Kids in books: Adorable idiots?

I’m more than a little embarrassed to admit that I just read “Ender’s Game” last week. But I’m glad I did, because aside from being an excellent novel, it came with a recently written foreword by Orson Scott Card himself. And his insights were spot on.

He relayed stories of critics of the books and their biggest gripe being that children did not think and act in the “adult manner” of Ender and his classmates, to the point that some people were actually irate with Ender’s depiction. Ironically, he said, the book resonated very strongly with many young readers who felt like their voices were actually represented for a change.

It’s easy for adults to downplay or forget their memories of their youth, when grown ups didn’t care to hear what they said or thought because it was “unimportant”. It’s a cycle and it’s been going on forever. But it’s not accurate.

I can tell you this as a mother of two very sharp little people who certainly may need to be reminded to put on pants and protected from wandering into the street, but also have very insightful clear thoughts and ideas about the world around them and themselves.

I can also tell you this because I remember very clearly what it was like to be a kid. I have memories as far back as three years old. Memories of comfort from my parents. Memories of frustration at not being heard. Memories of being patronized even though I knew what I said was correct.

Kids are adorable, little people with big eyes and little lisps and funny, un-jaded ways of thinking about things. But they are not puppies. They may not know all the words they want to convey something, but they are resourceful with what they do have. They are tough as nails, able to endure things that can destroy adults, they are innocent but that does not mean they are stupid.

One of the phrases I most hate to hear about children is “They have a mind of their own!” as if that is surprising. Of course they have a mind of their own. They can absorb the prejudices, the worries, the ideas and the traditions of their families but that is because they rely on them to teach them and in their innocence they do not always know the different between opinion and truth.

But they certainly have their own minds, their own thoughts, their own opinions and their own ideas that are not attributed to anyone else.

So whether you are writing MG, YA or Adult with children characters, I urge you to respect the minds of children, not as stupid naive little creatures who cannot comprehend “big adult important” things, but as young people who have not necessarily acquired all the baggage and  experience as adults, but certainly have the ability to comprehend and the innate wisdom to think for themselves.


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