Thursday, March 22, 2012

Writing for Kids? Don't forget the Bows and Arrows


I generally read adult fiction, especially in the mystery genre. I stopped reading teen books when I finished the last Nancy Drew mystery back in junior high. But after hearing all the hype about a young adult book called "The Hunger Games," by Suzanne Collins, I decided to check it out to see why it was so popular.

Much like the "Twilight" trilogy, "The Hunger Games" has been translated into more than two dozen languages, has garnered positive reviews and is now a movie. So it has to be good, right?

But after reading only a few pages, I quickly learned this was not really a kids' book. The story features a 16-year-old girl named Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a very hungry, post-apocalyptic world. She volunteers to participate in the annual Hunger Games to replace her lottery-selected younger sister, Primrose. The games require that children between the ages of 12 and 18 must battle to the death every year to appease the government.

Only one will survive.

This is a kids' book?

It sounds more like a Grimm's fairy tale. Speaking of which, apparently, some parents today are refusing to read the old fairy tales to their kids because they're "too scary." These parents prefer to retell the stories with positive endings, hoping their children will learn a valuable lesson (instead of spending a sleepless night in Mommy and Daddy's bed.)

I can just imagine how they would rewrite the classic "The Three Little Pigs."
"The pigs work together to build their houses, then invite the Big Nice Wolf in for a vegetarian meal and a game of Candy Land. The end."

And how about "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?" Instead of having the evil stepmother chase Snow White from the castle, Snow White gives the ugly woman makeup tips, they bake an apple pie and start a special school for Little People.

And the dog from "Old Yeller" lives forever.

Goodness. The adult mysteries I read are much tamer than "The Hunger Games." While Katniss is trained to kill with a bow and arrow, most of the heroines in the books I read have a skill too, but instead of archery or swordfighting, they're more apt to bead or decoupage or scrapbook while they fight crime.

As for my own mystery series, I offer party tips, not how-to-stay-alive tips. And my protagonist only has to juggle party planning with murder solving. Poor Katniss struggles with getting enough food to eat while surviving killer teens. Sounds like I need to ratchet up the blood and guts and simmer down on the crafts and party tips.

My children's book, "The Code Busters Club," is about four children who solve a mystery by cracking codes, not skulls. Maybe I should rethink that and write about a kid who skips school, sneaks out at night, lies to his friends, smokes, hangs out in a graveyard, engages in witchcraft, runs away from home, pretends to be dead, breaks into a house, gets lost in a cave, nearly starves to death and plans to become a world-class robber when he grows up.

Oh wait. Mark Twain already wrote that book and called it "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer."
And we let our kids read that?
What's the post-apocalyptic world coming to?

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