Dear Book Lovers,

I haven’t forgotten you. I read two books for kids at the beginning of last week and then spent the rest of the week wrestling with one of them.

I wanted to recommend it. It had a sympathetic protagonist, a page-turning plot, an interesting setting with good, well-researched details, some references to God and His ways and a writing style that would have nurtured reading skills. Yes, lots of good stuff. But–and this is what I wrestled with all week—the protagonist, a child, was a thief.

OK, you want a protagonist to have a flaw or two. Flaws humanize the protagonist, give him/her dimension; they can incite conflict, and they can be instruments of character change and growth. But in this book the author did not make it clear to the young reader that stealing is a serious flaw. The child reader was led to think that while stealing can result in problems, it was still OK to steal small things if you were desperately poor and if you were likeable.

I did an article on stealing a while back. In the course of my research I interviewed a security expert. He told me that businesses could fail, a whole chain of stores could go Chapter 11, when they could not “control their inventory”–they were being stolen blind by shop lifters and/or their employees. That surprised me. I never factored theft into business failures. I guess a little thieving here and a little thieving there can add up to big losses– an owner out of a business, an employee out of a job and a community out of a resource for goods.

Stealing doesn’t just hurt “the rich” who are stolen from. My research also led me to an organization that worked with the courts to rehabilitate shop-lifters. It seems that in the real world stealing can become addictive. Shoplifters who are not initially caught experience a “rush” in subsequent attempts as they outwit shop clerks and security systems. I was told it takes a lot of effort for recovering shop-lifters to overcome their former habit.

Stealing, I learned, was not something our society can afford to be casual about. So nope, I’m not going to recommend the book I read for kids.