Musings + Essays

The Magpie Diary: Dec. 3, 2023.

By: Jen Shoop

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Mini is an advanced and devoted reader, and we’ve encouraged her to read whatever she likes for her entire childhood. (Above picture from when she was three!) This has meant I have tolerated Dog Man for a long, painful time despite the fact that I think those books are awful. The themes are negative, the characters are unkind to one another, and there are cutesy and intentional misspellings that I think confuse a young reader. However, my philosophy has been that permitting her to opt into reading however she likes will engender a lifelong love of books. And the onus is on me to navigate the conversations about Dog Man in a way that helps her develop discernment. (For example, we can talk about how mean the characters are to each other, and why we don’t like that.) My perspective is shaped by my observations that 1) I like to read books that aren’t necessarily “good” or “positive” — that are purely for pleasure — and destigmatizing my own preferences has been an important unlock; 2) a girlfriend of mine told me that her mother banned lots of popular titles in her home when she was a girl, including Baby Sitter’s Club (my bread and butter) and Sweet Valley High (I was less into this series but did dabble), and she feels this foreclosed upon her interest in reading — to this day, she does not read, as she still associates the act of reading with the classics she felt forced to drag herself through when younger; 3) kids will find ways around censorship. My parents specifically told me not to watch any PG-13 movies when I was 11-12 and starting to enjoy sleepovers with my girlfriends. They knew I was highly sensitive to imagery (I had nightmares for years that involved Maleficent peeking into my childhood bedroom), and they knew that some of my friends were permitted to watch PG-13. Of course, I went to my girlfriend’s home and immediately agreed to watch Arachnaphobia (PG-13) — and subsequently could not sleep for weeks. I am a rule following gal — always have been — but when it comes to content prohibitions, even I found ways around (at my own peril!). Mr. Magpie has set up various permissions and parental controls on our children’s HomePods/iPads, but he told me as he was doing so that “these only go so far — kids are clever and find ways around.” Again, it feels like the onus is on us as parents to stay in tune with what they are reading, watching, listening to; to try to have the conversations around what is/what is not appropriate; and to work with them to navigate and develop fluency around these things.

On a more positive note, though, Rachel Ringenberg shared two quotes on imagination and childhood reading from Astrid Lindgren (author of Pippi Longstocking) this week and I found myself nodding emphatically:

“What the world of tomorrow will be like is greatly dependent on the power of imagination in those who are learning to read today.”


“A childhood without books — that would be no childhood. That would be like being shut out from the enchanted place where you can go and find the rarest kind of joy.”

So there is this, too. Freely encountering all kinds of stories stirs imagination, encourages the cross-pollination of images and themes, and helps kids learn what they like.

All a preamble to say, however: a few weeks ago, mini started bringing home books from the library that seemed too mature. One was called Guts and, when I laid in bed reading sections of it along with her last week, I found myself uncomfortable with the themes discussed — puberty, therapy, mental wellness, parent issues. I cannot shield her from learning about any of these things over time, but she is only in first grade, and encountering a cluster of them in one fell swoop was a lot. I should asterisk that I do feel comfortable with (even proactive about) her learning about menstruation because it’s a fact of life and nothing to be ashamed of — I wish it had been destigmatized more when I was a child. I have talked plainly with her about this already. But the other things? I felt stuck, as she’d already read the book on her own on the way home from school, and I wasn’t sure how to message my perspective that these things were not appropriate for her. Sometimes I feel that when I make a big deal of something, it only underscores and exacerbates whatever the issue is. By telling her she couldn’t read the book anymore, would that only draw her interest further? Would it scare her? Beyond that, had the impact had already been made. She’d already read the book. What would it mean to tell her she couldn’t read it again?

I wondered about the safeguards in place at her library, and how and why she’d selected this particular book. I feel we are at a crossroads because the books at her grade and age level are no longer challenging for her, and the books that she wants to read (for fourth/fifth/sixth graders) are too thematically mature. I am sure we are not the first parents that have encountered this issue. What advice do you have for me?

