Writing fiction for and/or about children (roughly eight to fifteen years of age) is a tricky business. It is easy to appeal to their vivid imaginations, their need to be “special,” accepted by peers, to become independent of adults, and to explore relationships with the opposite sex. None of these popular topics for children’s books is really appropriate or necessary, however, in the way they are usually treated, and sometimes they shouldn’t be a topic for this age level at all.
Books and movies that give children unusual powers are extremely popular. Harry Potter is a wizard. The Animorphs series had children changing into animals. In a recent movie young people are the children of ancient gods. These children are definitely “special,” but in most cases these powers give them a license to avoid adult control, to get revenge on people they perceive as enemies, and give them an arbitrary superiority over others. They do not learn obedience, submission, or reliance upon the true God. They learn self-centeredness, contempt for adults who aren’t as powerful as they are, and are convinced that the world is full of arbitrary happenings with no purpose or design.
Being accepted by peers seems essential for happiness, but the reality is that your peers are immature, sinful, change their minds about what they want from you frequently, and rarely understand or care about the essential concepts of self-control, self-sacrifice or especially reliance upon the true God. Only people with experience in life can teach these things, and they are adults. Children must respect and take advice from adults, not despise them and think they are old-fashioned, out of touch or too narrow-minded.
Becoming independent from adults is something of a myth. Yes, children grow to adulthood, leave home, get jobs, and live lives apart from their parents, but they don’t do that successfully without reliance on wise and godly counsel. In most children’s books today the main character finds the adults he deals with outright stupid, disgusting, indecisive, or too far away (sometimes dead) to do any good. Mark Twain popularized the philosophy that children need to get away from the adults in their lives. Aunt Polly is dictatorial. Tom Sawyer deserves his freedom. Huckleberry Finn thinks of his abduction by his father as an escape of sorts from the confining life he finds with the Widow Douglas, but his father is an abusive drunk from whom he also ends up escaping.
Are there any really good adults in Mark Twain’s books for children? Jim, the Negro slave with whom Huck takes his raft trip, is hardly a conventional adult, and this is the key to understanding the “right” kind of adult in modern children’s books. There is no issue with his being black, as far as his fitness as an adult is concerned. But he is a being apart in the children’s perception Jim knows magic, like charms to get rid of warts and how to divine the future from a hairball. He is childlike in his approach to life, and he wants to be free as much as the children do. Of course slaves needed to be freed, but this is almost irrelevant in the treatment of Jim in Mark Twain’s books.
Huck’s decision to go to Hell rather than return Jim to slavery sounds noble on the surface, but he is wrong in the foundation of his thinking. He has no conception of what the Scriptures teach or do not teach about slavery. In fact his whole perception of Christianity is based on willful ignorance. Church is a plague of boredom and a prison. Reading or studying anything is punishment to these free spirits, so reading the Bible to find out true and right thinking is out of the question. Huck and Tom reason things out in their heads and they are “right.” There is no perfect standard, just whatever they think.
Most modern fiction has relationships with the opposite sex starting very early, and they are not friendships. Some are quite innocent, but sexuality is no foundation for a children’s book. No child is “wise beyond his years” enough to make his own decisions about having sex, getting abortions, or dressing to attract the opposite sex. This is selfishness and self-deception. If you have to sneak around and hide a relationship from parents because they wouldn’t approve, it’s wrong. Sometimes a distracting device is used, like making the issue of parental disapproval one of race or social position so that it seems justified to hide it. But the issue is sex without maturity or marriage or responsibility, not whatever smokescreen the author tries to throw up in front of the reader’s face.
These are just some of the issues to consider in writing for children. Paramount is to make sure readers receive solid training in the Scriptures. They will end up like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn if given their “freedom,” ignorant of everything that really matters and reliant on flawed human reason to survive.
Benny and the Bank Robber begins a Youth and Young Adult Historical Adventure. Benny Richardson loses his father at the age of ten and travels from Philadelphia to frontier Missouri in the 1800′s. Though his story includes riverboats and rafts, it is a very different one from Tom Sawyer’s. Both Tom and Huck would have scoffed at the verse that keeps bringing Benny back to remember what all of us must take to heart, God’s promise, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
Young Adult Fiction is roughly aimed at people in their late teens to late twenties. This is a time when they are essentially adults, but may still be under the authority of parents or other adults. Stories for this age group frequently focus on independence, the freedom to make choices about the future, and especially love relationships. Too often these immensely popular books only reinforce the secularist idea that human reason can provide answers to these critical issues of entering adulthood.
