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PBs: Do Kids Really Get A Message

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I lean more toward kids don't get a message from a NF PB. It's a story. Unless it relates to their own life (things like my BFF betrayed me), it doesn't sink in...but even then...it's a story.
 
In the present day, in regard to writing PB, what do you think? And why? And how did you come to that conclusion?

We can only know, really, if kids talk about how a book spoke to them--in private, outside a reading circle. But who is there to listen even if they want to? And kids don't normally talk about STUFF, even if it relates to themselves.

???
#1 - March 20, 2015, 01:21 PM
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

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I agree that the story is the most important thing. No, I take that back--if it's nonfiction, accuracy is the most important thing. But high entertainment value is a close second.

As for a "message," I think things like meaning and message often are absorbed unconsciously. When I was a child, I don't think I could have told you the meaning of Cinderella, but I sure got the message that it was important to be beautiful and that having a prince take care of me for the rest of my life was a highly desirable outcome--if I could manage it. (I couldn't.)

 ::-)

I'm sure it works the same way with nonfiction. My newest nonfiction picture book BEASTLY BABIES has a message that says basically that even though an animal baby can get in lots of trouble, Mom will still love him and think he's special no matter what he does. (And the implication is that it's true of human babies too.)
#2 - March 20, 2015, 02:29 PM
« Last Edit: March 20, 2015, 02:41 PM by Betsy »
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What's the "meaning" of Cinderella, if not for the "message" you received?
#3 - March 20, 2015, 03:00 PM
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

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Exactly.

Well, to be fair, you could probably argue that the message is if you do you work hard and try to overcome unfairness and hardship in life, true love will find you. Or something like that. (But for me, it was the other message that got through.)
#4 - March 20, 2015, 03:38 PM
« Last Edit: March 20, 2015, 03:45 PM by Betsy »
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Sorry your knight and the horse he rode in on left a trail of  :poop.

Go for a man with a dog.  :dogwalk

Then keep the dog.

#5 - March 20, 2015, 05:37 PM
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

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Arona, Chris Vogler at a recent Storymaster workshop said we come for the thrill of the story, but stay for the moral (or message).

Even little kids pick up the message. It's funny that you mention Cinderella because as a little girl, what I picked up was that kindness always returns in the most unexpected manner (mice helping, fairy godmother). Also there are different versions and the one that struck me the most was how Cinderella forgives her stepmother and stepsisters. As a child, I would've left them to rot ... but then again, that's the version that really stuck with me.

Betsy, your CinderEdna might be your attempt to understand Cinderella as a child ;) It is one of the best books I've read!

You mention NF PB. These were my favorites as a child, particularly biographies. I wanted to emulate people like Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa and Father Damien. So I am a little bit confused by your question or comment that kids are not getting the message or don't articulate or speak of it. I think the message is coming loud and clear and that is why we do bear such a great responsibility as children's writers.

Vijaya
#6 - March 21, 2015, 10:38 AM
« Last Edit: March 21, 2015, 10:40 AM by Vijaya »
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I believe, based on my own memories from childhood, raising my kids and observing their friends, that kids get a whole lot more than we realize, and much more than the adults in the business imagine they get. What kids don't do that well is actively articulate it.
They recognize the idea and understand it, but respond to your articulation rather than come up with it themselves.

As to Cinderella, maybe it's my own personality or the milieu I grew up in, but I thought she was too passive and accommodating to such abuse as she suffered. I remember this feeling when I was really young, as in five or six. I thought she should have run away from home...
#7 - March 21, 2015, 10:51 AM
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I have no idea why I wrote NF PB.  :duh  I meant PB--as in make-believe and all the happy horse :poop that goes with it.
#8 - March 21, 2015, 11:58 AM
« Last Edit: March 21, 2015, 12:00 PM by Arona »
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I second what 217mom says. People see and take in very different things in stories depending on their experiences, and children in particular go through different developmental stages that change, sometimes radically, what they look for, and find, in a story. And that holds for nonfiction as well as fiction--a 5-year-old will take very different things from a biography of Martin Luther King than a 15-year-old, for example, and that's not just due to differences in comprehension.