I already reached out to her teachers and librarian to flag this issue and ask for their support and recommendations, and have chatted with our nanny about steering her away from books in the public library (they spend an hour or two there after school at least one or two days a week) that seem too advanced. Perhaps we need to institute a checkpoint when she brings a book home, too? I’m so torn on this, though — help!

Also on my mind and heart this week:

+We’re officially on the countdown to Christmas! Mr. Magpie’s aunt made this adorable Advent calendar for him when he was only two years old. We tie a little gift (or scroll with instructions on where to find the gift/surprise) to each day leading up to Christmas, and the kids sprint down each morning to open. These are usually simple little gifts like a new set of markers, a chocolate Santa, some Christmas stickers, but there are a couple of “bigger ticket” surprises. I also have their new holiday pajamas designated for certain days — a great way to make a big deal over something I was already going to get them! (They will have opened their Nutcracker jammies — these for mini, these for micro — yesterday in anticipation of seeing the Nutcracker today! They also have these Santa jammies coming their way later this week.)

+This Merit lipstick is SO GOOD. I’ve been wearing it a ton in the millennial pink. The formula is deeply hydrating (wears like a balm, has a great satin-y finish) and the color is perfection. I’m actually sharing a step-by-step everyday makeup application from Merit in a mini post tomorrow. I truly love this brand. Great products that are good for your skin. The colors are amazing, too. UPDATE: I just learned that Sephora is offering 20% off sitewide (!) for all Beauty Insider members (regardless of status!) with code YAYGIFTING through today only, and they carry Merit! All of my favorite Sephora products here, including my long-standing favorite face mask ever. I love to use this before heading out for a big event — it truly chisels your features / thoroughly depuffs! Would also make a great gift.

+My girlie marching to Sunday Mass. For Christmas, she’s asking for a Patrick Mahomes jersey and a Taylor Swift sweatshirt — these so encapsulate her! I don’t know exactly where she gets her tastes from but she definitely knows what she likes and does not. I shared the snap of her wearing this patterned puffer coat on Instagram earlier this week, and had some questions about it. It’s by Maisonette’s house brand, Maison Me, but last year — there’s still a size or two left here (heavily discounted!). Boden also has really cute patterns for their puffer coats: check out this and this! But if you’ve not tried Maison Me, I encourage you to! I have been impressed with the quality and the designs are great. Actually, the striped dress you can barely see here is also Maison Me. I have these striped, ribbed dresses and the matching leggings from them in my cart right now. P.S. The boots were an Amazon find and she loves them! I never know how things will go for her — even when I engage her for opinions before buying something, she can turn cold on items when they arrive! However, she loves these. I think it might help that I’ve been wearing my own cowboy-inspired boots a lot this season. One of you Magpies pointed out earlier this year when I shared all the things she picked for herself from Gap/J. Crew that it seems like she’s often drawn to items I would myself wear, and that completely changed my perspective on our occasional skirmishes over what to wear. Now I tend to buy her things that look like mini versions of what I own.

+Meanwhile, my boy still (generally, with the exception of this $80 sweater he refused to wear on Thanksgiving — wahhh!) will wear what I dress him in without a problem. My latest fixation is his pair of tiny Sperrys. I can’t. He looks like a mini Landon! (Mr. Magpie and his father both live in boat shoes, and have for as long as I’ve known them. They even have “yardwork” pairs that they slip into outside the back doors of their respective houses! He just bought himself few new pairs while on sale — this is a classic style, and only $80.) P.S. My son is also wearing J. Crew dock pants (his favorite — elastic waist is our best friend), a J. Crew sweater, and his Helly Hansen reversible puffer (exact style is from last year, but this is very similar). I’ve been impressed with the Helly jacket! We managed to get two seasons/winters out of it. It’s warm enough for snow but not too bulky/parka-esque for everyday.

