The popular notion at the moment is to write stories for middle school kids about tough issues facing them. We want them to be prepared and know how to face and handle complex issues...some of which we're not even comfortable facing or handling. BUT, they will know how.
Because they read about a girl in a book who faced that very same issue and saw how she handled it -- nevermind that the issue might be one some kids will never face or have to handle. Let's stress them out some more. Because, after all, if they don't know how to handle every issue that might come their way, they'll flounder.
What if they never even knew about certain issues? Would it really hurt them?
I write all of this tongue-in-cheek, of course.
I'm reminded of something we were taught in our prenatal parenting sessions. "Dress the baby for the weather, not based on what you're feeling."
So you, as an adult, think a story about a boy facing the death of his mother and learning how to deal with it and let go is a good thing. Because you're an adult and know how to handle such things. And a kid, of 9, 10, 11, should be able to handle it, too? How can you (with adult eyes) truly see it through the eyes of young person again?
We are doing our kids a disservice when we give them issues that are way too old and mature and complex for them to really need to think about. What happened to reading for entertainment? For pleasure? For a nice story about a nice family in a nice setting with happy thoughts?
Sure, life is definitely not always nice, but don't we all inherently know that without having to be reminded in books and television shows and movies?
Middle-grade readers read alone. They sit in their room or on the bus or in the library or on a blanket in the grass and read...and they take in all they are reading...alone. Those thoughts and ideas swirl around in their heads. They try to make sense of them. They try to handle the complex ideas of divorce and death and sex and relationships -- way before they need to -- alone. Certainly, some kids will chat with their parents about their reading materials. (Or, worse, with friends who are also just as uncertain.)
But, com'on, let's be honest. How many of us adults really take the proper amount of time to talk "lit" with our kids, to philosophy and mull over and exchange thoughts about what's being read, what the author might have meant, what the subject is about? How many have time? How many want to take time?
We're all too busy. And, heck, if the kids are reading, that's a good thing, right?
Reading for pleasure is an awesome thing. I'm a huge lover (and collector...see this post) of all things books. I worked for a publishing house, and I'm currently a newspaper correspondent. I love stories! I love the idea of reading and teaching it and teaching the love of it.
But what if the materials are unnecessarily too complex and stressful for our kids? What if we take a step back and say, "I love this book and what it's talking about...now...when I get it...knowing what I know at this moment."
What if ideas and concepts that are too big for our kids are putting unneeded worries and stress in their lives? What if they don't always need to know about certain problems until (and unless) they actually face them? What if we save such materials for then? So they know they're not alone...instead of making them worry "what if"s all the time?
When I was 10, my parents gave me a book of stories about kids and their struggles. One of the stories dealt with a girl whose parents divorced. I hadn't really heard much about divorce. I knew that my mom's parents (my grandparents) had divorced, but it didn't occur to me that someone my age could have divorced parents. The girl had to live a few days at a time at each parent's house, trying to figure out which to love each time. I worried myself sick over that story. I thought my parents would divorce, and I would be forced to choose, and that sickened my heart. Why did I really need to read that? So I'd be prepared? My parents will be married 55 years this June...it really wasn't an issue I needed to read about at 10. I would have learned in the years that followed more about divorce and kids having to spend their time split between their parents' homes...but I would have been more mature and less likely to fret so much.
Let's try to remember that children are young for such a short amount of time. There's no need to rush them into reading about the "issues" of the day. Let's let them stay innocent. And why not? We all know that time and life will change that.
Until then, keep these newer middle-grade books away and bring them out for the kids who need them...when they need them.
What do you think? Is this an issue you faced as a child? What books do you remember reading that you felt too young for?