Monday, August 25, 2014

Why Escapist Reading is Good for Children

(This is an opinion post. I haven't done any research on the subject aside from my own childhood experiences and those of others.)

We've all read them. A friend's sister calls them "middle-grade death books". These are the books that win awards and are required reading for most (if not all) middle-schoolers. They're also some of the most depressing, childhood-scarring reads ever.

When I was in junior high, I adored English class and my teacher. She was the sweetest, but even her shelves were filled with these dismal stories. There was little for escapist readers like me to enjoy within the confines of required reading. (Does anyone remember a book called Goodbye Paper Doll? That book left such a bad impression on me I still remember its title after 22 years.)

Since then, reading lists have expanded to include books my twelve-year-old self would happily devour. Where were they when I was in junior high? (We're talking books like Harry Potter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Percy Jackson.)

I suppose I shouldn't poo-poo the 'middle-grade death books'. When I asked library patrons in my age group what books they liked as preteens, some of them even mentioned a few of those titles. People do like them, but, for the life of me, I can't understand why.

Just to give you background, I don't like depressing entertainment. I wasn't one of those girls who flocked to the opening of Titanic in theaters, tissues in one hand and chocolates in the other. (My boyfriend at the time suggested we go.) I'm not the kind of girl who invites all her friends over to watch The Notebook (with more tissues and chocolate). I'd much rather watch The Fifth Element for the thousandth time with pizza and ice cream.

It's perfectly fine for people to enjoy melancholy and dramatic entertainment and literature, but it's better to give them a choice in the matter. Especially children. Childhood is the time to encourage dreaming, hoping, and fantasizing of a better life. After all, they're the ones who'll make it happen. Whatever we put into them will manifest later in a future we'll only have a glimpse of.

Is it good to show raw, true, heinous life events to preteens because maybe it'll help them deal with it better when they're faced with it themselves, or maybe they're going through it now and it'll help them understand they're not alone? I don't know. I still stick by letting them dream awhile and escape from whatever it is they're going through - be it bullies at school, pressures of all kinds from peers, or abuse/neglect at home. And you know what? Within those escapist reads, some cunning authors weave precious truths kids will take away with them: truths like courage in the face of adversity, belief in the sanctity of life, trust in your friends, and hope that things will turn out alright in the end.

Hope isn't a bad thing to teach them at all.

What do you think?


  1. Kelia Reauchel LewisAugust 26, 2014 at 1:04 AM

    Awesome post! In middle school, I often kept myself busy either reading whatever books I could get my hands on (mostly drab, monotonous things I could not relate to or didn't want to) OR writing something a teacher should have red flagged as a cry for help. I look at...and read...and have a stack of ^_^...library books right now that are for the middle school kids in my family...and am THRILLED. It's like...YES! Authors are getting something RIGHT! Woo-hoo! Thank you for writing this post about hope and other good lessons/ideas conveyed in escapist fictional stories.

  2. Oh dear lord yes, every year I knew we were going to have to read something that had death in it, and inevitably it was going to the dog/best friend after a hundred some pages of depressing 'life is horrible' stuff. Considering the tests and discussions that came along with the depressing books, I honestly don't see why they couldn't have had the exact same discussions with a lighter fantasy book or an adventure where the good guys win. Heck, most of mythologies that I read on my own were happier than those required reading books lol Depressing parts of reality slam a kid in the face soon enough that I don't think it's necessary to force them through reading it, too.

  3. I think they definitely could've had the same discussions with books like Harry Potter (which had some 'life is horrible' stuff in it as well, but it was trumped by all the cool, magical stuff). I mean, Harry's an orphan with a scary dude trying to kill him since he was a child. If that isn't horrible, I don't know what is. But the author still managed to make those books wondrous reads drenched in positive atmosphere.

    There has to be a way to teach kids history without making them dread reading. I think it's just that the system set up now is resistant to change.

  4. Thanks! This is a subject I really believe in. I'm so glad kids today have lighter options than we did in school. Drab and monotonous or horrifying and off-putting aren't things any middle-schooler should be subjected to.


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