Discerning Appropriate Lit for High School


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  • Threekidsmom

    I’m hoping to hear some wiser and more experienced homeschool moms here on the topic of high school literature. The older my son gets, the more it seems that we run into literature selections that given our Christian background/worldview seem questionable. For example- BF Books US and Modern World History for high school includes The Kite Runner as one of the selections. I have read this book, and there is one situation in particular that’s highly concerning to me, as well as obscene language. What are your thoughts on this and how do you go about deciding if something is okay? I’m struggling between being overly protective and not seeing the value in reading some of these things, but then I wonder if censoring at this age isn’t helpful for preparing him for what he might encounter in college level reading. Is it better to allow books that I don’t feel great about, but that can facilitate teaching moments and discussion while he’s still in our home? Or are these books simply cross the line into completely inappropriate? How have you handled these types of issues?


    I don’t have many answers, but I am right there with you. My 9th grader is using Notgrass World History this year and we’ve hardly used any of their suggested literature. Either it has obscene language or is too descriptive in violence.

    Just tonight I decided I would schedule her to read some of the Christian Heroes: Then and Now. Maybe they aren’t the highest level book I could have her read, but it may be what works for now. My daughter loves to read.

    I have also had the same concerns for the upper level BF book selections. I was glad  Notgrass has a page with warning of objectionable content in scheduled literature books.

    My other plan to be sure my daughter gets her Lit credit is to have her to either Masterbooks Literature or Christian Light Literature.

    One other idea is to look at the SCM 7-9 or 10-12 book suggestions for the time period your child is studying and go from there. I find their selections to be better than most other “Christian” curriculum suggestions.

    One other thought, personally, in our family, we do not watch much TV and especially would not watch something that we knew took the Lord’s name in vain or had swearing or unnecessary violence or immodesty. So, we choose not to read any books that do either.


    I take a different approach.  My oldest is 17, a senior and dual enrolled at college. We have read books like Kite Runner (which I really liked) and discussed them.  She read Francine Rivers’ Atonement Child at 14 and her Redeeming Love at 15.  Granted those are from a Christian perspective, but have some difficult themes.  She is an incredibly mature young lady and reading literature with worldly content has been a blessing. What I mean is that it has opened doors to communicating about difficult topics and evaluating how we should respond in those situations. She is currently  taking English Comp II and Psychology at college and took English Comp I last term. There have been assignments on questionable content. I have to say that dd17 has handled them all with grace and maturity and a certain matter of fact approach that her more sheltered peers have been incapable of. Where my dd can take in a questionable idea or theme, mull it over, think with a Biblical worldview, and come to her own logical conclusion, some of her more sheltered homeschool dual enrolled peers really struggle. They’re shocked and appalled and unable to think critically and recognize that one does not have to embrace or accept an idea just because they think it over.

    I am reminded that we are to be in the world but not of the world, but for our family that involves being able to take in certain things without necessarily embracing them ourselves. I think exposure to good literature, even that with hard topics or some questionable language, coupled with honest discussion is much more productive  in growing young people more capable of true critical thinking and effective example for Christ than too much sheltering.

    Life is hard at times. Really hard.  I find encountering some of those hard things in books is of great benefit to us in navigating that journey, and those book encounters can come in unexpected covers. One very personal example, dd read and watched 13 reasons why. We had discussions about suicide and bullying and so much more. Yes, there was questionable content, but it opened a dialogue.  In January, my 34 year old brother took his life. Completely unexpected by anyone. He and I were closer than close as I practically raised him after our parents divorce  and I had no idea. David was my kids’ favorite relative of all.  We are still reeling a bit and seeing a Christian counselor to help work through grief, but that book/show opened a dialogue I never ever expected to face in this way. Because that was already an open conversation, it helped to allow more discussion when this horrible reality hit our family.

    “Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.” C.S. Lewis

    I apply the above even more broadly and believe that many, many non-Christian books with difficult topics can give us positive examples, too. Those brave knights might ride a dark horse or use questionable language, but their courage still stands.

    That’s my two cents anyway.


    This is such an individual topic. We, like missceegee, have chosen to read some literature in high school that has some objectionable content or language. However, we do so with a few things in mind.

    First, we select carefully based on the individual child. I have 10 children and I can assure you that every child is different in what they can do, cope with, learn from, etc. You cannot just assume that ‘every 13 year old is ready for ___” or “every 5 year old should be doing ____”. This holds true in the books we read.

