Scary Harry: The case for violence in books for kids

Scary Harry: The case for violence in books for kids

When fact is often worse than fiction, is it all that bad for kids to get wrapped up in a gruesome book?

Funny this column in the Washington Post should appear in the same week I got wrapped into a similar conversation on Facebook. The author-who-is-also-an-author was offering commentary on what kids can learn from reading less-than-comfortable books.

Within my FB conversation, my friend had commented he was reading to his children at night, and wanted to knock off a few classics. Unbeknownst to him, he picked up “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London.

Yikes.

I didn’t remember reading this as a kid either, but was exposed to its downright brutal violence when my daughter was assigned it in elementary school. The central character, a domesticated canine named Buck, is kidnapped and forced into work as a sled dog—eventually shedding his domesticated past in order to both survive and lead in his new environment. The transformation is far from pleasant, and I joked with my friend that the book’s more violent encounters made tangling with Voldemort look like a birthday party.

(As an aside, if you ever read this book or find your kids have it on their reading lists, you can always counter it with London’s companion read, “White Fang.”)

It is a particularly tough read for young kids—especially those that perhaps haven’t been exposed to those kinds of scenarios. But I wouldn’t shy away from it. (Huge caveat here: Trust your gut. If your child isn't emotionally ready for the scary stuff, then my goodness, don't read it to them.)

Life is far from fair, and many times, circumstances are less than ideal. Bad things happen in life. Books can be an accessible, easy-to-put-down method to introduce that concept.

Because while fairy tales are great, they’re no more realistic than stories steeped in adversity, from the aforementioned The Call of the Wild to Huckleberry Finn, Little Women to Harry Potter. And at some point, those concepts introduced—from death and divorce to illness, injury, abandonment and social injustice—will become reality. Yesterday, Kansas, Today, Washington. Violence is an everyday damned reality.

The author of the Washington Post column found herself faced with trying to explain the Sandy Hook shootings to her young son. On 9/11, I found myself in a similar situation—and there is no logic in flying a plane into a building, no reasonable explanation. Ever. But if you can ground your children with the ability to empathize and the knowledge that sadness is not something to be scared of, they’re better equipped to handle the unexplainable in life. Because it will happen. Harry Potter can be scary, but the payoff—love wins—is worth it.

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I am also on Facebook, trolling for friends. Want a few sad or scary reads tweens could handle?

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