+I know I’m a broken record here, but can I again say, for the record, how much I love this Hanni splash salve? I apply it at the end of my shower and I have the softest, silkiest, most moisturized skin afterward. You don’t even need to apply lotion afterward (though I often do follow up with their water balm spray). I cannot speak more enthusiastically about this product! I did notice they are running a BOGO 50% off promotion, so buy one for yourself, and tuck one into your sister’s stocking! I’m also still using and loving the Roz Foundation shampoo and conditioner. The best! I love that they offer refill pouches so you can continue to reuse the same aluminum pump bottle.

+A few other notes…

+Sezane is launching a new party collection today and I have my eye on a few items — the golden Seyma dress and the black velvet Swan top? Wouldn’t the latter be so chic with a pair of tartan or silk or feathered trousers?

+Lots of fun holiday outfit inspo here and here.

+I have a loved one who takes long walks in the mornings and I want to upgrade her daily ritual with a cozy new fleece/sweatshirt for Christmas. I am torn between a Dudley Stephens fleece (I’ve been wearing mine a lot this week — such a good layer because it’s thin but keeps you really warm) and an Alice Walk sweatshirt (the most luxurious sweatshirt you’ll buy). Thoughts?

+I just ordered a bunch of the pieces from Negative’s “whipped” line. I love the look — soft but sexy!

+This reversible, casual coat is selling out fast. SO good. More sizes here.

+Just ordered my girl these undies after Caitlin Fisher raved about them!

P.S. Some of our favorite books for younger kids here.

P.P.S. On learning to read people, and play piano.

P.P.P.S. I loved your comments on my post about where to find meaningful stuff.

If you want more Magpie, you can subscribe to my Magpie Email Digest for a weekly roundup of top essays, musings, conversations, and finds.

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34 thoughts on “The Magpie Diary: Dec. 3, 2023.

  1. I too was a very mature reader! Reading chapter books by 4. And a very sensitive kid. My parents never restricted my books (and they were incredibly censorial with other media, even going to far as to edit my Disney movies using the VCR). I usually didn’t pick up on most things too mature for me until later rereads. Something I remember fondly is my dad bought or mail-ordered entire series at a time (Betsy-Tacy, Boxcar children, Bobbsey Twins, Nancy drew and Hardy boys, Illustrated Classics, Animorphs) and kept them under his bed to be doled out in order when he felt I needed a boost. It was incredibly special and didn’t seem to be linked to my behavior at all, I didn’t have to earn them. He told me later that it was his way of helping with the tough friendship years from 8-10 since he didn’t feel he could add anything to my social struggles as a young girl.

    Something loving my mom did was whenever a series was important to us (Animorphs for me, The Black Stallion for my middle brother, Deltora Quest for my younger brother) she’d read them for herself and make us a book club of 2, and engage in animated discussion around that. My husband’s younger twin siblings were 8 when we started dating, and I always gifted books and did that for them. It was really good for our bond and they look back on it fondly now as adults. I also always bought them books with diverse protagonists and queer relationships centered, which I don’t think was on their folks’ radar, and my choices were often their favorite books. It made them feel comfortable coming to me with tough topics.

    I don’t intend to restrict my kids’ reading, but I do intend to keep tabs on what they’re reading and make sure they have avenues to discuss it. If they’re old enough to ask the question, they’re old enough to get an honest answer. I was scared by Goosebumps books, but understood they were fiction and kept seeking them out, I remember being most disturbed around 4th grade when we got a newspaper subscription for the classroom, and I read them in their entirety, learning about all sorts of non-fiction adult things that I hadn’t realized happened in real life. And because my dad shut me down when I asked about some scary stuff, I didn’t have anyone to process it with.

    Your girl is lucky to have you!

    1. These are such beautiful ideas / thoughts / insights. I love the “book club of two” tradition your mom started. Last night, I read something with mini that gave me pause from a thematic standpoint and afterward it led to the most wonderful, insightful conversation with her. I was almost astounded at how quickly she grasped what was inappropriate about the character’s behavior and why, and how to do things differently should that arise in her own life. It was moving to me to see how books can foster these moments of shared reflection and insight and conversation.

      I love (!) the idea of your dad doling out BSC books. What an incredibly kind gesture.


