My link yesterday to the Top 10 Dads in Science Fiction and Fantasy got me thinking about the choices characters make in children’s books, both kidlit and young adult.
Often parents are removed from a story, through death, kidnapping, or incompetence, leaving room for the child characters to have the epic adventures and magical journeys that provide the meat of the story. This sort of story-starter is so common that we can be hard pressed to find a child character that has an intact family. I don’t think this is as dire as it sounds, but I would like to see more strong Dad characters.
With the general lack of parental oversight, child characters sometimes make bad choices. In fact, the main adventure of a story may be caused, or at least exacerbated, by our characters making the wrong choice in a situation. After all, if they didn’t venture into that dark cavern, when all good sense not to mention the camp rules, dictate that they should go home and stay snug in their beds … well, we wouldn’t have much of a story, would we?
So making some bad choices, or simply less-than-prudent ones, may be necessary for a story. But what about writing the kinds of characters that we want children (both kids and teens) to emulate? Do kidlit writers have an obligation to write stories that show children the right choices to make? Or do kidlit writers need to provide stories that reflect the (sometimes) harsh realities of life, where not everything has a happy ending, and where bad things happen to good people?
In some senses, stories have always been the way that we explain the world – to ourselves, to our children, to each other. The best of these stories hold lessons about life that have meaning in the real world – even if they are high entertainment along the way. I believe kidlit writers have an obligation to tell these kinds of powerful stories, even more than adult writers. Simply because the impact of a story on a child can be so far reaching.
Do you think kidlit writers have an obligation to have their child characters make good choices?
ALSO: This week I will be posting EVERY DAY. This is because I have a VERY SPECIAL announcement to make … AND A CONTEST! So please check back tomorrow! (Hint: the announcement will have something to do with character choices …)