"Reader response theory"--which I often bring up as background in craft workshops, because it helps us understand our readers--talks about this. Google it if you want to learn more.
#9 - March 21, 2015, 12:43 PM
Harold Underdown

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I agree with a lot of what you said, Vijaya. I read some of those biographies too. There was a book of the month club for kids I subscribed to. It bothered me that all the people in those books were such wonderful human beings. I wondered why none of them ever did mean things. Found out later, of course, that they did--but in those days, children's authors left out anything that was too negative. 

I read lots of versions of Cinderella. Some of them aren't as benign as the version where CE forgives her stepmother and stepsisters.

217, I thought she should have run away too.

Arona--Which pbs don't you like? There are some super sweet ones, but there are also some VERY realistic stories that help kids deal with harsh truths. There are all kinds of kids and I think there should be all kinds of books.

#10 - March 21, 2015, 12:50 PM
« Last Edit: March 21, 2015, 02:47 PM by Betsy »
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I asked the question since even when I write without an underlying message, there always seems to be one there once all is written and done. Hence, do kids really get something out of a story if there is, indeed, a take-away.

Harold, you've mentioned that before and I forgot to follow-through. Will check it out. And thanks.

And thanks to all.  :star2

As long as we're on the subject, one of my ALL TIME FAVORITES as a kid was Stone Soup. Through the years, I've always included it when starting a library for a kid. But years went by before I'd sat down to read it as an older adult and was amazed the stone soup guys were conniving soldiers-----as a kid, I only saw everyone pulling together because of hungry strangers who, while having an agenda, were really just nice guys who were creative, and not just for themselves. That rocked my world. 

#11 - March 21, 2015, 01:27 PM
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Yes, great example, Arona! Same story, different response...
#12 - March 21, 2015, 01:29 PM
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It's funny Arona, because lots of times we think we are just writing a story, but underneath there's a reason why we write it the way we do. When I was taking the magazine class at ICL, my instructor was so good at figuring out what lay beneath the surface. There's always something. It's what we hold close to our hearts, what we believe to be true.

I'm getting better at discovering what it is I'm writing about but oftentimes I have to finish the draft before I really know what the story is about. And then, of course, I have to go back and revise it.

Betsy, I have a book about saints behaving badly and it talks about all the things they did before they were all pious and holy. Why, they were just like us! Gives us all hope!

Vijaya
#13 - March 21, 2015, 01:36 PM
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Saints behaving badly.  :lol5 No doubt! I must read it--well, eh, probably I shouldn't. It'll get me riled. I'll get indignant. And there will go my last chance for sainthood.
#14 - March 21, 2015, 02:40 PM
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Vijaya--I'm reading a book of stories in French and one of them is about Saint Julian the Hospitaler. I had to stop reading it. I couldn't stand reading descriptions of what he did to animals--saint or no saint.

I think all my original stories are disguised versions of my life in one way or another. I don't think I write to give a message, but the message sneaks in there anyway.

I'll definitely take a look at that, Harold. Sounds interesting!
#15 - March 21, 2015, 02:44 PM
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I agree with several of the posters above.  Children absorb and take away messages from stories without our knowledge.  I read to my son everyday and we've gotten to the point where he makes comments.  Sometimes I am blown away by what he has taken away from a story, even if the message is hidden deep in the story.
#16 - March 23, 2015, 06:40 AM

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My childhood take on Cinderella was that she was beautiful because she was good. She was rewarded because she was good. All of her hard work and goodness through the unfair difficulties of life were answered with wonder and light and happiness.

I think Cinderella is one of the most moving and powerful of fairy tales. Sometimes our modern eyes reduce it to much less than it is.
#17 - March 23, 2015, 09:10 AM

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Pons, I think it CAN be read that way and I think to some extent I read it that way too. But it can also be read the other way--that is, beautiful people are naturally good. The prince didn't really know anything about Cinderella's character, did he?  Unfortunately, in almost all fairy tales, the heroine is beautiful and the villain is ugly. I'm afraid that the message being sent is that we should fear and discriminate against people with unconventional looks. You can't tell people's character from the outside and kids need to know that.

Fortunately, there are a lot of retold fairy tales that make that point.
#18 - March 23, 2015, 12:47 PM
« Last Edit: March 23, 2015, 03:10 PM by Betsy »
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Arona, don't worry, the book also includes the saints coming to their senses and finally behaving well.

