Friday, December 7, 2018

A Time for Every Story


In recent months, I’ve come across a few excellent posts and twitter discussions about the importance of including sad or difficult stories in children’s books (including one here on MG Minded), and I agree 100%. The world needs these stories. Kids need these stories, so much. I love the “windows and mirrors” metaphor for books – the idea that books can be both windows that offer a glimpse into worlds very different from our own, thereby increasing empathy, and mirrors that reflect something of our own experience, making us feel less alone. Both types of stories are so very important, and both types often, and necessarily, include sad, scary, or otherwise difficult topics.

When my daughter was diagnosed with cancer a couple years ago, I was thrown into depression for the first time in my life. Not that I hadn’t faced difficult situations in life before…of course I had. But depression was new for me. Having a kid with cancer was new for me. It was easy to feel alone in my sadness, even though I wasn’t. 

Books have long been for me places of refuge, and they have been comforters, escapes, eye-openers, entertainers, heart-breakers, and heart-menders. So naturally, when life gave me lemons, I opened a book. (Wow, way to mess up the clichéd metaphor there, Shari.) However, instead of craving mirror books – books that reflected what I was going through – I found such stories traumatizing. I would've thought they'd ignite a spark of hope for me, as I witnessed a character I related to find their way through difficult times. But instead, mirror stories often struck too close to the wound. As a self-protective measure, I refused to read any more sick-kid books. Many of the books I missed out on probably have a good measure of hopefulness tucked into the story, but I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) immerse myself in the heartache long enough to get to the hope.

I’m better now, but I still find myself intentionally avoiding sad stories. And you know, that’s okay. Sad and serious books are often called important books, and they are. But happy, silly, funny, “light” books are important, too. Some days I need light. Some days I need silly or sassy or ridiculous. Some days, when I look at the state of our world, I simply need happiness and hope, and I expect I’m not alone in this.

Writers, keep writing the serious stories. Keep tackling the tough topics. We need those books. But if the stories that call you are of the lighter variety, then please, write them. Don’t ever tell yourself you’re not doing important work. We absolutely need happy books, too. To misquote completely rip off and rewrite a famous passage from Ecclesiastes: To every book, there is a reader, and a time for every story under heaven.

We can trust kids to put down books that aren’t right for them emotionally. We can trust them to know when they need to read the stories that reflect the harsh realities of their lives or their world, but we can trust them, too, to know when to put such books down and pick up lighter fare. Trust them to know when their heart needs Archie comics or rom-coms or fart jokes, and never think such reading is unimportant. Because truly, there is a time for every story.

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[ETA: Just stumbled across a wonderful art piece by Jarrett Lerner - "kids need books of all kinds". Check it out! Free download on his site.]

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