Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The De-Coddling of the American Child--Today's Kid Fiction, and my Read on Michael Grant's The Magnificent 12 (at the WFB Library on 10/1)

Let me just remind everyone before I start this post that I know nothing! Less than nothing, really.

But I’ve been thinking lately that the 20th century is more and more looking like the era of the sanitized fairy tale. Before that, in the stories collected by Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and others, there was plenty of violence and death.

In the books that come out lately, the same. And usually a moral, just like classic stories. Doesn’t it seem time to return to the expurgated versions, where grandma, or even Red Riding Hood, is eaten by the wolf?

I think about this a lot as folks tell me a lot about the plots of kids books. I read them too, sometimes, particularly when we have an event coming up. I find myself more attracted to the middle grade tales than those for young adults and teens. I think that’s because the violence tends to be toned down. And more than that, they are more likely to be humorous.

Most recently, I finished Michael Grant’s The Magnificent 12: The Call, which I bought at The King's English on my recent trip to Salt Lake City. It’s the story of David “Mac” MacAvoy, an ordinary 12-year old with parents who don’t pay attention to him. Maybe not totally ordinary—he’s got a very long phobia list, which includes the usuals like spiders, dentists, and getting shots, as well as some unusual fears, such pupaphobia. That’s a fear of puppets.

Slowly, he learns that he’s one of the chosen, a group of 12-year olds that are going to have to save the world from the Pale Queen and her daughter, Ereskigal. He learns this from Grimluk, the last surviving member of the original Magnificat, who put the Pale Queen out of commission for thousands of years. Mac and Grimluk’s story alternates.

And how will Mac’s family handle his disappearance? Well, they won’t even know, because a Golem is taking his place. Or course, being made of clay, he’s not too bright and has trouble with things like eating, but he’s hoping to keep in touch with Mac via text messages.

It’s a fun and exciting first entry in to a multi-book series. Mac (and his protector, the former head bully in his high school) has to find 11 other kids to fight the villains, and we’ve only found one so far, in Australia. And now I know there are many kinds of eucalyptus.

The book is a veritable world of adventure, and thus, like many kids books, there’s an interactive website, that goes well beyond plot summary and author bio.

Both animals and people die in the book, though nobody particularly close to the protagonist, and mostly in the historical segments. There was one point where one adult was seriously harmed but survived, and I wondered if, in a teen series, that character would have survived.

Why are middle-grade series not only less violent (which I get) but also likelier to be funny (which I can’t even fathom?) Are there guidelines for what you’d put in a book for kids who are 12+, as opposed to ones for middle graders (8-12)? I’d probably have to ask Michael Grant.

And lucky us, he’s coming to the Whitefish Bay Library Community Room on Friday, October 1st, at the special time of 6:30 PM. The event is co-sponsored by Boswell and the Library, and we’ll have copies, not only of Magnificent 12, but also of his series for older kids, including Gone, Hunger, and Lies.

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