Tough Subjects in Kids Lit: And the Answer Is?

Most readers, writers, teachers, and librarians would likely agree that more and more difficult subject matter is finding its way into books for younger and younger children.  And, in the last several years, the number of middle grade and picture books which include difficult topics has also increased.  As a result, the tackling of tough subjects in children's books has become a pretty hot topic, and lots of people, in the industry and outside the industry, have been weighing in with their opinions.

As a parent, a former teacher, a former librarian, and as a middle grade author, I initially felt compelled to formulate my own opinions about this topic.  But as the discussion surrounding all of this has evolved, and become for many, quite controversial, I have found myself with many more questions than answers.  And currently, as I ponder the questions being asked about how tough subjects are handled in kids lit, the really big question for me has become who is qualified to offer expert advice and guidance about tough subjects in kids lit?

Does my experience as a parent, teacher, librarian, and author qualify me as an expert and make my opinion more noteworthy?  Some would say, "yes," some would say, "no."  I would have to answer with a firm, "I don't know."  Whatever opinion I might have about tough topics in kids lit would be just that - an opinion.  It would be based on my own personal reading experience, my education, and my work-related interaction with young people.  Though this would be more experience than many others, I'm not necessarily sure that truly qualifies me as any kind of expert.

And for me, this question of expertise leads to many more questions.  Here are just a few:

  • What kind of credentials would make someone a qualified expert on this topic?  
  • How do we determine the effects these tough topics have on young readers through the years? 
  • What responsibility do we all bear as parents?  As teachers?  As librarians?  And as authors?

If you were reading my post to uncover some nuggets of wisdom or gain a few profound words about tough topics in kids lit, I apologize for not delivering what you had hoped to find.  It's possible that you not only didn't get any answers to your questions; but instead, you are now finding yourself with even more questions.  Maybe that's a good place for all of us to be.  Asking more questions will likely lead us to more of a conversation about tough subjects in kids lit, and that will hopefully allow us to gain a better understanding as we seek to discover together some answers about this very important topic.

Happy Reading,
Nancy J. Cavanaugh