Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Problem with Parents

You’ve gotta love those spunky orphans. And there are so many to love in tween and teen literature. Writers need to get helpful parents out of the way so protagonists can solve their own problems, and orphans come with a ready made solution.

I’d like to propose an alternate approach. The parent can be clueless. This oblivious parent doesn’t have to be in prison or on mind altering drugs. He or she can be loving and attentive, but simply not know what’s going on.

What happens in school stays in school.

Last night I attended Jeremy’s choir concert and discovered he was singing a solo. Surprise! He sang the “EEEE-EE-EE-EE-EE um um awaaaaay” on Mbube (The Lion Sleeps Tonight) and sounded terrific.

I’ve blogged about The Cone of Silence before. I’ve even written about this song, but alas, I didn’t suspect the solo.

If kids don’t talk about positive stuff, who knows what else lurks beneath the surface?


Jacqui said...

When I taught first grade, I was always amazed at the things I'd find out later had been going on.

But then again, I have tons of memories in which I don't remember a grown-up, even though one must have been around somewhere.

Amy Huntley said...

As a high school teacher, I can't believe how often I find myself sitting across from parents who are surprised to find out something about their kid. I shouldn't be taken off guard by it anymore, but I still am. I know it's part of the desire kids have to do some separating from their parents, but it's so hard to take as a parent.

Then again, we're writing for kids, not parents, right? And we need to make that separation feel normal. I absolutely agree, Ann. A parent in the next room can make an excellent example of separation. Kids know how to keep their distance from us.

Ann Finkelstein said...

Jacqui and Amy:
Thanks for your teacher's insights. I think sometimes kids hide things even more when their parents are eager to find out about them. They just want to be independent.

Wyman Stewart said...

Lots of parents haven't a clue about their kids. Sometimes it is the fault of the parent; sometimes it is the kid. However, there is always something about a kid parents do not know.

Another thing that amazes me, as a kid growing up and as an adult, I have met lots of kids--well into their teens--who had no idea what their parents did for a living. Think this has been true even with one or two college students I have chatted with online.

So, maybe writers should have no problem having parents running around all over the place. ;-) Just introduce the fact, the family does not know each other that well. Okay, at least in some areas of their lives. Sounds Quarky, I know, but aren't authors supposed to be creative?

Why Madonna and others would be grabbing up all these orphans in books, if only they read. Bye! :-)

Tim Bogar said...

I agree that orphans are over -- overdone and over with. In fact, that was one of my main decisions about the Tayne novel and the work in progress -- no orphans.

Tayne comes from a loving, intact family: parents and three siblings. He goes away to that special place on the cliff, but continues to interact occasionally with family members.

In the troll story, Wheeler’s good father is in almost every scene. In fact, he goes along on the quest. (How many authors have done that?!) Which I like a lot. Does he solve the main problem for the protagonist? Au contraire, ma chere. His presence is the main reason for the main danger – and he is unable to solve the problem at the climax. So not only does Wheeler have to save himself, he has to TRY to save his father. I dunno, for me, these stakes are higher than, say, trying to save the world from an evil wizard.

A couple of recent series have also thrown the orphans overboard. In Skulduggery Pleasant, Stephanie has a pair of decent, if somewhat clueless, parents. Her magical partner whips up a doppelganger that goes to school for Stephanie and so forth when she is out having adventures and more or less saving the world. Not particularly convincing, but probably fun for kids who wish they had a tool like that.

In The Last Apprentice, Thomas has parents, a brother, and a sister-in-law living under one roof. He goes away to learn the trade from the Spook, to save local areas from evil thingies, and probably eventually save the world. (I don’t intend to finish reading the series.)

Ann Finkelstein said...

Thanks for your comments. Some kids simply think that the problem is theirs, and whatever their parents do will make it worse and certainly more embarrassing.

I love your approach to the troll story. Yes, having Wheeler save himself and perhaps his father is brilliant.