I was thinking about beauty too ... isn't Cinderella's beauty marred by the ashes? People cannot see her true beauty, her goodness. I tend to agree with Pons with how rich with meaning the story is without getting into theology though. Coincidentally, I read an interesting article just now and can send you the link privately if you wish Betsy. It's on the new Kenneth Branagh version.

Vijaya

#19 - March 23, 2015, 01:39 PM
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Pons, I think it CAN be read that way and I think to some extent I read it that way too. But it can also be read the other way--that is, beautiful people are naturally good. The prince didn't really know anything about Cinderella character, did he?  Unfortunately, in almost all fairy tales, the heroine is beautiful and the villain is ugly. I'm afraid that the message being sent is that we should fear and discriminate against people with unconventional looks. You can't tell people's character from the outside and kids need to know that.

Fortunately, there are a lot of retold fairy tales that make that point.

Beauty and the Beast, retold or no, is pretty clear on not judging people by appearances.

As for Cinderella not running away (from upthread), Melissa Grey had this to say on twitter yesterday:
https://storify.com/didic/cinderella-survivor

Often the way we see stories depends so much on our life experiences, even (or maybe especially) when we're young and only have a limited number of experiences.
#20 - March 23, 2015, 01:58 PM

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Yes, Beauty DID end up loving the beast, ugly or not. Still, it was a long time coming. I've noticed that sometimes the male protagonist can be ugly, yet still lovable. But how many stories feature an unattractive female character who's lovable? A few, but not too many. (There's TILL WE HAVE FACES by C.S. Lewis and SLEEPING UGLY by Jane Yolen. A few others. That's about it.)

Sure, send the link, Vijaya. I'd like to see it. As Harold said, I read Cinderella in different ways at different stages.

By the way, I don't think we have to attack each other for having different interpretations. Peace. If it helped someone, it's all good.

And, by the way, it's really simplistic to look at Cinderella as the same in all versions. Some of the retellings aren't so clear cut. Here's the moral as Perrault explained it in his version:

"Another moral: Without doubt it is a great advantage to have intelligence, courage, good breeding, and common sense. These, and similar talents come only from heaven, and it is good to have them. However, even these may fail to bring you success, without the blessing of a godfather or a godmother."

In the Grimm version, the stepsisters are attacked by birds and their eyes are pecked out. And, no, Cinderella doesn't forgive them or take care of them. Maybe they got their just desserts, but you can't call Cinderella "kind" in every version of the story.

#21 - March 23, 2015, 02:07 PM
« Last Edit: March 24, 2015, 08:38 AM by Betsy »
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Quote
Quote from: Betsy on Yesterday at 05:07 PM
I've noticed that sometimes the male protagonist can be ugly, yet still lovable. But how many stories feature an unattractive female character who's lovable? A few, but not too many. (There's TILL WE HAVE FACES by C.S. Lewis and SLEEPING UGLY by Jane Yolen. A few others. That's about it.)

This is such an interesting discussion, and such an interesting point. My favorite Cinderella story is The Rough-Face Girl, the Algonquin folktale retold by Rafe Martin. That version makes it explicit that the girl's hardships have ruined her hair and face. When the Invisible Being sees her and exclaims that she is beautiful, it is a truly poignant moment, because you know he is not talking about anything that can be seen on the surface. Still, even in that version, The Rough-Face Girl's skin and hair are magically transformed at the end, so that she can be beautiful to everyone again. I'd like to see a Cinderella version in which the magic leaves the Cinderella figure alone and changes those around her instead, letting them see her as beautiful exactly the way she is. (Somebody want to write it?  ;D)

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters takes another interesting angle on the attractiveness issue, because in that story both daughters are beautiful but only one of them is good.

#22 - March 23, 2015, 07:58 PM
« Last Edit: March 24, 2015, 11:47 AM by DianaM »

Collecting cyberdust on my hard drive is the (unrevised) tale of an disheveled orphan who brings moments of brightness to the disgruntled hordes who ignore her by: 1) being inherently resilient; 2) spreading the beauty of the natural world that surrounds them all, and performing random acts of kindness. She remains scruffy and orphaned but her genuine spirit gets her noticed rather than continually ignored. Organically, this shifts people's perception of appearance and status. 
#23 - March 24, 2015, 08:11 AM
« Last Edit: March 24, 2015, 08:16 AM by Arona »
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MVP -- interesting point. I've read versions of the Rough-Face Girl. I'd forgotten that one.