    Second, we read the book at the same time or before our child so we are prepared for discussing the big or challenging ideas in the book. And we try to open those discussions if the child does not bring them up on their own.



    I agree that it depends on each child and their career plans.

    I tell my teens that if they are reading a book for school that they are uncomfortable with, then tell me and I will find a substitute.  So far I am bothered  by more books than they are.  My daughter reads missionary stories that would give me nightmares.

    I also tell them that it takes great courage to quit part way through a book or especially to walk out of a movie theater when you are with friends and paid $8 to get in! I tell them about how I was in that situation and wished I had the courage to leave.

    I  also ask my teens to preview books for their younger siblings, and tell me what they think I would object to, if anything.

    We use Christian Light for high school literature, but if they are interested in a classic that I don’t schedule, or I schedule only an excerpt, they are free to read it.



    I want to add that I agree it is determined on an individual that child basis. And there was a documentary I assigned dd17 that I got the wrong title and it was very inappropriate. She stopped watching and let me know right away.


    Thank you so much-all of these thoughts are extremely helpful to me-especially the emphasis on evaluating the individual child. For others who are struggling, a friend sent me this essay. I haven’t finished reading the whole thing yet, and I don’t endorse everything that comes out of BJU, but so far, a lot of what this says makes a lot of sense to me, and seems like the more balanced approach I’m looking for when it comes to making selections.


    Again, thank you so much for being willing to share-I appreciate and respect all of your perspectives.

    Rachel White

    I agree with missceegee. To Kill a Mockingbird is an incredible anti-racism book, showing nobility and courage in the face of it, among other themes, and, IMO, shouldn’t be missed due to a few instances of language, which you can train yourself and your child to replace, or skip, while reading.

    I will say that I vehemently disagree with the article’s author that natural rights are secular. The declaration reads: “…the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God… .” If the author’s view is the one taught by BJU history materials, then that’s distressing.

    We just finished reading some Hemingway stories. Although he doesn’t show the Truth of our worldview,  he does ask the best questions about the human experience and you and your child discuss his character’s struggles and answers to those universal questions in light of your worldview. It strengthened my son’s worldview because Hemingway’s is mostly, despairing and bleak, a result of his lack of hope and faith. His disillusionment which he and other author of that time period felt, as a result of WW I is worth talking about.

    Hemingway spoke truths, if we can discern them; and we don’t have to agree with his conclusions, but the discussion and deep thinking is what makes it worthwhile.

    Although, I wouldn’t recommend a steady diet of him or to all people or to some people at certain times of their lives.

    Same principles apply to great science fiction and dystopian novels, like iRobot and Fahrenheit 451. Authors are usually non-religious or atheist, but the ideas they propose and concerns about humanity and tech, especially, are important considerations (eerily prophetic) and make for a thoughtful and discerning read and discussion.

    The Circe Institute has many good articles dealing with these issues.



    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Rachel. I didn’t read the part about natural rights/secular as being the view the author held, but rather as an example of the arguments and conclusions of those who hold to an eclusivist view of censorship in education. I’m not overly familiar w/ BJU materials-so I can’t speak to their history, but we have used their high school lit courses, and they do include some of the authors mentioned in these comments-Hemmingway, is in fact read and discussed in American Lit.

    Rachel White

    We do not teach the Declaration of Independence, for its arguments are based on the secularist idea of natural rights.


    This statement is in the context of why an excusivist would need to avoid Shakespeare as well as the Declaration of Independence. Why? Because Shakespeare has witches and ghosts (a fact) and the declaration’s ” arguments are based on the secularist idea of natural rights.” So, it seems strongly by the context that the author is stating this himself as a point of fact about the declaration as a reason why exclusivists would avoid it, not that it’s only their view.

    Glad to hear they have that variety in their lit program.  Let’s not forget, that Tolkien used the pagan myths to teach the gospel to C.S. Lewis. If our children go to college, even a strongly traditional, less secular one, they need to be able to argue and reason on behalf of the Truth, using literature which has truths in it, but not the Truth.

    Don’t get me wrong, there is real trash out there and everyone must choose according to their conscience. But I think most of the garbage comes from after the 1970s, not the ’20’s, for example.

    And we do have to consider our children’s disposition’s. But, ultimately, we aren’t raising children, but adults. Adults who won’t be paralyzed out in the world, nor desensitized by it, either.

    I have a stronger distaste for movies with bad language than books, and I am very strict about sexual content in both. The mind’s eye is very vivid.

