I think this is one of the best conversations we’ve had so far at The Read-Aloud Revival.

Today we’re talking “messy” books. Parents – you probably know just what I mean.

Messy books are those books that tackle hard topics. Or maybe they just have stuff in the background that makes us a little nervous about our kids reading them.

Today I’m talking with Betsy Farquhar of Redeemed Reader about how best to handle these kinds of books, and why we shouldn’t just ignore them – even if they make us a little uncomfortable.

I enjoyed this conversation so very much, and came away with a ton of confidence and a lot of great books to read with my kids!

In this episode, you’ll hear:

  • why as parents, WE need to be the ones to have big conversations with our kids, and how books can provide  hooks to start those conversations
  • why controversial books are so popular
  • ‘read-alones’ vs ‘read-alouds’
  • various ways we can navigate the tough stuff with our kids

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Listener Guide

Use the time stamps below to skip to any part of the podcast:

  • 3:38 Meet Betsy
  • 6:25 How Redeemed Reader chooses books
  • 7:17 What makes a book ‘messy?’
  • 10:14 Are older books ever messy?
  • 11:38 Why do messy books freak us out?
  • 17:15 What to do when our kids hear/read something messy
  • 19:31 Why are controversial books often so popular
  • 24:06 Ongoing conversations
  • 27:55 Best books for handling messy topics
  • 31:05 Read-alones versus read-alouds
  • 32:14 YA recommendations
  • 37:18 Let the kids speak

A couple takeaways from this episode …

  • “I think that in so many ways, the books we read with our kids– messy or otherwise– are the best gateways into some of those conversations that are uncomfortable that we don’t really want to have with our kids but we know we need to have with our kids.
  • “There has to be some kind of redemption. It doesn’t mean there’s always the happy ending, but it does mean there has to be an overall sense of hope and ability to help the reader see the world with fresh eyes,  to see things new.”

Books from this episode:

(All links are Amazon affiliate links.)

Episode 85
Charlotte’s Web

Charlotte’s Web

FROM SARAH

By the wonderful E.B. White, a touching tale of friendship, character and love, with charming illustrations by Garth Williams. Your kids will hang on every word—there's a reason this book is a classic! (psst... get out the Kleenex)

FROM THE PUBLISHER

E. B. White's Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come. It contains illustrations by Garth Williams, the acclaimed illustrator of E. B. White's Stuart Little and Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series, among many other books.

 

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The Family Under the Bridge

The Family Under the Bridge

Armand likes his life as a Hobo living under the bridges of Paris, and the last thing he needs is anything remotely connected to responsibility. So when a family moves under the bridge with him and threatens to steal his heart, how will Armand handle it? Excellent for all ages.

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The Penderwicks

The Penderwicks

FROM SARAH:

One of my tippy-top recommendations... if your kids haven't met the Penderwicks yet, it's time! A summer of misadventure ensues when four sisters meet a very interesting boy (and a couple of rabbits, too!) at a summer cottage in New England. Boys and girls alike enjoy this whole series. Hear Jeanne Birdsall talk about writing this series on her episode of Read-Aloud Revival.

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

This summer the Penderwick sisters have a wonderful surprise: a holiday on the grounds of a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon they are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel's sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts.

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The Giver Quartet boxed set

The Giver Quartet boxed set

$39.99

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

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Frog and Toad Are Friends (Frog and Toad I Can Read Stories Book 1)

Frog and Toad Are Friends (Frog and Toad I Can Read Stories Book 1)

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

From writing letters to going swimming, telling stories to finding lost buttons, Frog and Toad are always there for each other—just as best friends should be.

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Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs (Picture Puffin Books)

Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs (Picture Puffin Books)

Author:
Series: Episodes, 085
Tag: Episode 85

Tommy is four years old, and he loves visiting the home of his grandmother, Nana Downstairs, and his great-grandmother, Nana Upstairs. But one day Tommy's mother tells him Nana Upstairs won't be there anymore, and Tommy must struggle with saying good-bye to someone he loves. Updated with new, full-c...

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When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

Shortly after a fall-out with her best friend, sixth grader Miranda starts receiving mysterious notes. It would be easy to ignore the strange messages, except that whoever is leaving them has an uncanny ability to predict the future. If that is the case, then Miranda has a big problem—because the notes tell her that someone is going to die...

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The Watcher

The Watcher

$17.00
Author:
Series: Episodes, 085
Tag: Episode 85

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

Nikki Grimes takes the words of a Psalm 121 and masterfully transforms them into a golden shovel poem of compassion, friendship, and faith. Coupled with powerful artwork from Bryan Collier, this heartfelt story is one that readers will treasure.

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Circus Mirandus

Circus Mirandus

$8.99

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

Even though his awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis doesn’t approve, Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other—the Man Who Bends Light. Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real. And the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. With his friend Jenny Mendoza in tow, Micah sets out to find the Circus and the man he believes will save his grandfather.

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The Great Gilly Hopkins

The Great Gilly Hopkins

**Description from Amazon: This timeless Newbery Honor Book from bestselling author Katherine Paterson about a wisecracking, ornary, completely unforgettable young heroine. Now a feature film starring Kathy Bates, Glenn Close, and Octavia Spencer! Eleven-year-old Gilly has been stuck in more foster families than she can reme...

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The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (The Herdmans series Book 1)

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (The Herdmans series Book 1)

Author:
Series: Episodes, 085, Book 1
Tags: Episode 67, Episode 85

**Description from Amazon: Laughs abound in this bestselling Christmas classic by Barbara Robinson! The Best Christmas Pageant Ever follows the outrageous shenanigans of the Herdman siblings, or “the worst kids in the history of the world.” The siblings take over the annual Christmas pageant in a hilarious yet heartwarmin...

