Should we give disturbing books to kids?

My new YA due out in the spring could arguably be called ‘disturbing.’ But I subscribe to the definition of art which says that it should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.

Christina Chant Sullivan has some thoughts about disturbing books for kids. “People often cringe when I tell them I teach middle school boys, a population that seems to be considered the pits of the education world. But I feel grateful to experience ‘disturbing’ books with these boys in the middle.

“Perhaps it is their very nature as middle schoolers that gives my students this ability to recognize some stories as made-up, not real, thus not really disturbing. Very young children blur the lines between real and make-believe; they pretend for a living. Teenagers are beginning to be mired in the truths of the ‘real world’. But the tweeners … can see both sides. They intrinsically know what is pretend and what is not.”

Disturbing books for kids

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The Books We’ve Lost

The very first thing that caught my attention in Bellingham was a used bookstore that had shelves that went on forever. When I discovered it was only one of many such bookstores, I fell in love with the town and moved here shortly after.

But used-book stores are disappearing, Charles Simic believes, and he laments their loss.

“What made these stores attractive to someone like me is that they were more indiscriminate and chaotic than public libraries and thus made browsing more of an adventure … one’s interest was aroused by the title or the appearance of a book. Then came the suspense of opening it, checking out the table of contents, thumbing the pages … looking for underlined passages and notes in the margins. How delightful to find some unknown reader commenting in pencil on a Victorian love poem: ‘Shit.'”

Losing the used bookstore

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The Readers of Goodreads

There are a lot of good sites on the web for readers. One of my favorite is Goodreads, a place I originally went in the hope of getting my library organized by listing all my 5,000 or so books. That never happened, but as a writer I kept coming back because of the readers who love books and love talking about them.

I was browsing through some the comments, on my own books recently and found some delightful remarks about The Secrets of Jin-Shei, one of my book that is now 10 years old.

Venus Smurf noted that “It’s been a few years since I’ve read this one, but it’ll always be one of my favorite books of all time. The language is absolutely lovely, the characters alive and complicated and compelling, and the story itself completely fascinating.”

Escheresque called it “one of the most moving novels I have ever read.

Annie Galloza wrote that the novel “reads like a beautiful, haunting, heart-searing song. … I fell in love with each character & found a little bit of myself in each of these beautiful, independent women.”

The last line of Dorri’s review is enough to lift the spirits of any author: “If you do not come away a changed person, you are not human.”

Thanks, guys. I needed that.
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