    Little Women

    I did a workshop on this a few years ago.   I will try to condense my notes into a post.  🙂   I hope it’s not too long for this thread.  (Any books listed are my own opinion, and I’m fine if others disagree–just know WHY you disagree. 🙂 )

    I don’t mind if a book is sad (Romeo and Juliet) or if depicts evil (The Hiding Place), or if it is dystopian but with a purpose (The Giver).   I do have a problem if:

    -the evil is without purpose

    -if there is guilt without redemption (A Separate Peace, imho, though some like this book a lot so I presume they disagree with my assessment)

    -if it depicts life as hopeless, purposeless,or governed by an impersonal and mostly negative “fate” (Oedipus Rex)

    -if it contains occult elements, New Age, terror and loathing, as many teen fiction seems to have, today.


    There are some good reasons to read even some of the darker books, though. Besides the quote given by someone else from C. S. Lewis, here is another that is relevant, imho:

    “If only there were evil people somewhere, insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago.     Dark literature can be worthwhile if it helps us see this line in our own hearts.

    Other reasons I think it can be valid to study some of these darker books are:

    A. to think through philosophical or moral issues more deeply

    B. to experience something vicariously, so you don’t do the same stupid thing yourself; as a warning

    C. to understand how the “rest of the world” thinks/lives, to understand their historical/religious/philosophical viewpoints; some of this may be necessary.

    D. to watch/participate in growth  (This only works if growth is permitted–in story The Mayor of Casterbridge, eg, growth does not really occur–all is wiped out by fate. [disclaimer–I have not read this book; this is based on my dh’s recollections of his high school reading.)

    E. Stories without plot are boring (Andrew Pudewa,IEW)

    F. May be example of very vivid writing or allow exploration of particular stylistic issue.   (Julius Caesar, eg, though it doesn’t really fit my definition of “dark” lit, allows discussion of irony, propaganda, demagoguery, and more.)

    G. Catharsis (It can be nice to see someone with more problems than I have!  This should probably be small quantities, as it can be easily overdone.)

    Here is another quote, this one from World magazine.  It’s about movies, but I think it applies to books, as well:

    “[Secular films] get sin right–the lure of it, the cost of it, and the beauty human beings are capable of when….they rise above it….these depictions can be enriching, but what they don’t show is a lasting solution to the sin and suffering question….    [Christian films] rarely know how to approach sin and suffering in a realistic manner…. They then offer a solution that is real, but appears trivial and nearly powerless juxtaposed to the problems it solves.” (World, April 24, 2010, p. 17)

    And yet one more quote:

    “…spend a lot of time on whole books, books where good is portrayed as good and good wins out over evil in the end. Broken books are those where good is good and bad is bad but bad wins. Bent books are books that portray evil as good and good as evil and they basically stir up the sin tendencies of the reader. Healing books can be either whole or broken, these are the books that make you want to go out and fix what’s wrong with their message.” (From a friend’s description of a section of A Thomas Jefferson Education, by Oliver DeMille)

    My own list of possible solutions:

    A. pick and choose carefully

    B. Do some, but limit total number and percentage of dark books.

    C. Make sure not to miss some of the great, older classics, both Christian and secular      (Homer through Augustine to Dickens, say–look at some of the older “great books” lists)

    Older books (from Christian era) may still have darkness, but it’s not usually without purpose or redemption.)

    D.  Discuss, discuss, discuss!   Help kids see the meaning that you see, as adult.  Prepare them with what to watch for, ask what they saw, and talk about Biblical concepts that relate.   I was really surprised, reading back through some books I hated as a teen, to see how much depth was really there that I completely missed because nobody talked about it.   (I’m looking at you, Jane Eyre! 🙂 )

    E. Teach them how to choose for themselves.  Let them tell you if a book is too much for them.   (Do not force them into a situation that makes them stumble.)   Ask them:  When would you put down a book?  How would you tell if a book is likely to be worth struggling through?  They will be doing this themselves, pretty soon!

    Then here at the end is where I put in the C.S. Lewis quote:

    “Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise, you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”   C.S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” found online


    (The concepts and wording of this are copyrighted, 2017, by myself.  If you would like to use them in any other context, please check with me first. Thank you!)


    Little Women-That was excellent! Thank you so much for sharing!


    Thanks for those quotes, two were new to me.

    The Lewis one that we both quoted hung on my son’s wall with a knight helmet for years. 😊

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