Looking at the themes of my own book made me wonder about books for children these days…It begins with the line ‘Freya was seven-years-old when she got hit by the car. It was a 4×4 with a bull bar.’ It deals with death from the outset, and continues with themes of grief and guilt. However it is balanced by the inclusion of Freya’s heaven…as seen from a seven-year-old’s point of view and purposely laden with rainbows and flowers and sparkly things…Hope and insight is gained from death, grief and terminal illness, dreams are wished for and ultimately our dreams are the things that give us hope. When we strive for the things we dream of…we triumph.
But these strong themes of death and grief made me wonder…Should we protect children and teens from specific themes in books?
These days any subject matter under the sun is up for grabs and writers contend with them in many different ways.
I enjoy books of all varieties and genres, and it made me think back to my own days of reading, curled up on a sofa or turning pages by torchlight beneath the covers, well past my bedtime…
My childhood was spent reading. I was a frequent customer of a tiny local bookstore in the backstreets of Brighton with a shelf in the back room full of second hand children’s books, where I spent a good hour or more choosing books while the little, white-haired, old lady who owned the shop sat reading novels or sorting stock. She kept a pile of ‘Famous Five’ books aside for my visits and it didn’t matter how ragged they were, I still wanted to buy them!
So what did I read when I was small?
Everything I could lay my hands on…when I graduated from picture books, I discovered Enid Blyton, ‘The Castle of Adventure’ had me hiding inside the gorse bushes with Philip, Dinah, Jack and Lucy-Ann as they out-foxed thieves and smugglers! Then came the aforementioned ‘Famous Five’, I wasn’t a ‘Secret Seven’ fan, I wanted to be tomboy George! I also devoured ‘Malory Towers’ and ‘St Clares’ and longed to attend boarding school with Darrell Rivers and her friends… and can you believe it there’s actually a tongue-in-cheek website here
informing you of Darrell and her cohorts whereabouts now…weird!
I spent the last of my preteen years reading horsey stories…I adored ‘The Silver Brumby’ series by Elyne Mitchell, I read them over and over and over again…Patricia Leitch’s ‘Jinny’ series, all the ‘Jill’ books by Ruby Ferguson, and anything by the Pullien-Thompsons.
Horse books were interspersed with ‘Watership Down’, ‘Duncton Wood’, ‘The Tuesday Dog’ any animal stories and anything by Malcolm Saville, especially ‘The Lone Pine Five’.
Then I will be forever grateful to my middle school teacher Mr Lawrence who introduced us to fantasy, he read Susan Cooper’s ‘Over sea, Under Stone’ with such enthusiasm and verve that I fell in love with the genre. I spent a whole summer immersed in ‘The Dark is Rising’ Sequence…
That was it…then followed Tolkien…’The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’…my life was complete and I would be life-long fantasy fan!
My teenage reading collection grew and grew and was eclectic. I loved Judy Blume, beginning with ‘Blubber’, getting my English teacher to let us read ‘Tiger Eyes’ as a class when we were fourteen, and my embarrassment with ‘Forever’ as a very naive fifteen-year-old! This is where the diversity in my collection began, reading about love, jealousy ‘Jacob Have I Loved’ Katherine Paterson, anorexia ‘Second Star to the Right’ Deborah Hautzig, parental desertion and adventure in ‘Homecoming’ Cynthia Voigt, Concentration Camps and escape ‘I am David’ Anne Holm, pregancy ‘Dear Nobody’ Berlie Doherty, and much more, death, guilt, murder, abuse, relationships, classics like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Harper Lee, ‘Little Women’ Louise May Alcott and (forgive me) a stage of ‘Sweet Valley High’…
Thus you can see that my reading was vast in themes and ideas!
I’ve even kept most of my books, but sadly many are boxed up in the attic after, I’m ashamed to say, my own children prefer the X-Box… sacrilegious! My youngest is my most prolific reader and loves to write herself, so at least I have one chip-off-the-old-block!
So, no I don’t think children or young adults should be protected from certain themes, obviously I don’t want young children reading about sex or being exposed to true adult themes at an early age, but most themes are relevant to teens and important in their lives.
It was my own book that made me ask the question…and ultimately I believe that books are what encourages us to dream…to capture experiences that we may never find ourselves. We find ourselves in the books we read, whether it be acceptance or rebellion, adventure or peace, love or hate…it’s all there…and books were how I learned to express myself. A love of vastly different books taught me to embrace this weird and wonderful culture in which we live!
As my character old Thomas says as he is told to let go of ‘his silly dreams’, “…it’s those silly dreams that keep us alive.”
Variety is the spice of life!
(Title quote by Matthew Prior-The Turtle and the Sparrow)