This month the Class of 2K13 is talking about the levels of “bad” stuff in their books. Or, alternately, if you are a teenager, you might think of it as the “good” stuff. And by stuff, I am talking about sex, language, drugs, alcohol, violence and… ummmm, uuhhhh, I think that’s all of them?
Before I get into the amount of this bad/good stuff in ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE, I want to tell a quick story. And before I can tell this story, there are a few things you must know:
Thing the one: My husband grew up in a household where his mother did not believe in sugary cereals.
Thing the two: I grew up in a household where my mother very much believed in sugary cereals, EXCEPT ones that contained marshmallows. She thought cereal marshmallows were disgusting (And yet somehow loved Peanut Butter Captain Crunch despite it’s ability to completely shred the roof of one’s mouth. Go figure).
Thing the three: With our own children my husband and I allow sugary cereals, but try to get the healthier ones (Frosted Shredded Wheat, Life, etc.) and we occasionally get them a box of (generic) Lucky Charms with the caveat that they cannot just pick the marshmallows out-they must eat the sugar coated bits of cereal as well (yes, we are strict disciplinarians, obviously).
On a recent morning I poured some (generic) Lucky Charms into cereal bowls (sans milk – as the little heathens prefer it this way, despite my repeated efforts to convince them that this is clearly wrong. I even bought (generic) Cocoa Krispies to show them the magic of it creating leftover chocolate milk at the bottom of the bowl, but even that was not enough to permanently convert them once the novelty wore off). As usual they began to sift through the bowls for the marshmallows.
“Guys,” I gently reminded them. “You can’t just eat the marshmallows.”
They ignored me, pretending they were too absorbed in their marshmallow excavations to hear me. I came to sit at the table with them and my (slightly) more virtuous bowl of (generic) Frosted Shredded Wheat. Having already plucked every last multi-colored marshmallow from their bowls, they began to wriggle in their seats in a waythat I recognized as the signal that they were getting ready to bolt from the table and move onto TV and toys.
I couldn’t let it happen, and so I opened my mouth and gave them the old, “children are starving in China.” Well, I didn’t specifically mention China, because they don’t know what or where that is. And I didn’t use the word “starving”, because they have not yet learned to be hyperbolic in their whining and so only complain, “my tummy is feeling hungry.”
Honestly, I don’t remember what I said, because even as the words spilled from my mouth about other children who don’t have all the nice things that they have, there was another voice in my head worrying, “Oh geez, should I be playing the starving children card? Is it too soon? Or is it just terrible parenting at any age? Do guilt trips like this ever do any good? Is it right to teach children that because other people are worse off than them that they aren’t allowed to feel the way they feel?!? I. DON’T. KNOW!!!!!!!!!!!!”
As it turns out, all the mental hand wringing was unnecessary. My children absorbed my little lecture with wide eyes and then began to thoughtfully chew on their marshmallow free, but still extremely sugary cereal. I enjoyed a moment of victory as they finished their (not-quite) nutritious breakfast. But then…
“Yeah,” my almost six-year-old son, Jamie said, “and some kids don’t have any shoes or clothes.”
“That’s true,” I quickly agreed, a bit shocked and wondering if all this time, unbeknownst to myself, I’d been rearing the next Mother Theresa.
“Yeah, no shoes.” My daughter Zoe, piped up in agreement. So two Mother Theresa’s in the making then (one could be argued to be simply the nature of the child, but two certainly meant some credit must be given to the nurturer.)
“And no houses,” Jamie added.
“Yes, exactly!” I cheered him on, congratulating myself on how much they’d taken away from little lesson.
But then suddenly it went wrong as my children went back and forth listing more things that the other less fortunate children might not have.
No fences. No doors. No windows. No belly buttons. No burps. No butts.
“Go watch television,” I told them.
So what does this have to do with ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE?
Damned if I know.
Oops. Language. But luckily that reminds me, I did have a point with that story and here it is…
In ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE there is:
Swearing (not Tarantino levels, but the F word is invoked)
Sex (not graphic, but it’s there)
and Violence (way less than your average shooting people video game, but it does get a little bloody in a few different sections)
BUT before you put my book on your (or your child’s, or your libraries) do-not-read pile, please take a moment and try to think of this “bad” stuff as marshmallows mixed into the cereal of my story. They are part of the story and not meant to be separated from it. However, unlike marshmallows they were not added as colorful sugary enticements, but rather grew from the characters and story organically (I don’t think anybody has tried to sell organic marshmallows yet… at least I hope not. Yeesh.).
If I had picked all the marshmallows out of ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE, I’d be taking away the stuff – be it “good” or “bad” that makes it ring true. And that wouldn’t be good for anyone.
And, of course, whether children are digesting sugary cereal or a book with difficult content – it’s important to remember to talk about it with them… just try not to mention the children starving in China.