I am studying children’s writing for the critical essay and something comes up in one of my workshops. Are some of the subjects too adult for the age range?
I start to look. What subjects are taboo?
And I have found the answer – none. You can write about anything for children, it’s the way you write it that make the subject appropriate or not. You have to deal in facts with children and not emotion, or rather not emotion when it comes to gore or emotional subject matter.
I found this quote in a popular book. The book is written for nine-year olds and is well-known, and well-loved.
The small alcove stank of stale urine and vomit. A thin emaciated boy with matted hair and skin like parchment was tied to a length of copper piping. He held a small bundle in his arms. His scrawny limbs were covered with sores and bruises and he sat in his own excrement. He shrank at the light from the torch and made harsh gagging noises. The warden reached out and touched him and let out a frightened whimper. An empty baby’s bottle stood by his legs.
Shocked? I was. This is the child’s book ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’ by Michelle Magorian and a known classic. The more modern tale ‘Wonder’ by R J Palacio opens with:
My name is August. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.
And it is about a boy who is born with a facial deformation and follows him as he starts school for the first time. Both of these books are not looking at subject matter that is instantly identifiable as appropriate to children, yet both are strong and successful writing. So I am going to let my story take me on its journey and if the subject matter becomes controversial or ‘hard’ I will write it well enough that it shouldn’t need censoring.
But I must admit that by studying children’s writing I have found that it isn’t about pink fairies and puppy-dog tails, instead it’s about writing what the story has to say, even if it is controversial or difficult.