Hi friends! 👋🏻 I’m finally back after an unexpected hiatus. For a while, I’d had some technical difficulties with Bloglovin’ not showing my posts and also giving me a bunch of spam followers, and then I needed to improve my site security and I didn’t know how so that definitely took a hit to my motivation. But I’ve managed to get everything fixed so now following with Bloglovin’ is an option again! Yay 🥳
Today I wanted to discuss something that has been on my mind for a good while now: which is the idea that books for children should not talk about serious subjects. This was sparked by a small thread of tweets from someone who said that they couldn’t believe how “disturbing” Jacqueline Wilson’s books are and a reply that said they’re not appropriate for children.
If you’re not familiar with Jacqueline Wilson, she is arguably the most popular children’s author in the UK. Her books often cover serious subjects like child abandonment, divorce, death, stepparents, adoption, divorce, and the foster care system. Obviously, her books can be pretty controversial but that doesn’t stop them from being so popular and even being read in schools.
I personally think that it’s important for children’s books to talk about serious issues instead of being sunshine and rainbows all the time, so here are my reasons why!
books can teach us things
Something that so many of us readers like to say is that we can learn so many things from fiction. A lot of our childhood favourites have taught us about friendship, kindness, community, standing up for what we believe in, so why can’t they do that by showing us characters who are in awful situations?
I personally feel that it’s important for books to have moral lessons and especially for children’s books to show characters who are going through difficult situations because it helps children develop a sense of empathy whether they can actually identify with a character or not. When I was a kid, I loved the Tracy Beaker books but I never wanted to be put into the foster care system because her experiences of being a “problem child” are not ones I would ever have wanted. I admired her for her creativity and boldness and the books featuring her showed me that not every child has the privilege of growing up with their natural family.
children aren’t made of glass
Something that has annoyed the heck out of me for a very long idea is the fact that there are adults who are so overprotective of children that they become sheltered. I don’t have kids and I don’t have any experience of taking care of kids but even I can say that wrapping up kids in metaphorical bubble wrap is not a good thing. When I was still a frequent church-goer a lot of the kids there would only be able to read and watch things that their parents had approved of first. This is easier to do with movies because they have actual age-ratings on them, but for books, a lot of them weren’t allowed to read Harry Potter (because of witchcraft) and would only get to experience things with mature subjects until their parents deemed them to be old enough for them.
There are obviously psychological aspects to this that I can’t comment on because I don’t know anything about brains except that I have one, but seeing parents strictly control the media that their kids consume kind of makes me sad because there are so many incredible kids books out there that some kids will never be able to read because their parents don’t like the content. I guess that is a parent’s decision to make, but children are not as fragile as we think they are. If a kid reads something that they get scared by, it’s their parents’ jobs to reassure them that it’s fiction.
children aren’t stupid
I shouldn’t even have to say this. Children know a lot more than some adults give them credit for. I’ve always hated the idea that a child’s brain is a blank slate that can be moulded into whatever their parents want it to be. It is true that most of what we learn comes from our parents and teachers, but the idea that our brains are blank when we are born is just ridiculous.
There are kids out there who will believe everything you tell them, but there are even more kids who know when they’re being lied to and are able to tell fact from fiction. We need to stop treating kids like idiots and give them respect.
serious subjects should not be relegated to higher reading levels
When I say “serious subjects”, I don’t mean sex and extreme violence because those are obviously not suited for children’s books. Serious subjects in kidlit are issues and events that could and do happen to real children, like divorce, child abuse, abandonment, adoption, losing friends, changing schools, and so on. Books are educational, and not just cute little bedtime stories so I feel like younger people should be allowed to read about tough issues because it helps them to learn.
In recent years (or maybe I haven’t been paying attention) there have been more kids books that talk about race, gender, sexuality, and disability in ways that kids can understand, but they’re not completely dumbed down. There are people who object to there being picture books about kids who have parents of the same gender, but I don’t because that is something that happens in real life, and while we may prefer kids to read fantasy to expand their imaginations, contemporary books are just as important because they reflect the real world around us.
“disturbing” is subjective
Naturally, what one person considers to be disturbing and inappropriate is different to another person. A lot of people think that children’s media shouldn’t mention periods at all, while I wish more did because I didn’t have any kids things that mentioned periods at all when I was a wee one. If I may share some very personal information, I got my first ever period when I was 9 years old, which is very young to start menstruating. I was the first person in my year group to get it, and I got teased for it by the other kids (especially the other girls). I wish I had books that told me that getting my period was natural and normal because I let what the other girls said to me get to me so badly that I didn’t use the toilets at school for six years.
My personal stories aside, I am glad that parents guides for media exist because they let not just parents know what content they should look out for, but people like me who have certain triggers and want to know where to avoid them because a simple age rating doesn’t do that. However, just reading a list of examples of potentially objectionable content doesn’t really do much because the person writing that list could be exaggerating. There have been plenty of times that I’ve read an IMDb content guide and someone has put “VERY VIOLENT AND VERY SCARY” when I didn’t think it was all that bad.
talk to me!
What’s your stance on children’s books being about serious subjects? If you’re a parent, would you want your kids to read books about potentially disturbing things?