A brief reflection on today’s shooting tragedy

Connecticut shooting

A shooting unlike any other in American history shook the world today when 28 died in an elementary school in Connecticut, including 20 children between the ages of 5 and 10.

By now, most all of you have heard the news, and many of you have wept for the lives lost. The tragedy has sparked discussions of gun control and mental illness, and not all of it was handled with the most grace. Most disturbing were the news reporters who had the inhumanity to interview traumatized kids so soon after the event.

When will these shootings stop? When can we stop being afraid to enter public spaces when even movie theaters and elementary schools aren’t safe?

Go home tonight. Hug your kids. Your niece. Your nephew. Cousins. Grandchildren.

Just love someone.

In times like these, it’s important to show other people we care. That we’re there for them. That we understand.

We need to remind ourselves of the good in the world. So do something that makes you happy. Read a book. Take a walk. Spend the weekend just … being. Value the time that you have and the people in your life, and do it for those who no longer can — whose lives have been cut short and those who can no longer hold their children. Honor them by living and showing more kindness than ever before, and do it every day.

If the laws won’t change, if we can’t come to an agreement on the right solution, then we need to facilitate change in a way everyone can: by being better people. That’s how we can foster a better world.

[Photo credit: The Onion]

Children and censorship: How much is too much?

The wonderful blogger Valerie Lawson wrote an excellent post recently about how censorship shelters children from reality. After reading her thoughts on the subject, I started to form a comment in response, but found that although I initially agreed with many of her statements, the more I wrote, the more my feelings differed from hers.

Valerie poses a very intelligent and provoking perspective, and before I delve into my counter-view, I’d like you to read some (or all — here’s the original post) of what she had to say. Then please weigh in with your own ideas on this controversial matter.

I love a good probing discussion, and while I do understand that some people think certain topics are unsuitable for children, I must say that I am firmly against censorship in any form. Period.

This stance of mine makes for a lively debate. Sometimes the challenge of my view comes from other writers – which I must say is so odd. I would assume that all writers would be completely open-minded and fully against censorship in all forms, but that is just not the case.  Maybe they would take these words literally:

”Obviously, the danger is not in the actual act of reading itself, but rather, the possibility that the texts children read will incite questions, introduce novel ideas, and provoke critical inquiry.” Persis M. Karim (The New Assault on Libraries)

I’ve had some enlightening discussions to say the least – some within my own local writing chapter. Here’s a fictionalized version of how one of these conversations might go:

My Fellow Writer: Do you think children/teenagers should be allowed to read books with so much violence, especially a book about children killing each other?

Me: Absolutely. Whether that book is Lord of the Flies or The Hunger Games or some other book.

MFW: But don’t you think the violence is gratuitous?

Me: No. I actually think it’s toned down compared to reality. Haven’t you heard of the Invisible Children? This kind of thing is actually going on today, but on a much more brutal scale.

(Side note: This isn’t all happening in Uganda either, despite the wonderful media coverage Kony has received. According to Amnesty International’s website, “worldwide, hundreds of thousands of children are recruited…” And according to another website, this one for the SOS Children’s Villages, “Since 1998 there have been armed conflicts involving child soldiers in at least 36 countries.” )

MFW: Okay, but what about books with frank discussions of sex and characters making bad choices? Would you let your daughter read them?

Me: Definitely. I think books like Twenty Boy Summer and Beauty Queens (or whatever Ellen Hopkins book we’re talking about) encourage interesting conversations with her.

MFW: You talk to her about sex? ACK!

ME: Of course! Don’t you talk to your child about sex? If not, where does she go with her questions? The internet? Her friends? I’d much rather she felt comfortable coming to me and getting accurate information than risk her going elsewhere and believing that she could get pregnant from a toilet seat or something stupid like that. Or worse…having her end up pregnant. Period.

As forward as some of Valerie’s answers are, there’s a good point to them. While I think keeping mature books out of kids’ hands stems more from our wish to “protect” them than it does to condemn those very materials (although obviously, some people want them to disappear entirely), we have to face an important reality: Even we found out about this stuff on our own, regardless of whether our parents sheltered us. And most of us turned out okay, or at least functionally damaged.

Perhaps it’s better to openly allow children and teens access to this sort of content because it invites a controlled scenario, rather than one where they’re forced to resort to more unreliable and dangerous sources of information — like the Internet or friends who might not have someone’s best interests at heart (including their own).

