Monday, April 2, 2012

Tough Topics for Children's Books

When I started writing for children one of the questions, or concerns I had was if I should have my characters kill people. Monsters are okay, but people? What about criminals? Maybe. But is any of it appropriate subject material? I ask these questions as if children don’t see and experience dreaded awfulness all around them. My internal conflict is somewhat comical and I do laugh at myself over it.

When I expressed my overall cognitive dissonance to a children’s writer that I highly respect, she said that children were capable of handling difficult subject matter and gave me some examples. Her wisdom caused me to reconsider my perspective and that enabled me to expand my point of view. Of course that’s always the mark of a good mentor/teacher.

Continuing to ponder the subject, I free floated over to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Now mind you, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. And I saw the movie, which I felt compressed the story line into an impossibly small space.

The plot is about nine-year-old Oskar Schell dealing in his own way with the aftermath of 9-11 in which his father died.  He believes his father has left him a key that may be a clue to finding the 6th Borough of New York, which has disappeared. Oskar, who is brilliant in his own way, sets about finding what the key opens, which he hopes reveals a secret message from his dad just for him. But because he is so highly intelligent, he also understands that his adventure is to really find more time with his father. More importantly his quest is to make sense of the 9-11 tragedy, which he’s desperate to do.

The book is excellent and I believe the author truly gives us a unique perspective on how at least one small child tries to explain the unexplainable. But as I cried through both the book and the squished up movie, I ask myself if this topic is one about which a children’s book should be written? I have no firm answer.

Children did deal, and continue to deal with 9-11 in real life, so why not in a book? Would you pick such a book off the shelf and have your fifth grader read it? Please leave a comment and tell me what you think.

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