  2. Catching up on a lot of your posts and had to chime in here because it’s a conversation my mom and I have a lot! My parents never restricted my access to books but were VERY strict on tv/movies/internet. I’m not a psychologist/educator/specialist but I know for me that a lot of mature themes in books went over my head and didn’t stick with me the same way digital media did. I think one big difference though is that I was a kid in the early-mid 2000s: we had one computer in my house and us elementary schoolers certainly weren’t using it! I think had I had access to google, a lot of the more mature things I came across WOULD have stuck more.

    Young readers are generally curious little people and depending on your kid they might be asking you about it or trying to find out more on their own. All that to say, I don’t think that there is one right answer. But i definitely appreciated that literature was the one medium where my parents had no restrictions; it was a welcome reprieve. I saw someone recommend the Boxcar Children down below — can’t recommend it highly enough. And probably still too much for Mini right now (perhaps a good read together book!), but The Legend of Holly Clause is so perfect for this time of year.

    1. Thank you for these thoughts! I do think that mature themes tended to go over my head but the imagery from the movies really disturbed me — interesting point.

      Thank you for the recs!!

  3. I was the same way when I was Mini’s age! I don’t have any children of my own yet so I don’t have any advice to impart, but here are some books that I remember enjoying in elementary school which I think would be appropriate and which I haven’t seen anyone else recommend yet:

    1. “Mandy”, by Julie Andrews
    2. “The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles”, also by Julie Andrews
    3. The “Dear America” and “The Royal Diaries” series, by various authors

    Also, I cosign others’ recommendations for the Chronicles of Narnia, Pippi Longstocking, the Boxcar Children. The Secret Garden, and the Magic Treehouse series. I also loved the Trixie Belden mystery series and the Mother-Daughter Book Club series, but you may find some of the topics (e.g., dating, divorce) to be too advanced for Mini right now. Maybe keep them in mind for the future?

    I’m jealous that Mini is about to discover so many wonderful books!

    1. Love these recs and OMG “Mandy” was a favorite of mine! I’d totally forgotten! Thanks so much for reminding me of that.


  4. Hey Jen!

    Elementary teacher here, also a voracious and advanced reader as a kid! One piece of advice I’ve given to parents in the past with advanced readers is to seek out lots of sci-fi and fantasy series or books. Those tend to be advanced in terms of language and world-building (requiring a lot of comprehension and focus) but not necessarily too mature in terms of development/themes. I bet she’s at a great age for Magic Treehouse (if she hasn’t already discovered those!) and there are newer supplemental materials to go with those books that delve more into the historical facts. I also remember liking the Spiderwick Chronicles, and the Inkheart series (as well as other books by Cornelia Funke). Chronicles of Narnia could be good too! I bet you both would have a blast reading The Phantom Tollbooth together, I bet you’d love the wordplay! And I remember really liking the mystery involved in Chasing Vermeer and The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett.

    I think that continuing to allow her to be in charge of her own reading selections is really important, too. My mom rarely put any kind of guardrails on my reading choices, and she always always let me get (either at the bookstore or library) as many books as I wanted growing up. I know that, by the time I was in upper elementary/middle school, I had a really good sense of what books I liked, and what I felt ready for — I remember trying Catcher in the Rye one weekend and deciding that, even though I understood it, it seemed just a bit too mature, so I put it back on my shelf for a few more years. I bet Mini will have a really killer innate sense of her taste in a few years, the more she reads and hones in on what she likes!

    For more resources/recs, Modern Mrs Darcy’s website will pretty regularly post roundups of books for kids, especially what her own children are reading! I also like to check out backlists for children’s award winners (ie: the Edgar and Hugo awards, the Newberry Medal, etc).

    1. Thank you so much for these thoughts and suggestions! I love the suggestion about seeking out sci-fi/fantasy. I wonder if “Wrinkle of Time” would be too advanced. I remember loving that one, but was a bit older. Thank you!!


