Michelle Stimpson 

Michelle Stimpson Bestselling author Michelle Stimpson has penned several works, including Boaz Brown, Divas of Damascus Road (Essence® Bestseller), Breaking Bondage to Biscuits, The Good Stuff, and her young adult novel, Trouble In My Way. She also publishes short stories through her educational publishing company, Right Track Academic Support Services, LLC. Michelle serves in the Creative Tyme Ministry at her home church, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, and is currently pursing her ministerial license. She ministers to women through her online newsletter: www.womengrowinginchrist.com. Michelle lives near Dallas with her husband and their two teenage children.

What Are Our Kids Reading?

Three years ago, students at Redan High School in Stone Mountain, Georgia, were required to have parental permission to check out from the school library books with explicit material. But, according to a Redan student, the safeguard was subverted by forgery and parents who willingly gave permission for their teens to read material written for adult audiences.

When Sylvia Evans, a middle school teacher in Dallas, confiscated a book that was circulating around her classroom during instruction, she was shocked to read the highlighted passage that caused her students to giggle all over the room. Imagine her surprise when Miss Evans asked the owner of the novel where she got it, and the twelve-year-old replied, “My daddy bought it for me.”

Miss Evans didn’t believe the girl, but a phone call home confirmed the child’s claim. “I’m just glad she’s reading,” the father declared.

While we are all encouraged to see teens reading, parents should be concerned when their kids read material containing explicit sex and violence. “Reading is much more interactive than listening to music or watching television. When we read novels, we fill in the missing details with what we know—our friends, our surroundings, our backgrounds, ourselves—to create personalized mental images that help us comprehend what we’re reading,” says Dr. Elizabeth Luse, a reading specialist in Garland, Texas. “Taken together with the fact that teens are in the process of discovering and establishing their identities, it’s not a good idea to add destructive images to that process. The things they see or envision during these final formative years can still become permanent images inscribed on the brain’s hard drive.”

Music, movie, television, and video game producers have taken a step to inform parents of inappropriate content by implementing a rating system. Technology experts have developed means for parents to block certain Web sites. Until the book industry follows suit, however, the onus for supervising what children read rests squarely on parents’ shoulders.

But while parents may be verbally cautioning their children against reading explicit material, this scenario is perhaps a classic “do as I say, not as I do.” Adults in a free society are certainly at liberty to read whatever they wish to read. To place the topic in a larger context, however, one has to wonder why the African-American reading public (adult and juvenile alike) is so saturated with explicit reading material, often labeled “urban” literature. In the last forty years, African-Americans have made great strides toward refining our image—for ourselves, and for the world. There is perhaps no greater testament to this than the recent election of Barack Obama. But walking into a Black-owned bookstore or toward the African-American section of a national chain, one might think that the publishers of African-American fiction did not get the O-memo.

Toni, a stay-at-home mom from Oklahoma City, recalls a recent incident. “I was shopping with a Caucasian friend and she followed me to the African-American section of the bookstore. I can honestly say that I was embarrassed to stand back and look at all the degrading, porno-looking book covers displayed on our two

little shelves in the bookstore.” Such incidents raise the questions: Is this really how we see ourselves? Is this how we want others to see us? Perhaps most important, is this how we want our children to see themselves?

Michelle Stimpson, a former classroom teacher turned faith-based novelist, says she was inspired to write for young adults in hopes of steering the next generation toward more positive literature. “I would see them [students] reading books they had taken off their parents’ bookshelves and I knew the students were being exposed to things that no twelve-year-old should know.” Instead of complaining about the situation, Michelle put pen to paper and began writing vignettes for her middle school students. She later wrote short stories for reluctant high school readers and, in 2004, stepped on the literary stage as a Christian novelist. With the recent release of her first young adult novel, Trouble in My Way, Stimpson joins fellow best-selling authors Victoria Christopher Murray, Jacquelin Thomas, and ReShonda Tate Billingsley in writing faith-based fiction for teens.

Stimpson’s dedication page, which reads “For Our Girls,” is a reflection of her desire to inspire all girls to live a life of integrity during the difficult teen years. “I wanted to write something interesting and funny, yet responsible. I have two teens at home, so I know how tough it is to raise kids in this too-much-information age.”

The phenomenal success of Hill Harper’s Letters to a Young Brother and its subsequent female version, both aimed at young African-American readers, also answered the call for more positive literature. A quick browse through the dozens of comments posted at amazon.com about Harper’s books yields an overwhelming sentiment: It’s about time someone wrote something positive for our kids!

We the consumers have the opportunity to influence what is written on the hearts of the next generation’s readers and leaders. If we lead by example and vote with our dollars, we can program our children and grandchildren to achieve even greater success ahead.

Trouble In My Way