Sunday, June 14, 2015

Why write children’s books about social issues?

“Education should be about giving children a lifelong love of learning not pushing a political or social agenda.”—Unknown Commentor on ABC radio 612 Brisbane, Australia
Perhaps there is a good reason why there are not many children’s books that deal with social issues. Perhaps I am missing some unspoken feeling or rule that other children’s book authors know. Perhaps I am pretending to myself that I can write about social issues without taking a position that would alienate different groups of people.

My inspiration for writing Myra and the Magic Motorcycle came when I was in hospital about to give birth to my second son, Declan. Like any parent I want my children to get the most of life, to learn to take advantage of the opportunities that come their way without treading all over others.

At the time of releasing Myra book 1, my kids are both under 5, meaning they’re not specifically in the target market, but they do enjoy it when I read the book to them. I want my children to get to know about the world we live in, and some of the challenges faced by other people, possibly some things they themselves will have to deal with. My aim is not to overwhelm them or frighten them about these issues, but to give them a rudimentary introduction, and give them a mindset to think about the world around them and other people.

On my children’s bookshelves I see hundreds of books on a wide variety of topics, but there are huge gaps and imbalances in these topics. There are plenty of animals, trucks, pirates, super heroes, fairies and mythological creatures. Not so many books that feature human beings, and none that deal with social issues.

I love animals and fantasy. I am finalising the first book in my YA–Adult fantasy adventure series The Astor Chronicles, which is about people who can transform into animals. Up till I was about 15 I was bigoted about what books I would read. They had to be completely focused on animals, with no people in them at all. I, of all people, can understand and value the place for animals in children’s fiction. Yet, when I think about what children under 8 need now, it’s not another book about Paul the Penguin who got lost or Francis the Frog who forgot how to swim.

In Myra and the Magic Motorcycle I hope to tell stories about human issues, social challenges and the needs of other people around the world.

Regardless of what species the characters are, themes in children’s fiction tend to focus on sleeping, self esteem, families and growing up.  On Amazon and Booktopia there is not much in the category of social issues under ‘Juvenile Fiction’.

Books that do deal with human feelings, social interaction and conflict tend to be vague. Except for the occasional environmental or animal conservation message, world issues are non-existent.

Our children are growing up in a world full of frightening worldwide news and overwhelming volumes of information about people around them, yet there are very few children’s books or stories to help them cope and understand and contextualise this information.

My aim is not to push my own position in the Myra Books, although I cannot deny that I do have a position. Everyone does. I am someone who has had a good upbringing as a white middle class Australian. I am not a socialist, but I firmly stand by the belief that anyone can and should become aware of the social implications of their behaviour and of the wider issues that confront them and their particular culture, in this global age.

I value the rights of all to choose their own destiny and make their own informed choices.

My own relgious, political and social opinions aside, what I really want to achieve here is:
  1. an entertaining read on topics that are rarely visited, therefore interesting (not same old same old) and
  2. to let parents and teachers use the Myra books to instigate discussions, taking them into as much detail or in whatever direction they wish.
  3. Letting children investigate and explore their own position. I wish to promote a lifelong love of learning (I believe any book will help to do this), but also give children a foundation of thinking about others, and considering the wider context of people’s lives.
Far from needing to spare our children from social issues, I think we have a duty to prepare them.

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