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The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids

The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids

$16.99$9.99

Connecting deeply with our kids can be difficult in our busy, technology-driven lives. Reading aloud offers us a chance to be fully present with our children. It also increases our kids’ academic success, inspires compassion, and fortifies them with the inner strength they need to face life’s ch...

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The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

FROM SARAH:

When their landlord decides he's not going to renew the Vanderbeekers' lease, the five Vanderbeeker kids launch a full-blown mission to change his mind. Highly recommended for kids of all ages (I read it to all six of my kids, from preschool through teen). A practically perfect family story that's first in a wonderful series. Meet the author, Karina Yan Glaser, in her Author Access replay in RAR Premium.

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

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Bedtime for Frances (Trophy Picture Books (Paperback))

Bedtime for Frances (Trophy Picture Books (Paperback))

$7.99

**Description from Amazon: The big hand of the clock is at 12.The little hand is at 7.It is seven o' clock.It is bedtime for Frances.It may be bedtime for Frances, but before Frances can sleep, she needs a glass of milk, a kiss from Father, one from Mother, her teddy bear, her doll, another kiss from Father, and another one f...

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Shiloh (The Shiloh Quartet)

Shiloh (The Shiloh Quartet)

$7.99

**Description from Amazon: Marty will do anything to save his new friend Shiloh in this Newbery Medal–winning novel from Phillis Reynolds Naylor.When Marty Preston comes across a young beagle in the hills behind his home, it's love at first sight—and also big trouble. It turns out the dog, which Marty names Shiloh, belong...

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Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea

Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea

$9.99

**Description from Amazon: Every Falling Star, the first book to portray contemporary North Korea to a young audience, is the intense memoir of a North Korean boy named Sungju who was forced at age twelve to live on the streets and fend for himself. To survive, Sungju creates a gang and lives by thieving, fighting, begging, a...

More info →
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Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous

Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous

$12.99
Author:
Series: Episodes, 085
Tag: Episode 85

**Description from Amazon: Who's it going to be?Spencer's the smart kid. Shelly's the diva. Miranda's the scaredy-cat. Matthew's just average (so far). In fact, there's nothing about any of the nine middle-schoolers on Mrs. B's bus route that screams "fame." But before the end of the year, somebody on this bus is going to be ...

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Goodbye Stranger

Goodbye Stranger

$7.99
Author:
Series: Episodes, 085
Tag: Episode 85

**Description from Amazon: This brilliant, New York Times bestselling novel from the author of the Newbery Medal winner When You Reach Me explores multiple perspectives on the bonds and limits of friendship. Long ago, best friends Bridge, Emily, and Tab made a pact: no fighting. But it’s the start of seventh grade, and eve...

More info →
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Disappeared

Disappeared

$17.99
Author:
Series: Episodes, 085
Tag: Episode 85

**Description from Amazon: Four Months Ago Sara Zapata's best friend disappeared, kidnapped by the web of criminals who terrorize Juarez.Four Hours Ago Sara received a death threat -- and with it, a clue to the place where her friend is locked away.Four Weeks Ago Emiliano Zapata fell in love with Perla Rubi, who will never be...

More info →
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Tangerine

Tangerine

$8.99
Author:
Series: Episodes, 085
Tag: Episode 85

**Description from Amazon: Paul Fisher sees the world from behind glasses so thick he looks like a bug-eyed alien. But he’s not so blind that he can’t see there are some very unusual things about his family’s new home in Tangerine County, Florida. Where else does a sinkhole swallow the local school, fire burn undergroun...

More info →
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Long Way Down

Long Way Down

$17.99
Author:
Series: Episodes, 085
Tag: Episode 85

**Description from Amazon: Longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature Parents’ Choice Gold Award Winner An Entertainment Weekly Best YA Book of 2017 A Vulture Best YA Book of 2017 A Buzzed Best YA Book of 2017 An ode to Put the Damn Guns Down, this is National Book Award finalist and New York T...

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Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race. Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us.

Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race. Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us.

$15.99
Author:
Series: Episodes, 085
Tag: Episode 85

**Description from Amazon: Can it ever get better? This is the question Benjamin Watson is asking. In a country aflame with the fallout from the racial divide―in which Ferguson, Charleston, and the Confederate flag dominate the national news, daily seeming to rip the wounds open ever wider―is there hope for honest and hea...

More info →
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Old Yeller

Old Yeller

$23.00

**Description from Amazon: When a novel like Huckleberry Finn, or The Yearling, comes along it defies customary adjectives because of the intensity of the response it evokes in the reader. Such a book, we submit, is Old Yeller; to read this eloIquently simple story of a boy and his dog in the Texas hill country is an unforget...

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Tuesdays at the Castle

Tuesdays at the Castle

Author:
Series: Episodes, 085, Book 1
Tags: Episode 85, girls books 8-12

FROM SARAH:

On Tuesdays, the Castle changes. Sometimes it adds a new room, a turret, a staircase... or even a whole wing. This one is fun, fun, fun. I bet you'll hear "Just one more chapter, pleeeease!" from everyone in the room. Your kids can meet author Jessica Day George in RAR Premium in 2020.

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

Tuesdays at Castle Glower are Princess Celie's favorite days. That's because on Tuesdays the Castle adds a new room, a turret, or sometimes even an entire wing. No one ever knows what the Castle will do next, and no one-other than Celie, that is-takes the time to map out the new additions.

More info →
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You Bring the Distant Near

You Bring the Distant Near

Author:
Series: Episodes, 085
Tag: Episode 85

**Description from Amazon: Nominated for the 2017 National Book Award for Young People's Literature ★ Horn Book ★ School Library Journal ★ Publishers Weekly ★ Booklist ★ Shelf Awareness ★ VOYAFive girls. Three generations. One great American love story. You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, fir...

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