  5. I also was a precocious reader and read some things at a young age that I wish I hadn’t. I wanted to share a story I read in a book by Corrie Ten Boom. She’d seen some writing (something foul) written on a wall and didn’t know what it meant. She asked her father what it meant. Instead of answering her directly, her father asked her if she could carry a heavy suitcase as they were getting on the train. Corrie replied that the suitcase was too heavy for her, but not too heavy for her father. In response, her father said that God knew when burdens were too heavy to bear, and that this information was too heavy for her to carry right now. He asked Corrie if she would trust him to carry this information for her until she was ready. Corrie agreed.

    I was so touched by that story. My parents loved me, but never knew what to do with my voracious reading appetite. Nobody censored my reading, and I do wish there had been a bit more guidance and support to steer me away from things that were too heavy for me to carry. However, they my parents did take away the newspaper when I was eight as it was giving me stomachaches. I can do relate to you. To this day I am very sensitive to images and stories and the pain of others’.

    1. Joann, I too thought of this exact story from The Hiding Place when I read Jen’s post! And Jen, I’m in the same boat as you with my first grader. My parents definitely censored/guided our reading growing up, but my siblings and I are all still voracious readers. I think it’s because we were given a feast of good books to read. It might have helped that dad was a book publisher 🙂 You might look into the Milly Molly Mandy books for Emory (you can get a cute boxed set of them on Amazon) or the Betsy Tacy series. I have a few trusted resources that I regularly lean on when curating books for my kids that I’m happy to share. I also find it helpful to think of books in terms of food: how can I best serve up healthy/enticing/nourishing/enriching choices for my kids? It is so evident that you are a deeply intentional and thoughtful parent; thanks for sharing a bit of your process for grappling with tough topics like these!

      1. I love these insights, especially the concept of “serving up healthy/enticing/nourishing choices for my kids.” Mr. Magpie always says: “You eat with your eyes” and puts extra love/care into presenting the kids’ dinners in ways that look visually appealing. Why wouldn’t we come up with similar strategies when it comes to books? I’m also thinking about a time when mini was younger and I was trying to encourage her to play by herself more often. One tip I picked up was to put together little “vignettes” to promote play — e.g., lay out a baking sheet with cookie cutters and play-doh, or arrange the Maileg mice in funny positions on the counter, etc. Same idea — how do we invite/promote imagination, interest, etc in little ways like this?


    2. Hi JoAnn – That is such a sweet story about Corrie and her father. This is the exact friction point I’m thinking through — how to help steer her away from the stuff that will bother her, yet give her freedom to chase her own interests. Really tricky. As with most things in life, it’s probably going to be a little of column a, a little of column b, times that call for me being more hands-on and times where I need to be more hands-off. Thanks for sharing this perspective.


  6. “When you focus on the good, the good gets better.” Focus on the good books- asks questions, read them with her, buy them. And don’t give much attention to the rest.

    I LOATHE Junie B Jones. If they want to read them, okay. But I will decline. Or sing my praises for Ramona instead – better spelling and grammar, less sassy than Junie.

    My experience is use the opportunity to discuss together and lay groundwork for talking about hard topics in an age appropriate, non-judgemental way.

  7. Mom of a second grader in the same boat over here! Our philosophy and solutions sound very similar. My general mode is to simply keep supplying her with good books – books that shape her loves toward truth, beauty, goodness, and fun. I am not big on censorship, but I also take seriously the role of shaping her imagination and character, and know books have a big part in that! (And of course, it’s unlikely a handful of oddball or inappropriate books would do that,) My gal also went through a Dogman phase 🙂 I keep a running note on my phone of books to look into (many of my recommendations come from the Everyday Reading blog!) and try to keep her fully stocked with great options from the library. She’ll happily read almost anything I put in front of her at this point, so it feels like that helps counterbalance anything else she might come home with! Series are your best friends, because instead of vetting individual titles you’re vetting once for in some cases dozens and dozens of books. Here’s a round-up of a few my daughter loved – almost time for a follow-up post!

    1. Thank you SO much for these recs! I’ve ordered an absolute ton of books from these comments and your blog post. Thank you!