Many young people in books want a complete break from parents, to “Shake off the dust of this crummy little town,” as George Bailey wished to do in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. They want “adventure in the great wide somewhere,” like Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. They have dreams and wishes for a future doing what makes them happy. Unfortunately, secularist society has ill-prepared them to face the reality that you can’t always do what you dream, that you have to get a job that makes money, that college is often bankruptingly expensive, and that true love is not easy to recognize and true lust is all too common.
The Twilight series of books and movies focuses on the dilemma of a young woman. She’s in love with a vampire. Vampires are epidemic in young adult fiction and it’s simply shameful how often they are portrayed as the “forbidden fruit,” the lover a young woman can’t resist. Dracula in the Bram Stoker novel (not any of the movie or spinoff reinventions) was irresistible to women, but he was portrayed as evil and it was clear that a relationship with him didn’t end well.
How dare writers say that damnation is worth it to have the ultimate love? They don’t even know what damnation is. They think it’s a sad state that can be altered. Vampires (aka demons) can regain their souls. It’s the gospel according to Buffy. People can make deals with the devil and then weasel out of them. There is no knowledge of the Scriptures in any of these twisted fairy tales. They tell lies about the nature of the soul, man’s ability to save himself or others, and say that true love fulfilled is worth any risk.
Homosexuality is also a popular subject for this age group. Even if you don’t practice it, you must be tolerant of it, embrace it. Girls must make a gay guy their shopping buddy. But you should at least experiment with it. Really mature adults have at least tried “swinging both ways,” and people like “Captain Jack” in the Dr. Who/Torchwood SciFi series are so cool. Note that there’s more than a hint of bestiality when Twilight turns to the subject of werewolves as boyfriends. Positive portrayals of sexual perversions are becoming so pervasive in young adult fiction that no one can say this is pure entertainment. It is indoctrination in sexual wickedness no young person should subject himself to. It should not be the mission of this group to break down every traditional barrier possible before the age of thirty.
The corporate world is a place young college graduates dream of entering. Rich, powerful, successful people ooze out of boardrooms and why wouldn’t we want to be just like them? Yet that culture is openly portrayed as being selfish, utterly materialistic, living in debt to impress, counting on the next big deal and willing to lie, cheat, steal or sleep with anyone to get it.
There are, however, simple principles to guide what you should write about for young adults and also to help them choose what they should read. Self-control, self-sacrifice, never believing that things happen without a Designer behind them, even things that seem bad. Get these new adults out of themselves and into a work ethic. No more shopping for thousand dollar purses and five hundred dollar shoes (or shoplifting them because you’ve got to have them.) No more joining a gang or becoming a prostitute because it’s the only way you can live. No more “attitude.” Practice humility, purity, hard work, and love your family and your God. No obsessions with death, the supernatural and the occult. Demons are real, but we fight them through God’s Word, not with sharpened sticks. And we don’t fall in love with them. We fall in love with the Lord, with people of like precious faith, and with reality in serving God and not ourselves.
Benny and the Bank Robber Two: Doctor Dad takes Benny through the troubles and delays of his mother’s remarriage, a boarding school with a deadly secret society, and a Christmas ending where Benny has to remind friends and family, even at the cost of losing them, that Christ came into the world with nothing to be the Prince of Peace.
Hope and the Knight of the Black Lion has no vampires, werewolves, or budding sorcerers. It does have a mysterious returned crusader who alone believes Hope’s tale of a scheming kidnapper and pledges his life and honor to the cause of getting her justice. This book is also available with illustrations in the style of a medieval manuscript. Click on the page link “Illuminated Hope and the Knight of the Black Lion” above to see a gallery of images from the book. Your Kindle Fire or other color e-reader is waiting for this one!
P.S. — Giving a shout-out to some great folks from the Indie Writers Unite Facebook page who graciously encouraged, offered space for interviews, gave links and excerpt space. I can’t necessarily endorse all their books or content, but I so much appreciated their “uppers” when I was down!