The planets’ aligning caused this unnecessary post on my blog.
First I finished a month of writing a poem a day in the NaPoWriMo cohort. (By the end of the month bad doggerel was tripping off my tongue whichever way I looked, not a good outcome.) However I am now iPad loose and fancy free.
Second my wonderful teacher daughter started off a survey, on Twitter no less, about children’s classic books and what we read as children. Third was that as a consequence I had a long interesting conversation with each of my son-in-laws about what they read as children. Each of them is a non-violent, thoughtful, hard working member of society and a wonderful parent.
Lastly, yesterday, the organization Generation Next asked for violence to be removed from children’s books and published an interesting post by Naomi Cook which asked the question (and she more or less answered her question in the positive), “Should we write violence out of children’s books?”.
Here we have two of the greatest interests for me on this planet coming together in what seems to me a massive astronomical collision, child development and books. How can a black hole of non-matter be avoided in this collision?
Should children’s books be yet another area in which we have “helicopter parenting”? This type of parenting is bad enough when children, merely because of the very loving but over terrified care some parents give them, become frightened of their own shadows. It also tends to lead to an expectation that, while bad things sometimes happen in the world, a particular family can be exempt because of high vigilance. None of this is helpful or realistic. To limit children’s knowledge of real violence and its presence in the world is a mistake. In my opinion they should, however, be also brought up to think it usually is avoidable. Options which are an alternative to violence should be widely discussed.
I have been a long time campaigner against censorship per se. I am conceited enough to think any censor has much less acumin and knowledge than I have to decide what will be damaging for me, and if I think this, then the same has got to apply to everyone else.
But I do agree that children are a little different and therefore certain programs should be scheduled on the media when they are in bed or pornographic DVDs should be stored in a high cupboard! I rather despise TV programs or games filled with gratuitous violence and feel free say this loudly to anyone watching such a program. This tendency of mine can develop into a feisty argument that, I feel, harms nobody. Children need to learn the art of debate.
It is concerning, as Ms Cook has said, that we can all potentially be desensitized by unrealistic violence on screen or in games, where death is rarely final and massive injury is instantly brushed off by the brave. This has been around for some years, as far back as Disney, if we look at the example even of the Road Runner. Recent developments in computer generation have made animations much more realistic than in those days. On the other hand being exposed to realistic violence such as some scenes we saw on television during the Vietnam War, can and often does have positive consequences.
But these issues do not apply to books. Books require much more effort to absorb and much more imagination to interpret. We underrate children’s capacity to do this. I did not like the message when reading The Hunger Games, but, despite their popularity they were somewhat derided by many of the young. One grandson gave me a published “send up” version to read which was very popular and which was doing the rounds of his friends!
Another protection is that if books are not understood they are often abandoned. One of my sons, a very early, avid reader asked could he read a James Bond novel. My few concerns were allayed very soon. He asked, part way into the book if it was all right to skip some pages. Of course I said, “Yes”, as I agree that skipping is a great asset in some books, but, out of interest, I asked him what pages he wished to skip. He replied that it was boring when women took off their clothes and danced with pineapples on their heads. Fair enough for a seven year old. Gratuitous violence can be and often is treated the same way.
Returning to Ms Cook’s comments, I support her view that, if it were not necessary for her plot, it was better not to have a scene which involved a man being eaten by a crocodile in her book. But, if she did decide this was a necessary scenario, the reader has time to digest this information, match it with alternatives or reasons for the event or decide to skip those paragraphs.
Children have their own way of interpreting what they do not understand but, in books they can do this slowly and with thought and sometimes after asking questions. Violence is part of life. We do not want to eliminate any part of ordinary living from their world nor can we do so effectively. It is not a healthy or educational way of preparing any child for the future. We do not need to helicopter them away from the notion of violence. After all we kill and feed animals to our children. Before the age of two they can link the fluffy, feathery toy they cuddle with chicken nuggets. But what we need to do is to encourage children’s writers to deal with the ethics of violence. I think many do already.
Dr Seuss does. He links rights with responsibilities. Enid Blyton did. The naughtiest girl in the school often shocked the reader. The plethora of avid Biggles readers, which included myself did not grow up war mongrels or anti German. There were some gender issues in many of the old classics but some of us still grew up feminist. And there was a great deal of fun and adventure.
I am no authority on what happens in fantasy books as I read very little In that genre, but even John Wyndham has some messages for discussion in his books. I am led to believe, from the brief discussions I have had with fantasy reading children, that there are goodies and baddies. I certainly know that ethics is heavily discussed in Halo Reach.
Ethics and the meaning of actions can not so easily be or are not always raised in short films and in games operated by children. But the same cannot be said of books. This makes them a great medium for discussing the thorny topics in life.
Let us not so sanitize the world for children that they grow up emotionally crippled as adults by being either frightened of or disappointed in what they ultimately discover life is.