Both of my kids love books.

Like other parents raising bookworms, we started reading to them before it seemed like they were even listening. We read little board books, holding up the pages and pointing to words and colors as we read. Now they each read more than two chapter books a week, and at a level three to five grades higher than their age.

This is wonderful, of course, and there’s nothing better than hours of quiet as they delve into their most recent treasure.

But now that they are older, it’s not as easy to choose the right books for them. As we learned the hard way recently, you can’t just grab the first book that catches your eye. 

Last weekend, our family made up a small crowd of people waiting outside Barnes and Noble for the doors to open. The woman who works there said it happens all the time. Almost every day. In a world of Amazon and online stores, apparently the book store is not dead! 

When the doors opened, my kids sprinted to find their next literary adventure. My oldest grabbed a book with a bright blue cover and a description that read like a Percy Jackson novel. What I didn't realize until later, is that it had more than half a dozen graphic sex scenes hidden in the pages. 

Even now, when I search the cover and description, there’s no way I could have known by looking at it that it would include that sort of content.

I want my bookworms to be challenged and have a broad reading experience, but I also want to be able to make educated decisions about the kind of topics they will be encountering. I realize now, after this debacle, that I need to be more on my toes if I want that to happen. I’d love to say I could read every book I hand my kids, but there’s no way I could keep up with even one of them, let alone both.

I tried to find websites that rate books like they do movies but, unfortunately, I didn’t have much luck. There were a few sites, such as commonsensemedia.org, but they don’t have many books. They certainly didn't have the 2011 best seller in question listed.

So I’ve resorted to Amazon reviews.

I pull up the book, click to see all the reviews and read what others are saying about the book. There’s almost always a few good Samaritans who have read the book and taken the time to discuss the content maturity level. Everything they write gives me clues as to whether the book might be OK for my kids. You can even search specific words within the reviews such as "sex" or "violence."

Going forward, I plan to keep a running list of books I think my kids would like; books I’ve already spent a little time checking into.

As my boys get older — and even now with my oldest son — I plan to engage them in the book selection process to teach them the skills they need to pick out books they can feel good about.

I’m not giving up on those magical trips to the bookstore, even if we have to check Amazon quick before we head to the checkout. There’s just something about being surrounded by all those books that makes this bookworm mother’s heart full.

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Jenni DeWitt is married and has two sons, the youngest of whom battled childhood leukemia — and won. Jenni writes weekly for Momaha.com. She is the author of “Forty Days” and “Why Won’t God Talk to Me?” You can read more about Jenni here.

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