Once upon a time, we were kids. We hated homework and lima beans, and we loved cartoons and fart jokes. Energy abounded, and so did laughter, grass stains and candy wrappers. Soap and finished chores were much harder to find. Our parents were background furniture unless they served as vending machines who dispensed bandaids, snacks or new shoes. We thought they were nuts most of the time, except when they were being boring or mean.
And then we grew up and became parents ourselves. Some of us decided to write for the very children we used to be. We create stories full of imagination and adventure, mystery and humor. We’re usually pretty good at including the things we had and did in our youth, but we often forget–as we did then–the parents.
So many young heroes today seem to be busy saving the world without adult supervision, and while I understand that such stories feed the independent spirit of children, it doesn’t do much to foster the most important relationships they’ll ever have: those within their family.
I say this, and I am guilty of it myself. There go my characters, wishing they had guidance, wondering in whom to trust, and needing that protective hug that says, “It’s going to be okay. I’m here for you.”
(This is where I reveal how incredibly outdated I am.) We don’t have cable TV. Or satellite. Or Netflix. I make my kids watch DVDs of The Andy Griffith Show, The Brady Bunch and other shows of that ilk. Guess what? They love them! When Opie goes to Pa, or Marsha and Greg seek counsel from Mom and Dad, it all makes sense. The world is righted.
Nowadays, much of tween programming has either absentee parents or buffoons who are the punchline of all disrespectful jokes, but our books don’t have to follow suit. That doesn’t mean that our young characters can’t reflect true-to-life attitudes about adults. I recently read a hilarious passage in a middle grade book that illustrated a child’s disdain for the tasteless diet of her health freak parents. I later found out the author is a health freak herself and had made fun of herself in a totally engaging way without taking parents out of the picture or making them lose all credibility.
All kinds of studies show that kids who read fiction grow up to be more empathetic, creative, and adept at problem-solving. After all, they’ve watched it all happen in their minds. What if they also grew up to be more respectful and loving to their parents, more inclined to value family, and more likely to stand up for (instead of mock) their siblings?
We can do that. It’s been done before. Harper Lee gave us Atticus Finch, and Laura Ingalls Wilder gave us Pa and Ma. We can fill the shelves with parental role models that even kids will think are cool.
Lia London has written three MG/YA books and is currently working on the sequel to The Gypsy Pearl, a tween series that will definitely conclude with a reunited family! Learn more about her and her writing at LiaLondonBooks.com.