Tag Archives: COVID19 Book Club

Won’t somebody please think of the children…!?

Representation of horror culture in children’s media key to their strength, resolve, problem solving, imagination, and character development
“Can you tell us where we can find the Fear Street series?”

By James Johnson

It’s still possible that Halloween may be cancelled this year, as COVID-19 continues to batter us. But that doesn’t mean our kids shouldn’t entertain themselves with festive content this fall. Or does it?

In her 2018 book “Once Upon a Time in a Dark and Scary Book: The Messages of Horror Literature for Children”, K. Shryock Hood has laid out a concerted effort to identify contemporary youth horror fiction as hopeless fare which leaves our children vulnerable, perhaps susceptible, to the horrific realities of this world. That, no matter how hard your parents may try, sometimes there just isn’t anyone coming to rescue you. In fact, she argues that parents actively endorse access to these types of stories for their kids – books with repetitive hopelessness as recurring motif.

But what is hopelessness? Hopeless for whom? The reader? The character? Suppose the author failed to connect the reader to the victim as a result of lack-luster character development. I’m terrible at flushing out characters and my son actively seeks to destroy the NPC’s in our Dungeons & Dragons adventures because they’re just that unrelatable. But when he picks up a Goosebumps book, he gets scared, much like when he watches a movie that has a particularly difficult scene or two. He closes his eyes at the movie or puts the book down when it becomes too much.

Why bother with these books anyways, if they are clearly too much for our kids to handle? Is it traumatizing that I offer these options to our son? He knows I love horror culture. He is aware of the serials I review, and the movies I watch, though he doesn’t read or watch them himself. So why then does the sight of flesh eating zombies and monsters devouring the innocent make him giggle and cheer while a quiet, dark hallway awakens a sinister primal fear within him?

Horror becomes real when we make the horrific event entirely plausible. This is when the real fear creeps into the child’s psyche, when we lend credibility to the impossible. For example, a mask that a child wears for Halloween is haunted and turns them into a demon-monster that attacks their friends. This part of the book isn’t particularly scary, says our 7 year old son. It’s a mask that turns you into a monster. Pretty clearly fantastical.

Fast forward to the second half of the book and the story changes from killer masks to killer pumpkins. But the kicker is these pumpkins come for you when you’re all tucked in and snuggled under your blankets and it’s dark and the night is cold and no one believes you when you tell them the killer pumpkins are trying to kill you. This story freaked him out way more than the haunted mask because the night is endless with possibilities and the warm bed is so familiar.

Children’s horror should be embraced on the grounds that it encourages problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and ingenuity.

For her work, Dr. Shryock Hood uses examples like the left behind series for children. That’s the Christian series where the rapture leaves behind non-believers. I haven’t read or reviewed the children’s version of these books so whether or not this constitutes horror, or even children’s literature, I’ll leave that up to your discretion; but my thinking on the whole matter is as follows:

If, as a parent, you find yourself curating your child’s collection of books (the beloved children’s bedtime bookshelf is iconic), then it will be entirely up to you as to what you wish to censor, and what you will let them experience. For our home, It has always been our belief as parents that we would be honest and open with any queries our son would have. As a general rule, we follow standardized guidelines like the motion picture rating system, the comics code authority, and the entertainment software rating board (ESRB) to make quick, uneducated decisions when in a pinch. Of course, nothing can replace proper research and parental due diligence, but these guidelines are in place for a reason. This way, we believed we wouldn’t need to hide anything from him for protective purposes so long as we provided context and rationale behind whatever it was he consumed, witnessed, experienced, etc.

In addition to these important discussions and industry rating systems, selection and curation have remained two of the most important functions for successfully managing any potentially stressful or harmful content. So, with that being said, it’s my purview that dangerous, hostile, uncomfortable, and perhaps even deadly scenarios are important to understand and to contextualize. Children’s horror should be embraced on the grounds that it encourages problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and ingenuity.

The face of incurable trauma.

Of course, I agree that there should be some limitations to what children are subjected to in media. I’m not a complete monster. I also think that happy endings in horror books should be encouraged, so that children with softer resolves can enjoy the genre too. But I honestly encourage storytellers to aim higher, avoid patronizing solutions to pedestrian problems, and make the fear real. Our children are not as delicate as we think and challenging reads should be encouraged in order to diversify their emotional tool kits for when they need to face real world problems, in very real ways.

This season really brings out the frights!

Keep reading and happy horrors, kiddies.

‘Readers Advisory’ and Commentary

Arthur C. Clarke:

Childhood’s End

By James Johnson

If you are anything like me, you have silently acknowledged, for the sake of memory, just how bizarre each progressing year has been. Its not a foretelling of doom, but rather a result of some cycle or chain of events. Sometimes it correlates to the cycle of a new American presidency. Other times to the effects of global catastrophe, like the 2008 economic crises many nations faced; or more closer to home – the ravaging effects COVID19 has had on virtually all of humanity in the year 2020.

The intensity of our personal and communal unrest is alarming. This is rapidly becoming a dangerous time for us all. Uncertainty and our own demons hold us back from being better. From choosing to be better. In our communities towards each other, in our careers and how we serve each other, and especially in our families and how we raise our children.

Art Bell said the world was suffering from the Quickening, the rapid advancement of humanity and the generic “speed” with which life is lived by. He said the development and pace of our civilization was eroding our social contracts, effectively our technology was dehumanizing us. I cant say for certain this is the case, but it is definitely making it difficult to differentiate real information from “fake news”.

What if a man could strike out on his own and try to accomplish what he desired most, without fear of eviction, starvation, or destitution. Would he not be the subject of unlimited potential?

This madness and these bizarre times we live in, make it seem as though we’re all passengers on an out-of-control, organic-mechanic sphere, fueled by the literal physical efforts of the lower of us. Our working class work hard to stay afloat, paycheck to paycheck, while producing the grease that moves the wheels that drives their very burden. I have belonged to this rung all of my life and I know it well. Head down, take your crumbs, show up the next day. Don’t get sick. You don’t get very far this way, but its honest and accounts for some of the most honorable among us.

If only there were no need for this work, these long hours (or sometimes erratically spaced shifts), with no incentives, salaries, or benefits. “Earning” indentured regulated arbitrary wages that stagnate year in and year out. What if a man could strike out on his own and try to accomplish what he desired most, without fear of eviction, starvation, or destitution. Would he not be the subject of unlimited potential?

That question is answered in Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. When mankind has no concern for war, wage, or sin, the fruits of initiative and ingenuity are revealed to us. Among other terrifying and confounding revelations of existentialism. Reader beware.

This pandemic has shown that most Canadians aren’t prepared for prolonged breaks in employment. And many small businesses too also proved unable to survive the shutdown. Prior economic disasters compelled many governments around the world to conduct experiments on Universal Basic Income projects*, and this pandemic has spurred the movement to support more projects to increase the validity of its benefits.

Childhood’s End has the world finally come to the doorstep of peace and prosperity. The results are mind blowing and you’ll be reeled into a book full of foundational science fiction tropes paired with unique Judaeo-Christian mythology. The conclusion of the story will most likely leave you in that surreal yet recognizable state; slacked jawed with a thousand yard stare, the book quietly closed in your lap. You know that feel.

It gets an 8 out of whatever. We recommend it.

Below is the source for the UBI reference