering through the books and movies out there, they can discover rewarding pastimes for their family and a source of valuable, enriching, and character-reinforcing entertainment.
Maha Ezzeddine lives in Texas with her husband and three daughters. She is a dedicated MAS worker, wannabe crunchy homemaker and part-time writer.