In this post I discuss writing for children and it’s wider implications for society.
I do not approach this subject as a mother, but as a commentator of what is at stake for society. If humans wish to evolve, we should expect that our children will live in improved societies of the future. But it is today’s children who will create the future, so it follows that what is fed into their minds is going to ultimately affect the culture of future society.
Simply put, parents need to raise a happy child who has the tools to contribute to society when they are an adult. I realize that many parents don’t have time to look at the long view as they rush about in the present world. I am bashing this system, but am willing to explain why.
I believe that childhood experience/exposure affects child and adult behaviour. Violence in the media makes a good example. It is damaging and has unconscious long-term effects. I believe that parents must have a hard time protecting their children from harmless looking media that promotes violence (not to mention guns). Virtual characters in video/computer games playing out violent scenarios seems wrong to me. The human brain still computes the violence whether animated, on screen or real. Kids are sensitive, they need monitoring.
So when I find that a Lit Agent wants stories full of ‘action’ with intense writing designed to grip the child my reaction is to turn away. Kids who thrive on this genre will read a comic. In my opinion a book is for savouring.
Remember that lovely moment when you have read a paragraph that flows so beautifully, rolling with rhythm and revelation that you have to read it again. That is so delicious. Better than Lemon Meringue (or equal to it!).
Why encourage children to steam through action packed throw away material? It implies to me that the literary world wants kids to chew up material as fast as possible, the shallower the story the better, just so that the book will be finished and the parents will have to buy another one. (Consume little air head, stuff yourself full and tell yourself how clever you are to get through the story so fast).
Sorry, but that is not my way. Adult skills can be learned in childhood. One incredibly subtle, but important tool is self discipline. Children who do not learn self discipline face difficulties in adulthood. Reading is an excellent tool for learning self discipline.First of all you have to actually learn to read. Then you have to concentrate on understanding what you are reading, not to mention ordering your life to allow you the space to sit and read. Quieting the mind and making an effort as well as processing the information that you have read, all takes self discipline. Reading can be a challenge that is relished as a good writer reveals an alternative universe.
The writers who helped me escape from the reality of my childhood offered me a passage to their world, built especially to entertain me. What a privilege. Life was slower then. Even Blue Peter was broadcast in muted colours. Children’s media today seems fast and gaudy. The senses are flooded repeatedly. And the result seems to desensitize the viewer or reader. The next treat has to be bigger, then bigger again. Disappointment is ultimately inevitable, surely?
So I am unafraid to add descriptions and to bring out the poetry of a piece of writing. I will not be panicked about building up the plot, keeping the reader engaged and entertained with the flow of the story. I trust the self discipline of my reader to engage with the world I have built and follow the path through it to the end.
Part of the fun should be discovering the characters, learning new ideas and relishing the ending.
So shove your modern consumerist ideas about children’s writing. I will do it my way. My wish is to write stories that stand the test of time. I want children to enjoy my stories when the system has changed and there is time to read to your child and spend time with your child instead of sitting for hours on a train or in a traffic jam, wondering if your child’s asthma will be worse when you get home.
My writing is a protest to our present system. But instead of hand wringing and chirping along with the multitudes mantra of ‘ain’t it awful’ I want to create something for the future to benefit mankind. They are only stories, but that is my contribution. They are designed to harmlessly entertain kids after a hard day of rocket science.
Evolution has given us the capacity to think and processes and enquire. Instead of using our imaginations to plot a downfall or plan a petty victory, why not positively create? We all loved stories when we were kids and that wont change, the world can go to shit but the children still need a bedtime story. Its a form of nourishment like food. The lit agent who wants action probably feeds her kids chips with everything. I suppose its a matter of taste. I propose children’s literature should entertain and stretch a child, surely that is better for our children and ultimately the future of society?