Tuesday, January 18, 2011

School Shooting, Bullies, and Violence in Books for School Kids

  I am 48 years old, but I have never been away from books for young people.  As a Mom and a teacher and a writer - but most of all, as someone who loves books, from picture books to Paradise Lost.

    In writing, Duffy Barkley is Not a Dog, I gave myself permission to play around in the world of fantasy and to use some traditional features from the types of Fantasy novels that I enjoyed as a child, but also to use some of the issues that the world is dealing with today.

     One of these issues is the fact that, "School Shooting" is a term which was unheard of when I was a student, but which is sadly a common thing to hear about on the news today.  As a teacher, I have to practice safety drills with students, and along with "earthquake" and "fire" drills, we also practice "Gunman on Campus."  I hate this reality, but my hating it makes it no less prevalent.

    There were guns at my High School, a lot of them, and no one cared.  I grew up in Wyoming, close to Yellowstone Park, and the students who lived out of town, on ranches or farms, carried shotguns and rifles in gun racks in the window of their unlocked pick-up trucks.  The targets were beer bottles, jack Rabbits, magpies, stop signs, coyotes.  There was never any thought that the target might be a student or a teacher.

    We had bullies, we had school fights, we went to school while the Vietnam War was on the news every evening and assigned for current events.  We knew that teenage pregnancy and hard core drugs were issues.  We read books where there was violence and favorite characters died.  And yet, it was more innocent still.

   In Junior High I loved, The Outsiders and, The Chronicles of Narnia, and, Bless the Beasts and the Children, and Johnny Tremain.  In High School I delighted in being terrified by Jaws, and Christine and, Carrie and Flowers in the Attic.

    But rogue sharks, and evil automobiles are a million light years away from the violence in The Hunger Games or City of Glass or the second quartet of Tamora Pierce's "The Circle Opens" books.

    And I have to ask myself, if reading so much violence, and hearing it on the news every day, and being saturated in it, doesn't make these kids vulnerable to being involved in it.  Do they come to see that as inevitable.  Yet here I am, selling my book, with a 9 year old turning his gun on a school assembly.

     I don't believe that violence is inevitable, or that suicide is a good response to being bullied, or that life can not be mostly about life and growth - and yet I wonder what the kids believe, and hope that my book gives them more than just a ray of light in the dark.

     I hope, that like Duffy, with his crutches and his Cerebral Palsy, that they find themselves realizing that they can be the peace and the good in the world, not just in-spite of their weaknesses, but often because of them.

    I know that I became a strong, loving woman, because I was bullied and threatened and ridiculed as a child, and while I do not wish any child to suffer as I did, I hope my books shows them, that there is life after school and a whole world just begging you to let it love you.

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