Even when you don’t think kids are paying attention, they are.
This doesn’t just apply to hushed discussions of upcoming birthday presents or coded messages about impending bedtimes. Kids “get” the themes in books they read and movies they see, often more than you would ever expect for their age.
This struck home for me when Mighty Mite and his daddy came back from seeing Mr. Popper’s Penguins. I normally jump at the chance to see kid movies with my children, using the excuse that it’s research for my books. Never mind that I watched The Lion King five times, years before I ever considered becoming a children’s author. But I have an allergic reaction to Jim Carrey, so I drafted Dad to take Mighty Mite this time. Afterwards, I was eager to hear the recap.
It was like a comedy sketch:
Mighty Mite: “It was about this guy that goes to Antarctica to get penguins and he brings them back to his apartment.”
Dad: *shakes head*
Mighty Mite: “Then an evil zookeeper kidnaps the penguins and the eggs, and Mr. Popper has to rescue them.”
Dad: “Um, that’s not really what happened.”
Mighty Mite: “And then, he finds a letter that tells him the secret of how to get the penguins back.”
Dad: “Um, no. Not that either.”
Me: “So, did you learn something from the movie?”
Mighty Mite: “Yeah! That you should take care of the things you have, that are important to you. Because one day you might lose them, and then you’ll wish you had them back.”
Dad: *stunned silence* “Actually, that’s right.”
Moral of the story: Even though he got all the plot points wrong, and spiced it up in his own mind (evil zookeeper, anyone?), the theme of the story shone through.
This is something very important to me as an author – I want to make sure the themes in my stories are lessons that I want children to learn. Because I know these ideas will seep into their minds and become part of the lexicon of their world. Sometimes the themes that I write on the page don’t always match the themes I set out to write. Sometimes the theme evolves as I write, and I don’t discover what the story is truly about until I’m done writing it. But I’m very careful that, in the end, the theme is something I want children to hear, absorb and contemplate.
Because I know they are listening.