Thursday, April 12, 2012

Children's Biggest Heroes

Last week a friend of mine brought me a manuscript. She had written a story and entered it into a competition. She did not win and she wanted my opinion on how she could improve the story. I read the story. Her writing style, her voice was good and I encouraged her to keep writing. The story needed some editing, but not enough to completely turn off a judge. The story had a good plot,a climax, moving dialogue and so on and would probably have been a commendable if her target audience was an adult.

But it was not.

In her story, the main character's mom steps in and saves the day. She conquers the bully and
teaches all the children about why bulling is wrong. All the research and literature on children's books will tell you that children don't appreciate stories where the problems are solved by the all-powerful adult. Adults may guide and support, but the ultimate solution must come from the children themselves.

I have heard parents complain about modern children TV shows. In the popular ones, the children seem to go about their lives with little adult supervision. They make their own decisions, break rules and deal with the consequences on their own. Conscientious parents don't like it because (most of us won't admit this) the shows make them look over-bearing and over-protective. But the truth is that those shows are successful for the very reason we dislike them. Children want to watch TV shows and read books that take them away from their adult-dominated reality into a world where they can solve their own problems. Most children understand that this is fantasy but enjoy it nonetheless. They want to see themselves as heroes and creators of their own destiny.

So, if you are writing for children, don't make your adult self the hero, turn back the clock and imagine the tall buildings you could have leaped over when you were young.

As you read this, I will be exploring South Africa so please excuse me if my responses to any comments are a bit slow. See you again when I post on April 29.


William Doonan said...

Growing up, I loved Encyclopedia Brown for the reasons you mention. Kids solving crimes in a world where parents are part of the background - what kind of kid wouldn't want that?

Charles Gramlich said...

Excellent point. I hadn't really thought of it before but those were the kinds of books I wanted to read as a kid myself.

Liane Spicer said...

I'm trying to recall the books I loved as a child and yes, you're right. The children were autonomous. Parents were background figures, if they were featured at all.