A random selection of Bubble Gum Books from my house.

Do you consider the books you read a “guilty pleasure”? Do you worry the books your child reads don’t have enough “meat” to them? Today, I’m going to tell you why you need to let go of those negative feelings and why Bubble Gum Books are awesome for you and your child!

What’s a “bubble gum” book?

Any book that you enjoy reading just for fun, but may not have “nutritional value” is a “bubble gum” book. Bubble gum books are not classic literature or a biography. They are not here to educate. They are books that are there for pure pleasure reading.

In the realm of kid’s books, I think of the books like the Dog Man series, Big Nate, and Captian Underpants. Almost all young adult novels and graphic novels seem to fall into this category. Popular fiction books for adults, like the Sookie Stackhouse books (which the HBO show True Blood is based on), and pretty much any romance novel falls into this category as well.

It can be easy to think of these books as fun but a bit of a waste of time, not really worth counting as reading. Like eating a bag of potato chips or chewing bubble gum. But I am making the argument that there is value in these kinds of books. And not just because I love a good vampire-meets-warewolf-romance-mystery.

They Help Strengthen Reading Skills

You probably realize that reading is a skill you need to learn and practice. Many professionals encourage kids to read for 20 minutes a day. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter how hard or easy those books are. All reading makes you a better reader.

If you have a jaw injury and have to learn to chew again, all chewing will build the muscles of your jaw and tongue. The chewing doesn’t even have to be for nutrition. It can just be bubble gum. Chewing bubble gum or a steak are both exercising your mouth.

There are meaty, challenging books with new vocabulary and new ideas. There are beautiful books that tell a heartfelt story and open our minds to places and people we would never have the chance to see in real life. And there are the favorite books, the ones we read over and over because we enjoy them and they feel like old friends. It is important to not deprive you or your child of those different kinds of books and the different kinds of reading each one brings. Much like training when you exercise with a variety of workouts, reading different books strengthens the skills of reading in different ways. Just like you wouldn’t shame a friend for getting their steps in by doing a walk on a level, paved path, instead of hiking a difficult trail, you shouldn’t shame yourself or your child for what you read.

To go back to my bubble gum metaphor, chewing gum makes the muscles of your mouth work just as hard as chewing food, even if you don’t get nutritional value from it. Reading books that are just fun and easy, still makes your eyes and brain work on the skills of reading. It just doesn’t force you to think too hard about the story or the great implications of what you are reading. This is actually a great way to get better at reading. Just like walking around the block in front of your house over and over would make your legs stronger, even if it isn’t an uphill climb. Plus, even a book you think is pure bubble gum, can sneak in new vocabulary words and you don’t even notice them!

They Provide Emotional Comfort

Sometimes I like to read books just to escape into a world where everything will work out “happily ever after”. A world where everyone speaks in witty banter and every problem has a solution. Books that didn’t rely on me, as the reader, to remember too many complex characters or to try to solve a mystery along with them.  When I first discovered these books, I labeled them bubble gum books. For me, bubble gum books are short vacations from reality.

Reading books like these is a way to step away from the challenge of our real lives and relax into a book. If you really want your child to grow up to be a reader, they need to get to read just for the joy of reading. They deserve to enjoy reading things they enjoy, just because they enjoy them.

What about Twaddle?

Charlotte Mason, who had many ideas about how children should be educated, wrote a fair bit about not letting children read “twaddle” as she called it. Here is one quote: “What manner of book will find its way with upheaving effect into the mind of an intelligent boy or girl? We need not ask what the girl or boy likes. She very often likes the twaddle of goody-goody storybooks, he likes condiments, highly-spiced tales of adventure. We are all capable of liking mental food of a poor quality and a titillating nature” (Vol. 3, p. 168). Pretty judgmental sounding, right?

My bubble gum books are probably similar to her definition of twaddle. I am sure that the books of Dav Pilkey, which my children really enjoyed for a certain time, would be called twaddle. I’m pretty sure she’d also call my modern clothes scandalous and be shocked to her core at how women today can hold any job a man can. While Charlotte Mason had some good ideas about educating children, letting her outdated ideas about books take the pleasure of reading away from you and your child, is as silly as asking her fashion advice. The truth is that my kids stepped into the world of being people who read to themselves with those Dav Pilkey books. Yes, the stories are silly and fun. But they taught my children that reading was worth participating in for themselves.

Titillating Reading

I really don’t use the word titillating enough, but I’m going to use Charlotte’s word here and say that some of my favorite books are titillating. Until fairly recently, I was more than a little embarrassed to admit what I read for fun. But then, I decided to get out of my comfort zone and mention to my friends what I enjoy. And low and behold, they like those books too!

As adults, we sometimes measure our book choices against some standard we’ve picked up for what is supposed to make a “good book.” Often, those good books are not fun. Some Language Arts teacher somewhere taught us that “good books” provoke thought, teach history, or some such. We seem to think that these thoughts are not supposed to be things like “If I was a demon-killing soccer mom… how would I hide the bodies?” Or perhaps your favorite books let you wonder what it would be like to live on another planet or in a fairy tale, experience a romance in Victorian England, or have a vampire fall in love with you.  At different points in my life, I’ve read and enjoyed all of them. Those fun books may actually lead to thinking far more than you realize. They let you ponder ethics, life choices, and challenges you may never face.

Let go of judging your own pleasure reading. Let go of judging your children. Enjoy your titillating bubble gum books!

About the Author

Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.

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