However, my problem with her argument comes mainly from her claim of disagreeing with censorship “in any form.” When I think about the kinds of things I want — and don’t want — my future kids exposed to, an inherent part of me clenches up: No way would I show them a PG-13 movie when they’re seven! But most of my reservations originate from my awareness of how frightening and disturbing some images can be, especially to women and young girls. For females, once certain parts of the world are opened up to us, they’re hard to deal with — and for any of us who are filled with sadness and anger over the gender issues that women must grapple with every day, that’s a lifelong struggle. On a basic level (and one that relates to the topic at hand), I’m talking the sexual treatment and portrayal of women in film and other media (not to mention actual society). Some of those depictions are abusive, and others reinforce inflexible expectations and unrealistic standards. They don’t teach girls the right thing; they don’t empower them. Quite the opposite.

If one day I have a little girl, I don’t want her seeing that sort of degradation and injustice at an impressionable age and getting the wrong idea. Most of all, I don’t want to sit her down in front of it and encourage her to watch. And I don’t want my little boy to grow up thinking certain behavior is okay. When I think of monitoring books and movies and other content for kids, I don’t automatically equate that with “censorship.” Censorship to me is trying to block something out of existence entirely — putting it out of anyone’s reach, trying to stifle and condemn its messages, and instructing everyone to forget it’s even there.

Valerie gets this next part right: If you’re going to allow your children to explore everything the world has to offer, then you better damn well be prepared to talk with them about it afterward and teach them right from wrong and good from bad. Because at a young age, they don’t know the difference. They’re innocent and developmentally bound to repeat what they see and hear from us, so how could they? Sure, they’ll learn, and I feel that books are more trustworthy than other material, but they’re not substitutes for parenting. You wouldn’t drop a kid into a third-world country and leave them to the dogs so they can “learn about the real world.” You take them by the hand, make sure they feel safe, and tell them this is how things are, this is who they are, and that’s okay. It will be okay.

Maybe the people who want to ban books from schools and bar children and adolescents from sensitive media are those who don’t know how to explain why their contents make them uncomfortable — or don’t bother with making the time to. Maybe some people are just ignorant and stuck-up. But I think there are those who have grown up, suffered, and learned how the world is, and want to spare children from that reality as much as possible because it’s painful. We can never take back our childhood, and we’ll always wish some of the people in our lives had loved us more than they had. There’s a preciousness in giving our children sanctuary for as long as the world will let them have it — to allow them to believe, with unshakable certainty, that they’re safe from those who would do them and others harm.

It’s not important to give children free reign of all that’s before them. But to shape them into moral, intelligent human beings who will have to live every day in the sort of world we live in, it is important to guide. Think of the best literary parents, even adoptive ones, and note the careful balance of self-discovery and protection they provided their children. And when those parents went away, the children were prepared with love, confidence, and understanding. They could look toward all the darkness in the world and hold onto the small amount of good their parents had fostered within them.

Too many people worry about what their children will get their hands on because information is as much an implement of “power” as it is a means of destruction. And too many people would let their children explore the wild on their own, without any safe retreat.

What are your thoughts on what we should and shouldn’t grant children access to? When is it okay, and when is it not?

From J. K. Rowling’s imagination comes Wonderbook: Book of Spells


I. Am. Exhausted.

I’m all typed out.

I’ve been so busy helping to cover E3 (that’s the Electronic Entertainment Expo going on this week) for GameZone that I haven’t had time for much else. But I wanted to share some sort of update.

One of the announcements made at the show was for Wonderbook: Book of Spells — a new video game/interactive book coming for PlayStation 3 that incorporates augmented reality technology, PlayStation Move products, and most interestingly, the stories of J. K. Rowling.

The Book of Spells referred to in the title is written by fictional character Miranda Goshawk of the Harry Potter novels.

Wonderbook: Book of Spells is the closest a Muggle can come to a real spellbook,” said Rowling. “I’ve loved working with Sony’s creative team to bring my spells, and some of the history behind them, to life. This is an extraordinary device that offers a reading experience like no other.”

It looks perfect for kids, and that’s obviously the market they’re targeting with the ad/trailer. But it’s also certain to intrigue any fan of the author.

What do you think? Is this something you’d check out, even if you don’t normally venture into video game territory? Wonderbook will cost $40 and come packaged with the aforementioned book and game disc.

Rowling is currently penning her next full-length work, The Casual Vacancy, marketed for adults and projected to release this fall, as early as September.