  8. So I am an older Mom but I so relate to daughters reading above their understanding! … oldest daughter was an early and voracious reader. It broke my heart when she read beloved books too too early to actually get them! (Think To Kill a Mockingbird , etc ) but the funniest thing was when I was pregnant with her younger sister (she was 2) and she read the” what to expect when you are expecting” book chapter ion intimate relations while pregnant (!) and then burst into our room saying I know what you are doing! (we were just waking up!) HAHA. My advice is to keep putting good books in her path .

  9. I have been singing Negative Underwear’s praises for a while now, I love it so much. I switched over to exclusively wearing the Sieve wireless bras at the start of the pandemic, and LOOOOOOOOVE their whipped line. I don’t know what sorcery was used to make it that soft and that thin and that sexy but also that warm…and I don’t think I really care. I’m cold alllll the time and their whipped tanks and long sleeve shirts, and occasionally the long johns have saved me.

  10. My oldest (now 9) was a similarly precocious reader and I relied heavily on books from my own childhood during that phase to bridge the gap, because I was already familiar with them! I was also an early reader and have vivid memories of my 1st grade teacher telling me a book was too old for me, only for my parents to say it was fine with them, so I really try to avoid saying no to books!

    At that age, my son enjoyed the Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins books, the Fudge series by Judy Blume, Pippi Longstocking, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, and the Wayside School series. I could never get him into the Little House series, much to my dismay! I would also try The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, and definitely the Baby-Sitters Club!

    1. Ooo thank you! Ordered a bunch of these, having forgotten about them myself. I loved so many of these titles!


  11. When our daughters were elementary age (now adult) we had similar issues, as they were both advanced readers. Luckily, the Harry Potter books were wildly popular at the time so they would dive into those. My thoughts are that you are doing the best thing, allowing her to read what she chooses but coupling it with discussion. We continued to do that as they aged up-you want to watch the “cool” R rated movie at 13? Okay, but we are watching it together and it will be coupled with discussions. “What do you think about the choice that character made to…(fill in the blank with inappropriate behavior). Why do you think she did that and what would you advise your friend to do in a similar situation?” I realize everyone may not be comfortable with this approach but it worked for our family (and no, we were not also a “if you’re going to drink I’d rather you do it here” house). I am just a big believer that teaching children to verbalize their thoughts and feelings about everything at a young age leads to being able to do so when, in their actual lives, they might be faced with a difficult situation.

    1. So appreciate this perspective – thanks for sharing. Agree that so much of it is about being willing to have the conversations / field the questions / prompt the introspection! I need to figure out a way to make sure I stay on top of this. One checkpoint so far has been our bedtime routine, during which she reads to me or I read to her – this always gives me insight into what she’s reading and what she’s thinking about it.


  12. I am a retired 1st grade teacher and parent of a daughter who was a very precocious reader. My suggestion is to lean into picture books (not the books for early readers). There are many picture books that are typically read TO elementary age children that are well written with interesting and/or classic themes and great vocabulary – and usually beautiful illustrations. Versions of the same fairy tale, but from different countries are a good option. If your daughter wants chapter books, you might want to look at the Animal Ark books, Magic Treehouse or even some other similar series. Sometimes they aren’t the best written books, but children that age love to “rack up” the number of books read, and who doesn’t enjoy working through a mindless series sometimes 🙂 To read together and maybe then on her own – We LOVED The Doll People by Ann M Martin and Laurie Godwin. I think there are several in the series, but the first one is the best. Hope this helps!

  13. I am all ears and no solutions when it comes to this library problem, but wanted to suggest a series of chapter books that my kindergartener LOVES. She is oddly obsessed with the Boxcar Children and has listened to them nonstop on her Yoto for about a year. We also read them to her. They have an enormous number of chapter books and I’ve never come across a theme that I thought was not appropriate for her age. So, no ideas to balance freedom and parental guidance at the library, but that is a series toward which you might steer her.

    1. OMG! I’d forgotten about these but I loved the Boxcar Children when I was young! Going to dig those up! Thanks!

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