Arona -- is that a story you've authored?
#24 - March 24, 2015, 08:36 AM
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One of the great strengths of fairy tales is that we can read them on multiple levels, everything from fun and playful to deeply archetypal, and still get significant personal meaning from them. They are a fascinating topic and have been the subject of more than one doctoral thesis. It's no wonder we have so many different takes on them.  :)
#25 - March 24, 2015, 09:11 AM

Betsy: yes.

Since Cinderella has been the go-to in this thread, I re-read it this morning (to my dog), Perrault's translated by Diane Goode, 1988. My dog fell asleep. I was as equally uninspired. I don't think I've read it since a kid, but it lacked...oomph? I didn't feel invested in the MC--the story seemed conveniently written.

Not how I felt as a kid. There was a magical quality then, whatever version it was, though unlikely a retelling of it back then.

#26 - March 24, 2015, 09:49 AM
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

K
Beauty and the Beast, retold or no, is pretty clear on not judging people by appearances.

As for Cinderella not running away (from upthread), Melissa Grey had this to say on twitter yesterday:
https://storify.com/didic/cinderella-survivor

Often the way we see stories depends so much on our life experiences, even (or maybe especially) when we're young and only have a limited number of experiences.

Kate, thank you for sharing that Twitter feed! It made me get all teary and I am now seeing the story in a way I've never ever seen it before. Wow. That gave me chills.

As far as a take-away message, I agree with much of what has been said. Not only is there usually a message, but there's usually more than one. Kids may not discuss it, but they will certainly internalize it and interpret it based on their own unique set of experiences.

And yes, even nf books can have an underlying message. In "Little Skink's Tail" (one my daughter's faves!) one of the messages is: be happy with yourself as you are. In "Octavia and Her Purple Ink Cloud" (another fave) one of the messages is: practice makes perfect.

If there truly is no message, then the pb may be viewed as too slight.
#27 - March 24, 2015, 11:35 AM
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Quote
This is such an interesting discussion, and such an interesting point. My favorite Cinderella story is The Rough-Face Girl, the Algonquin folktale retold by Rafe Martin. That version makes it explicit that the girl's hardships have ruined her hair and face. When the Invisible Being sees her and exclaims that she is beautiful, it is a truly poignant moment, because you know he is not talking about anything that can be seen on the surface. Still, even in that version, The Rough-Face Girl's skin and hair are magically transformed at the end, so that she can be beautiful to everyone again. I'd like to see a Cinderella version in which the magic leaves the Cinderella figure alone and changes those around her instead, letting them see her as beautiful exactly the way she is. (Somebody want to write it?  ;D)

MVP, I believe that's SHREK! :D

(By the way, I accidentally edited your post above. Sorry. Not sure how that happened. But I think I've restored it.)
#28 - March 24, 2015, 11:45 AM
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Very interesting discussion. And, Diana, you said exactly what I was going to say about Kate's posting the link to Melissa Grey's Twitter feed. For me, what Melissa had to say was so powerful. I was never abused and had not viewed the story from that perspective. I doubt I'll ever think about the story of Cinderella the same again. And, yes, it made me feel all teary also.

Thank you, Kate, for sharing the link.
#29 - March 26, 2015, 01:08 PM

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Hi friends,

When grappling with this question, I always turn to my favorite quote for PB writing. It's from agent/author Ammi-Joan Paquette. She says:

"It’s not enough to have a wild and wacky premise. There also has to be some deeper core to the story that connects with readers on its most basic level. I’ve heard them described as the “universal child emotions” that need to be represented in order for the story to fully hit its mark.

Now, please note that we’re not talking about morals or lessons or message here. What we are talking about is theme, subtly underlaid, weaving throughout the text and supplementing the story.

The list of universals is endless: love, friendship, overcoming fears, trying new things, getting along with others, sibling rivalry, leaving someone or something you love, sickness, loss. It’s as long as life itself, and honestly? The simpler the better."

I have become much more deliberate in thinking about this and looking for it in my manuscripts and weaving it in if it's not there ... even in concept books when possible.

#30 - March 27, 2015, 03:48 PM
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