The Rise of Dead People In Children’s Fiction

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February 20, 2012

Whether it’s vampires (the undead), zombies (the really dead), or ghosts (the haunting dead), the fascination with paranormal books and dead people overall in children’s fiction has boomed over the last few years. And it doesn’t matter the age. You can find dead characters in middle grade/tween books like The Graveyard by Neil Gaiman (boy who lives in a graveyard), The Riley Boom series by Alyson Noel (a dead girl who catches souls) and VC Andrews dark fairy tale of the The Dollanger saga (siblings kidnapped and abused) – and even in most young adult books following Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight trend.

But if you think about it – horror and scary stories, as well as very dark characters, have always been around in fiction. The witch in Hansel and Gretel (who eats kids), the mean queen in Snow White (who kills for vanity), and the mother and grandmother in Flowers in the Attic.

So dark scary stories aren’t anything new. But what about the influx of dead people, angels, vampires, zombies and ghosts?

I think the rise of reading paranormal is due to kids wanting to escape the world we are in today. It is also a way to disconnect a little from a story because the situation is unrealistic. A vampire story is not as “real” as a contemporary thriller about killers – though essentially those 2 stories share the same exact theme. With paranormal or death books – kids can read dark material yet have a way to step back from the issues emotionally, creating a certain distance.

Maybe the stories reflect our current events and soften the blow to kids by keeping it imaginary. Or maybe the stories are used as a way to educate kids about the dark side of life without hitting them over the head with murder, death, economic hardships (dystopic), and corrupt officials. Possibly they hear parents talking about serious issues, and therefore, become more curious about life, death, and the concept of corrupt power.

While these topics seem depressing, it can be a way for kids to learn about issues we face as a society or as families –  without truly facing the horrors of reality. After all, it’s easier to think of vampires trying to wipe out an entire race of wolves then it is to talk about genocide. But the underlying theme of being – evil combined with the message of respecting life – is the same.

In writing On The Bright Side, I wanted to flip the concept of death. Where there is dark, there is always light. I wanted to take a lighter look at the question of “The After Life” and make it fun.

Yet in tackling a theme of death, more importantly, I wanted to weave in real and relatable tween or teen themes that they could identify with in a fun way: fitting in with peers, being an outcast, rebelling against authority, being angry at something they can’t change, and the notion that “the grass is always greener” on the other side. .

In addition to touching on these tween/teen issues, On The Bright Side talks to those tweens – ages 11-14 – who are straddling that fine line between focusing on their own issues yet being aware of larger issues and how they fit into the bigger picture. Between being dependent on parents yet wanting independence. At tween age – kids slowly begin to notice and actually understand show their actions and issues can have a larger impact on those around them – the environment, friends, and even family.

So instead of focusing on the “dead” rising in books, as parents and adults, maybe we can look at it as a different way to address heavy or dark issues in a safe and fantastical way. Hopefully these books can answer or even address some questions tween’s/teen’s have. Questions they are already asking.

On The Bright Side is not a book about death. It is a humorous book about the rebirth of a young girl who makes some mistakes, who accepts consequences, and chooses to make up for them.

Dead or not, I think we can all relate.

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