Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Need To Teach

I just recently got around to reading Unhappily Ever After, which appeared in the July 21st issue of the print version of Newsweek. The article deals with kids' apocalyptic fiction, which is always a fun genre.

What I found really striking in the piece were the quotes from a couple of authors suggesting that children need to learn something from these books. Jeanne DuPrau said, "We have more ways of ending the world than we had before...These are big, hard truths that are facing kids, and they need to know these things." And Michael Grant told Newsweek "...there's a direct conection between things they may do and the end of the world..."

Now this attitude that children's literature should be improving and instructive has a long tradition, and I'm respectful of that. However, I wonder just what it is apocalyptic fiction has to teach children. I liked the thrills that went along with Life As We Knew It as much as the next reader, but what hard truth or connection to their own behavior could kids have learned from that? Don't let an asteroid hit the moon? How I Live Now was pretty terrific, too, but what teen reader could possibly do anything to prevent another country from invading her own? Isn't that expecting rather a lot? Don't young readers realize that?

I wonder how many kids read apocalyptic fiction as instructive and come away from it determined to do good? Or do they get from these books what kids often get from reading science fiction--an opportunity to try out frightening situations, safe in the knowledge that these worlds aren't real?

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