I’ve had a blissful weekend disruption in which I didn’t even open my iPad or computer once. Le Novio visited for the weekend in my den of shame to help me finish my Harry Potter Marathon properly (also, to take his movies back because they were, in fact, his). I am sorry to have not blogged though.
I have been reading a lot of children’s novels lately. Naturally. I’ve done my best to submerse myself into this world. And I can’t help but think that children’s literature is a bit… bleak. I’ve read more terrifying stuff in the Juvenile section of the library than in some (emphasis on some) Stephen King novels.
I worked with kids for the past few years. Young kids. The oldest was five. They loved to make me tell the same stories on repeat. Mostly (because it was kill-me-now o’clock in the morning), this just meant I summarized Disney movies for them. That wasn’t so bad, except you can only tell the story of Cinderella so many times before you want to drill holes in your head.
So then I started making up stories. These were sometimes great, but mostly impossible. Because it’s hard to french-braid a wiggling three-year-old’s hair while creating a valid plot. Children are exhausting and brilliant and hilarious and horrible all at once. It leaves very little available mental capacity to try and keep up with that all day.
I read a bit of Harry Potter to the oldest and she was astute enough to understand, although our practice was always cut-short. Then one day the kids begged me to tell them story of A Series of Unfortunate Events (I had an old t-shirt with the orphans on it). I made it about halfway before their mother stopped me and told me it was too much for them. This struck a chord with me… I hadn’t considered the story too bleak. There’s a blatant morose element to it, but the overall theme is quite positive (the idea of children solving problems when the adults don’t even realize there is one; the Baudelaire’s always rescue theirselves).
After that incident, their parents decided they didn’t want me to tell their kids stories where the parents die at the beginning (not a rule I’d personally go on, but understandable in a way, they were quite young) or with any death in general. If you really sit down and think about it, that means just about every Disney movie is off the table. Ok, that’s fine. Harry Potter is out, too. For some reason their father still told them Star Wars, which seemed a little hypocritical to me, but I blame myself for that because I’d tried to explain an Ewok to a curious girl and the story kind of grew from there. Really, without death, I had a very narrow field.
I told a highly abridged version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe where… where really four nice kids go to a magical land and meet a mean witch and a nice lion. No longer able to share the bad things with the kids, I found there was nothing to share. I could make characters for them, but I couldn’t make them do anything. If nothing bad could happen… then nothing at all could happen!
Somehow there’s a huge hole in children’s literature from picture books to chapter books… Read a picture book. The worst thing that happens is that maybe a kid gets in trouble with an adult. Once a real plot is introduced, even in earlier readers like Dahl, things get dark.
Childhood is vibrant, colorful, bright, and frightening. Everything is a bit scary when you’re small. You’re learning all sorts of horrible things every day, and trying to deal with all of that emotionally. And when you’re a teenager, everything is a bit angsty. But to try and keep everything happy and good for your kids is perpetuating nothing but a lie. A bold lie. The kind of lie that makes being a teenager (and realizing it’s such a lie) seem so impossible. I think children’s literature is the gentlest way for a child to realize that bad things do happen. I think, without qualms, that it’s good for kids to be introduced to some horrible things through literature. They’re going to learn it eventually… all they are really being protected from, then, is how to cope when these bad things do inevitably happen.
I wanted, when making my world, to make it eccentric and wonderful. Harry Potter’s magical world is quite dreary, but magic illuminates it. My world is the magic. That’s the fun and beautiful part. The story, though, is dark. It’s always going to be dark. It has to be dark. But I’m starting to feel… Most of these stories border on complete hopelessness far beyond the realms of reality.
Does the story have to be bleak to make it good? Everything has to be at stake? Do or die? Everything on the line? Is that what keeps the pages turning?
Ante up. Guess I’m all in.